Ups and Downs

Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the oral history of Zap Comix compiled by scholar Patrick Rosenkranz for the forthcoming collection of Zap.

In September 1969, the Berkeley police raided the Print Mint warehouse to seize all their copies of Zap #4, but owner Don Schenker had been tipped off and had moved their stock to another location. When they saw bookstores and distributors getting busted, the Zapsters suspected they might be next.

[ROBERT] WILLIAMS: We just thought we were all going to get arrested somewhere down the line, because there had never been material like this. Remember, 1969 is when the first adult magazines ever came out that showed pussy and asshole, and this was just flipped, to actually have this in a printed magazine that went through a printing press. You know, anything before that was just some secret thing.

[ROBERT] CRUMB: There was an organized, systematic, repressive action taken against every aspect of that outburst against the system, including alternative print media, by the powers, agencies, and institutions of the corporate state. It is not paranoia, but the fact of history to say these things. They didn’t sit back and passively watch while Abbie Hoffman and Huey Newton strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage. They had their think tanks staying up nights plotting and scheming new techniques to squash, neutralize, and co-opt this threat to everything they held dear. They constructed sophisticated strategies for instilling fear into the general population. You could watch it happening all through the ’70s and into the ’80s. Fear was a weapon the bastards used very effectively.

[GILBERT] SHELTON: There was a lot of pressure at the time. I guess a lot of people have forgotten how paranoid everyone was, that we were either going to be rounded up and all put in prison camps, or just shot down on the streets by the forces of reaction. Things didn’t look so good in ’68 and ’69.

WILLIAMS: There was a shaky period there in ’70–’71, where we thought the government was going to clamp down. There was a chance there that the country could have swung to the right. We know for a fact that they were reconditioning internment camps in Eastern and Southern California and Arizona where they put the Japanese in, and there were remarks about doing it from the government. We stuck our necks out already so we might as well stick them out all the way and violate everything.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Ware writes about the story behind his latest New Yorker cover.

Rachel Cooke at The Guardian briefly reviews Joe Sacco's Bumf (which is very much in the tradition of Zap, and which I predict will blow a few of his more recent readers' minds) and Jean-Pierre Filiu & David B's Best of Enemies.

Zainab Akhtar reviews newish work by Rob Davis, Stephen Collins, and Hermann.

—News. Koyama Press is going digital via Sequential.

Jim Woodring receives the Lynd Ward Prize.

No one writes catalog copy like Zak Sally.

FAIR WARNING-- please DO NOT send it back for any of these reasons:

it is physically difficult to read.

yup. there are literally MILLIONS of books that are very easy to read, physically. this is not one of them (but maybe if you get through it you can find out why). [Etc. ...]

—Interviews & Profiles. Here is a transcript of Alan Moore biographer Lance Parkin's live interview with Moore, conducted a few weeks back for the UK publication of Parkin's book.

—Controversies. Russ Heath recently wrote and drew a strip for Hero Initiative about Roy Lichtenstein's use of a Heath panel for one of his most famous paintings. As the mention of Lichtenstein in comics circles usually does, this quickly spurred a lot of vehement and largely predictable arguments online (although noted Before Watchmen participant and apologist Darwyn Cooke doing the strip's lettering added an ironic new sideshow to the main event). The issue of whether or not Lichtenstein exploited cartoonists' work for his paintings is in my opinion more complicated and less clear-cut than either side will usually admit, but however you feel about Lichtenstein, it's important to remember (as Evan Dorkin pointed out on Twitter) that his paintings only affected a relatively small number of artists -- the comics industry as a whole exploited many, many more.

Second, after nearly a week of nonstop debate over the recent James Sturm strip, I don't think anyone needs my take on things, but there are still a few things I think worth saying that I haven't seen said. Tom Spurgeon had what I thought was a reasonable response last Friday, if you aren't familiar with the controversy. And Brandon Graham drew a very effective response strip of his own, depicting a version of the story in which the characters react in a positive manner instead of a negative one. It's a fun strip, and I can see why it's so popular, but I wonder if people would have liked it so much if the Sturm strip wasn't already there for context and comparison. That may seem obvious, but what I mean by that is I'm not sure stories in which the main characters always do the right thing make for the best, most lasting art.

