REVIEWS

Get Over It

I’ve never read a comic made by an attendee of the Center For Cartoon Studies before. This isn’t due to a conscious aversion— it’s not like I pick up a book, see CCS in the artist’s bio, and put the book back down— but more like somewhere along the line whatever lessons get instilled at the school gives the students’ work a whiff of traditionalism that lacks appeal. At a cursory glance, at least, I haven’t seen anything that feels fresh and revelatory and compels me further. I admit to a prejudice: the whole idea of a graduate school for comics strikes me as oppositional to a certain countercultural self-sufficiency that seems integral to successful American art. I’m aware that this assumption and my lack of engagement with the work the graduates produce is mutually reinforcing. I’m also skeptical of the value of MFA degrees for writing, and while I would probably avoid reading such work if I could, at this point they’re ubiquitous, and I have certainly absorbed so much of the value system instilled there that  I can’t begrudge anyone going to its source to learn that system consciously. As more schools develop comics programs, and more great cartoonists end up teaching in some capacity, the more my bias will seem reactionary and retrograde, and it would behoove me as a reader to move beyond it as soon as possible.

Mary Shyne is a CCS graduate. The conflict that lies at the emotional core of her book Get Over It is between protagonist Leslie and her dad, who opposes her going to college, because this puts her on a life path closer to her mother’s, who divorced him, and away from his working-class lifestyle. The title of the book is something Leslie yells at her father in a moment of conflict. That conflict is made literal through the book’s sci-fi/fantasy conceit: Leslie can see manifestations of people’s emotions, which appear over their head like little monsters, and it is these beings, termed “miasma,” that dictate human behaviors. A university student has developed a technology that can externalize these creatures so they can be fought in combat; if defeated, the problem is fixed, trauma undone.

The conceit has its problems; the emotional logic it’s founded on seems essentially unhealthy. Still, even at a glance, the conflicts between humans and miasma is visually rendered in an appealing way. The book is printed in black and orange ink. These two colors are nicely balanced on the page. The orange is used as line art itself, not just an accent color used for shading, highlighting the miasma and the technology used to fight it. While Shyne is a contributor to the online political cartooning publication The Nib, this two-color printing scheme suggests the power of working for print, a lesson well-learned in comics school. The book’s chapter breaks indicate it’s a collection of minicomics, a manageable working method its likewise important to learn.

The book’s premise allows for a demonstration of acting skill which is, frankly, a bit much. While it’s useful to depict characters who have recognizable facial expressions and body language, the story’s conceit has it so at any given moment there is more of that to depict. At the same time as humans are acting out their emotions, there are also monsters acting out the same ones, crowding the panels while conveying the same information twice. As visually appealing as the orange and black look together, it reads like you’re watching a film where a narrator’s voiceover tells you what’s going on every step of the way, though here that narration is presented on a visual level, cluttering panels with an effect that’s vaguely entertaining but feels meant to be consciously admired rather than seamlessly read, though both the drawing style itself and the small size the book is printed at seem designed more for readability than marveling at.

My college experience, and likely yours as well, was determined as much by the peers I was around as the lectures I received. Young people speak in a symbolic code as distinct as any world storytelling tradition. Shyne’s style is indebted to manga, but also suggests the cartoonist is someone who grew up reading Scott Pilgrim and Octopus Pie, then ended up in a milieu with other people who had internalized something from those works about how hip adults behaved. Leslie’s character design has the half-shaved/half-swooping haircut straight off a poster about gender roles popular in both punk houses and R.A. dorms circa 2005. The book’s cover has Leslie standing in front of a bicycle; such bike-punk signifiers will help the book find its ideal receptive audience more than any design class based on color theory ever could. The characters’ broadly cartooned gestures are occasionally decipherable only if you’re conflating emojis with human behavior: when a college student expresses her satisfaction at being proven right and stretches her arm out to look at the back of her hand, while talking on the phone it seems like it is meant to enact the “painting fingernails” emoji she wishes she could text. Close contact with cartooning students can also lead to bad habits being learned by osmosis. This comic uses sound FX not to depict sound as onomatopoeia but instead to spell out what a person is doing, which is something you probably pick up on being an okay shortcut if you’re around a lot of amateur work.

While the story’s visual metaphor is easily understood, and gives Shyne a lot to work with, the mechanisms of the plot render it more complicated than it needs to be. For instance, while it might make sense, hearing about the premise, to assume the protagonist fights their own miasma, in this book Leslie fights other people’s emotions. This means the story is less about personal growth than it is about having to deal with other people’s baggage, and how that affects how they interact with you. This is interesting because I feel like traditional notions of a literary arc are more self-focused, but perhaps that is kind of bullshit because people do have to negotiate with other people’s nonsense, and a self-help framework attributes blame to the more self-aware figure. However, it also makes for a weird read. When Leslie fights these monsters, if the monster does damage to surrounding property, this will magically be fixed if the monster is defeated. This creates a sense of stakes as things spiral out of control, however, the underlying logic of “I need to fix EVERYTHING by taking care of this problem immediately in front of me” is both an essentially foolish and untrue way of thinking and, when visualized as comics, creates a convoluted fictional mythos that feels fake and confusing. When you get to the end, and it’s all unpacked, it’s as exhausting to read as it must be to believe in.

It turns out the classic educator’s paradox applies to comics school as well: You can lead a cartoonist to a finished book, but you can’t make it meaningful. Despite the freshness of the visuals, once parent and child are reconciled the reader realizes that what the story has actually been about is something they’ve seen in movies many times before. A few pages after that, the book ends on a note setting up a sequel, by way of a cliffhanger I cannot imagine anyone giving a single shit about. You might be interested in seeing what Shyne does next, but that curiosity does not extend to the characters presented here. By the end of the book, I was Over It, and there wasn’t that much to Get.

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32 Responses to Get Over It

  1. Ian M says:

    “ This comic uses sound FX not to depict sound as onomatopoeia but instead to spell out what a person is doing, which is something you probably pick up on being an okay shortcut if you’re around a lot of amateur work.”

    I can clearly remember cases of Seth doing this in recent years, and I think Chris Ware as well (maybe in Jimmy Corrigan?). Never considered them amateur work.

  2. Scipio the Younger says:

    No punches pulled! (Which is of course okay; I found this review to be really informative even if I don’t know if I’ll wind up agreeing with it.) But you’ve never read any books by any of these people? https://www.cartoonstudies.org/alumni/

  3. Evan says:

    Here to echo that verb sound effects are such an integral part of comics language at this point that criticizing them feels like criticizing a cartoonist for using flop sweat or speed lines.

  4. Sidney says:

    For a review that seems hell-bent on highlighting how amateur the cartooning work is, and how much smarter the reviewer is than the cartoonist (or her fellow alumni), this is terrible writing.

  5. Marc Sobel says:

    This is a pretty self-centered and unnecessarily snide review. I thought this was a very promising debut from a young cartoonist with a lot of talent.

    For anyone interested in reading a more thoughtful and informed review of this book, and many others by CCS artists, I suggest Rob Clough’s 31 days series. http://highlowcomics.blogspot.com/2019/12/31-days-of-ccs-1-mary-shyne.html
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  6. Abe Scott says:

    I have not read this comic book and do not feel particularly comfortable criticizing this “take”, but I must say that the last sentence of this review is very “Rex Reed”.

    That’s all well and good – I like brazenly-corny/harshly-summative puns too – but it does seem like an odd move for one who is directly critical about formal tools of communication in and of themselves. In short, what “Ian M” and “Evan” said.

    (At the very least, I can take comfort in thinking of the critic losing their mind in unbridled onomatopoeiatic ecstasy while reading old Don Martin paperbacks; everyone deserves happiness.)

    Also, people have all sorts of different haircuts. Some of them are even chosen for their bicycle-riding aerodynamics, or are forms of personal expression. Who cares? (Or to use the critic’s language, “gives a single shit”?) This is tcj.com, not haircutsthataregoodforbeingcoolinlate2019.com.

    The hostile, snarky tone of this piece seems like the reviewer has also been influenced by the stylings of some “Journalistic” predecessors, and could be unaware that they are also of “a milieu with other people who had internalized something from those works about how hip adults behaved”.

    Scene or no scene, school or no school – aren’t literally all human beings in some ways formed by their previous ideas of what cool adults could be? And isn’t there something fascinating to that these ideas coalesce and find distinction within the self, no matter what their origins were, or what their contexts were or are? Isn’t “one-person” cartooning ultimately an expression of (and act of) the self?

    Should places of education (and reliable employment for cartoonists, or schools with small graduating classes) be disparaged because a critic doesn’t like that lots of kids like manga? Isn’t good journalism also educative?

    This review has me interested in Get Over It. I like the way the excerpts look, and there seems to be a real humanity in the characters’ interactions. Seems like a nice mix of Go Nagai, Harry Lucey, Joe Madureira, Walter Scott, “Breaking Away” and Bob Fingerman. I also see positively-implemented traces of the sort of 2000’s “art” comics that I personally don’t tend to generally like – but that I am fine with others liking, fine with others being influenced by and most importantly, that I am ultimately wrong to generalize.

  7. Nick Mullins says:

    For all the good that The Journal has done over the years (which is, of course, considerable), it has always had this destructive glee in eating the young. I was hoping maybe it was a thing of the past, but this review proves me wrong.

    What good does a review like this do for the world? Whom does this aid? Will it change how CCS teaches? Will it inspire Shyne to create better comics? No. A review like this only hurts people. Brian Nicholson, why do you write reviews? What benefit are you creating for the world?

  8. Brian is one of the best writers on this site. I’m interested in his views on new comics, because he explains his reaction to a given work of cartooning more clearly and honestly than most. I put out comics at around the same age as this artist that were treated harshly at TCJ. I was happy to read those reviews then because I found honest reactions to my work interesting and valid.

  9. Evan says:

    @Austin: I generally enjoy Brian’s writing (I check out his own comics blog on occasion), but even he says at the beginning of this review that his views will eventually be seen as “reactionary and retrograde,” and the argument I think commenters are trying to make is that his views on this specific comic are indeed ALREADY reactionary and retrograde. He doesn’t meet the book halfway and attempt to settle his differences, but instead judges it from afar while amongst his copious amounts of CCS-related baggage. Criticism, harsh or otherwise, that includes a constructive path forward is what comics crit needs, not snotty takedowns, of which comics unfortunately has a rich history of.

  10. Kit says:

    I always think of Peter Bagge as the ur-influence on his own generation’s, and subsequent’s, use of verb sound effects. BARGE!

  11. Evan: we need MORE copious CCS baggage, there needs to be more questioning of what that school teaches and what it means, which Brian does here.

  12. Evnn says:

    I actually agree that CCS needs to be written about more widely in a journalistic way, if for no other reason than there being this critical suspicion of it. Why is that? I don’t know the answer myself and have zero stakes in it, but am interested in the topic in a larger, social/cultural way. Would be interesting for someone to investigate and write about.

    But Brian doesn’t do that here. He admits flat-out that he’s never read a book by any of the school’s alumni before this one, so that begs the question: what does he actually know about the school? If the answer is, “Not much,” then how is that helpful in legitimately questioning what the school teaches and means?

  13. Abe Scott says:

    I spent quite some time in a state of frustration with this review, and had began several further screeds/tonal parodies directed at this article’s cultural prejudices, targeting, sureheadedness in claiming knowledge of the cartoonist’s psychological approach to all of life’s problems due to a literary device as utilized in a work aimed at younger readers, academic presumptions (of both the reader’s educational history and a school he seems to know next to nothing about), the critic initially admitting a wrongness as a way of justifying a continual belief in the wrongness, and an e-mail the critic sent to myself attempting to sell his review copy to me for “little more than the cost of shipping”.

    (Incidentally, I was not aware that the Comics Journal’s “Your e-mail address will not be published” policy contained a hidden clause in which it would be shared with the writer of the article that one had commented on.)

    However, I decided to trust in my acquaintance Austin English’s defense of Nicholson’s critical abilities and seek out/reread his other writings. I did not find them to be of the consistent value that English does, but they were not without merit. In some of his work I sensed a genuine personal honesty and vulnerability. Even a tiny bit of these qualities would’ve served this article well, and at the very least partially offset his near-damning take on a comic book that is literally not for him.

    There are moments within this review where Nicholson attempts to be even-handed in mentioning what he feels are this book’s good qualities. In that tradition, I’d like to offer that I’ve noticed those attempts, however cursory and facile.

    There was a moment when Nicholson mentioned that “Young people speak in a symbolic code as distinct as any world storytelling tradition.” It seems that there is something much greater to that statement than anything else within this review, perhaps a sadness at the folly of youthful communities’ social presumption and a personal sense of loss. I’d recommend he explore this topic further, in a format that goes beyond (or is entirely divorced from) comic books, or criticism of art. It is a subject that I’ve often considered myself, and I’d like to read his own autobiographical take on it. There’s no need to bring a groundless anger towards others’ potential for an early interest in “Scott Pilgrim” or “Octopus Pie” into such matters.

    Moreover, I hope that he is genuinely happy, centered and that his further works are better qualitatively (and better received) than this one.

    That part about the “a poster about gender roles popular in both punk houses and R.A. dorms circa 2005” was totally fucking ridiculous, though, and is deserving of a harsher scorn. Jeez.

    What was that all about? Is that poster even real? I Googled several combined variations of “gender role poster” and “R.A. dorm poster”, and found nothing.

    His resistance to widely-normalized hairstyles was very “Dave Berg”, except without the charms of Berg’s pathetic didacticism, or the clench-jawed, unwittingly-telling nature of his art. Maybe it was closer to Al Capp showing up to yell at Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s peace campaign, all pleased with himself. Except Al Capp wasn’t yelling at a vague memory of some sort of visualized call to positivism from fifteen years ago.

    Punk house, R.A. dorm, whatever – if a true decency reaches across several social spheres it is because it is correct. Accept the swoop.

    I wonder if the critic would approve of the imagined cross-cultural associations he’d find in my hairstyle?

  14. Matt S says:

    Apologize to the private college right now, Brian.

  15. Evan says:

    @Matt S: If you got a problem with cartoonists who went to/work for private colleges, then I guess you have a problem with Steve Ditko and Mark Newgarden (SVA alumni) or Gary Panter and David Mazzuchelli (SVA instructors)? I don’t care for private or for-profit schools either, but the fact remains that CCS is invoked in this review as a straw man. It’s lazy! Simple as that.

  16. Dooley says:

    If Brian thought the comic was total rubbish, I’m really not sure he should have bothered to review it. The world now has one less review from Brian of a comic he thought was great, because he decided to spend an afternoon or two writing a review of a work that he thought was terrible. This doesn’t seem like the greatest use of his energies.

    Maybe a review emphasising the things in the comic that work well or show promise might have been better. I like the cover, I like the city detail in the final panel, and I think the artist shows promise.

    Despite Brian’s attempted gag in the final sentence of his review, I think he has things backwards. If certain elements of the topic evoke a negative emotional reaction in him – hence his snark at haircuts and posters and the like – he should probably try and get over it before he sits down to write.

    And this part makes me scratch my head —

    “I’ve never read a comic made by an attendee of the Center For Cartoon Studies before.”

    “somewhere along the line whatever lessons get instilled at the school gives the students’ work a whiff of traditionalism that lacks appeal”

    “At a cursory glance, at least, I haven’t seen anything that feels fresh and revelatory and compels me further.”

    So he’s never read a comic made by an attendee of the Center For Cartoon Studies.

    If he’s never read a comic made by an attendee of the school, how does he know that the student’s work have a ‘whiff of traditionalism that lacks appeal’? Which students? Which work? I thought he’d never read a comic made by an attendee of the school? If he’s read some of their work, then he’s read a comic made by an attendee of the Center for Cartoon Studies. But he tells us that he’s never read a single comic by any of the artists. So how is he judging their work again?

    “the whole idea of a graduate school for comics strikes me as oppositional to a certain countercultural self-sufficiency that seems integral to successful American art.”

    The review gets dumber the more I look at it. Which successful American artists these days have a background of ‘countercultural self-sufficiency’? Crumb spending years working on a religious project after being paid heaps by a large book corporation? Scorsese getting breathless reviews after spending nearly a quarter of a billion on a prestige gangster film for Netflix? Chris Ware and Adrian Tomine doing covers for the New Yorker? I’d love to know more about how this starving in a garret stuff ‘seems integral’ to successful American art. Was it integral to Brian’s work as a successful artist? Any links to any art shows he managed to conjure up while eating noodles in someone else’s attic?

    Brian’s review deserves a longer review as I think he shows promise as a critic, but the more I mine his writing here for substance, the more I encounter wrongheaded nonsense that seems designed to waste the time of the reader, so I’ll leave it here.

  17. Matt S says:

    That’s not what ‘straw man’ means.

  18. Duely says:

    If Dooley thought the review was total rubbish, I’m really not sure Dooley should have bothered to comment on it. The world now has one less comment from Dooley on a review Dooley thought was great, because Dooley decided to spend an hour or so writing a comment on a review that Dooley thought was terrible. This doesn’t seem like the greatest use of Dooley’s energies.

  19. Matt S says:

    A strawman is an argument invented to be disposed of easily. “I think x is y” by definition is not a strawman because someone actually thinks x is y (I do).

  20. Evan says:

    It’s funny, the second posted it I thought, “I used that term wrong.” You’re right, I misspoke (mistyped?) I meant rather that CCS is used a critical crutch, something to prop up his argument but doesn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

    Anyway, now let’s talk about how Steve Ditko went to a for-profit school, and why it’s okay that he did but not okay that other people do.

  21. Evan says:

    Sorry to be a double poster, but this point can’t be overstated enough and I’ve been thinking about it all night:

    I rarely see The School of Visual Arts — a for-profit college with a notable cartooning department that costs $36,000 a semester, and where the likes of Steve Ditko, Peter Bagge, Wally Wood, Kyle Baker, Joe Sinnott, Kaz, Drew Friedman, and Dash Shaw all attended — derided in the same way CCS is. It’s an interesting double standard. Maybe people just don’t know SVA is a for-profit school that caters to the wealthiest demographic of students? Or maybe critics would rather it go unsaid to protect the work they personally like? I don’t have a clue, but I expect an opening paragraph dedicated to being suspicious of work from SVA whenever the aforementioned cartoonists (or their current faculty and students) get reviewed on TCJ.

    All of this CCS talk is kind of besides the point anyway — it’s only used to falsely delegitimatize Shyne’s work, a work she SELF-PUBLISHED by the way (how about that for “countercultural self-sufficiency”?).

  22. Evan says:

    Sorry, $36,000 a year to attend SVA, not semester.

  23. Milton Glaser's Alive Ghost says:

    It’s absolutely a swindle in its own right but I think the main differences are that SVA is accredited, 70 years old, isn’t in the literal middle of nowhere and has the pedigree of talent you yourself listed.

  24. Evan says:

    CCS non-accreditation is definitely a large blow against it, though I’m not sure it being in the “literal middle of nowhere” is exactly a cause for writing it off. Regardless, SVA is still a for-profit school, and so is CCS, and maybe CCS alum aren’t your cup of tea, but others would disagree. The point is that a large portion of this review is spent imagining what happens behind the doors of CCS, and it’s imagined with the reviewers own hang ups about school plastered all over. Hey, I dropped out of state school, so like I said, no real dog in this race. Just food for thought!

  25. N says:

    @Evan: I think Brian is critical of CCS (as he explains) because it’s a Master’s degree. None of the people you’ve mentioned went to grad school for comics. The price of CCS is $24,000 a year to go to school literally in the middle of nowhere… sorry White River Junction. That price is on top of whatever under-grad debts said student has accrued. What kind of work should one expect to come out of a grad school for comics? Is comics the next creative field to push young artists into the grad school debt cycle? I don’t think it’s obscene to be critical of CCS.

    @everyone else: Brian does a good job of explaining what works and what doesn’t for him. Getting critical feedback can be one of the most important things to encounter as an artist. Whether that’s having someone explain their reading experience or pinpoint the cultural references they’re picking up on. This is literally the kind of criticism needed today. It’s up to the artist to take it or leave it.

  26. Dooley says:

    Haha, jeez –

    “Brian does a good job of explaining what works and what doesn’t for him.”

    You mean that bit where he said he had a strong dislike of books he’d never read, full of artwork he’d never seen? His entire opening paragraph is a slam against a field of work, beginning with a first sentence where he admits he’s never read any of the work that he’s slamming. If this is a ‘good job’ by his standards I’d hate to see how things read when he does a rush job.

    N – “I think Brian is critical of CCS (as he explains) because it’s a Master’s degree.”

    Yeah, it was another great explanation from Brian.

    “I’m also skeptical of the value of MFA degrees for writing, and while I would probably avoid reading such work if I could”

    He says jack shit about why MFA degrees might help or hinder writing, but notes how he wishes he could avoid reading that content as well. I SENSE A TREND with this guy, as his opening paragraph whines about material he’s never read or finished, and then he scratches his chin and tells us how he wishes he could avoid reading another field of work alongside it.

    “Getting critical feedback can be one of the most important things to encounter as an artist. Whether that’s having someone explain their reading experience”

    GREAT EXPLANATION! “I’ve never read a comic made by an attendee of the Center For Cartoon Studies before.” Thank Christ he gave us this background before spending a fat paragraph attacking the complete work of all CCS attendees, I would have wondered what the foundation of his knowledge of the matter was otherwise.

    But this takes the biscuit.

    “This is literally the kind of criticism needed today.”

    Rants where the writer tells us how terrible a bunch of work he’s never actually read is? Mary Shyne should breathe easy with this one. Fuck knows what Kim Thompson would make of this half-assed attempt at a ‘review’ if he was here but I doubt he’d be impressed, as this sort of ill-considered shit would never have made it into a print edition of the Journal. Brian N., you should reapply to whichever school told you to fuck off earlier. They might let you in this time and you’d be able to drop your grudge.

  27. N says:

    @Dooley: ya seem a little mad? Haha umm Brian is being very upfront about his bias, and why it’s flawed, something most writers wouldn’t reveal. Does it bother you that Brian didn’t like the looks of other ccs alum’s work enough to read them? He tells you why- too traditional without appeal. Your example about crumb, ware, and tomine is confusing, none of these artists pursued a graduate degree in cartooning in order to become “masters” at their craft. They all have an extensive back catalog that the highlights you’ve pointed out are held up on. I can only guess that this is what Brian means by “counter culture self sufficiency.” As in not having to get a second degree to make relevant art.

    It’s an opinionated review, people in the real world judge books by their cover/style all the time without reading them. Had Brian revealed his bias in the same way, and then had a completely positive review of the book would you still be mad? Brian articulates how different mechanisms of this comic function, and how they help or hinder the reading. You are obviously mad at his bias, maybe you should use that energy to buy this artist’s work or support something you think is great. There’s no point in running circles with “he says he doesn’t like it but he didn’t read it.” He certainly read Get Over It.

  28. Ian Harker says:

    “I’ve never read a comic made by an attendee of the Center For Cartoon Studies before.”

    Yo Brian, real rap you never read TEOTFW?

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your premise as it pertains to avant-garde comics but also some people just want to have a normal career making graphic novels, which is fine. Not for snobs like us but its fine, it’s normal.

  29. Matt Seneca says:

    Jumping into this thread this late feels like a fool’s errand… but that is what I am doing, it seems. I’d like to agree with the couple of early post-ers who mentioned that using sound effects as action-descriptors is a pretty widespread practice these days – Sammy Harkham did it to great effect in a dream sequence at the beginning of the latest Crickets, and Dash Shaw has done interesting things with it too. It’s as much a part of the lingua franca these days as onomatopoeic sound effects are. It works, and it’s not going anywhere. Also *that* haircut is definitely all the way back, at least in Oakland/SF.

    Buuuuuuut ugh man, those comments talking about “what comics criticism needs” and “what Brian should spend his time doing” are absurd, reductive, and insulting. Comics criticism *maybe* needs to exist, and that’s it. The form it has is the form it should take. That form can then be judged on its own merits, not on whether or not it contributes to some wholly imaginary “project” that “we” should all be engaged in.

  30. Evan says:

    Matt Seneca: It’s a bleak future for comics criticism when a critic themselves says comics crit “maybe” needs to exist. And, on its own merits, this review reads like an angry e-mail that you leave in your drafts to let off steam. Pardon us lowly readers for trying to hold a community to a higher standard!

  31. Michael Sweater says:

    This review eats more ass than attending a grad school for comics.

    A+ wreck of a piece Brian.

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