Let me be clear here if I can. I think the debate over the strip's perceived sexism is largely a healthy, useful, and important thing, even though I don't fully agree with that reading. (I think any reading of the strip that doesn't include its premise -- that envy and fear of a (female) fellow artist's perceived success is akin to a pointless, harmful, and debilitating addiction -- is at the least incomplete. I also think that if a reader isn't already familiar with the culture surrounding 12-step recovery programs, that central premise is clearly a lot harder to discern.) There are always multiple competing valid readings for any work of art, and everyone is entitled to their own response. Discussions about the political implications of any work of art can only be enriching, assuming they are entered into honestly, and people don't have to agree on every particular to learn from each other's perspectives.

But there has been another popular response to the strip that I think is far less defensible, and much less healthy, and that's the apparent belief that artistic depiction of bad behavior necessarily equals endorsement. (Obviously not every detractor of the strip falls into this trap.) While Graham's strip is excellent as a response to Sturm's, I think if Sturm's initial strip had taken the same tack as Graham's, it would have been much less effective, and frankly, unmemorable. It doesn't take too long imagining the application of this approach to other stories before you can see why. Suddenly the three little pigs all responsibly build their houses out of bricks. When the witch in the wood meets Hansel and Gretel, she feeds and comforts them for the sake of kindness rather than cannibalism. Macbeth chooses to set his ambitions aside, and the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird quickly agrees to Tom Robinson's acquittal. Obviously we would have to lose a great many stories.

Sometimes art provokes uncomfortable responses. Kafka, who wrote better uncomfortable fiction than just about anybody, once famously said, "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." I don't think I'd claim so much for Sturm's strip, but the fact that it explores discomfiting territory is a point in its favor. The same is true of the debate it inspired.

(By the way, this little-noticed tweet provides interesting context to the whole business.)

24 Responses to Ups and Downs

  1. James Romberger says:

    Setting aside the gender issue for a moment, it is interesting that an artist who is very involved as a teacher of younger cartoonists, preparing them less for the page rate paying, corporate character/property-oriented portion of the form, more for the alt/lit arena where it is so hard to make a living, where so many must work jobs to support their art—chooses to represent the practitioner’s involvement in comics as an addiction, perhaps a ‘disease’, as so many see alcoholism or drug abuse as. Dan, you say that “envy and fear of a fellow artist’s success” is the addiction they are in “the program” to deal with, but I’m not getting that from the strip.

  2. I think both of these comics show how their artist’s standardize success, and how they deal with it. Luckily, there are cartoonists who do not measure success in money, but by comics skill and inventiveness. And thank God there are cartoonists who are encouraged and excited by younger, better cartoonists. As thought-provoking and emotional as Sturm’s comic is, Graham’s response completes it.

  3. Also, Brandon Graham made a little comic, that I think he printed on the back cover of a King City issue, where he says something like the best comic can be made sitting on the edge of a dumpster. I wish more cartoonists had this attitude.

  4. Tim Hodler says:

    @James. First off, it’s Tim, not Dan, which makes me worry that my post came off as a little more loco than I intended it to be. (Jk, Dan.) Otherwise, I think the addiction in the strip is clearly envy rather than cartooning; the sponsor encourages the younger artist’s cartooning, which he wouldn’t do if making comics itself was the problem. But I agree that there are clarity issues with the strip, and they make the negative responses to it more understandable.

  5. mazzacane says:

    I think Graham’s strip is cringe-inducingly redundant and simplistic. Everyone already knows how we SHOULD think and feel if we were to all be perfect. Sturm’s strip is the kind of thing that lets us feel, for a moment, less alone in our imperfection, less alienated, less “bad”- more human (comforting the afflicted/afflicting the comforted). A world of artwork depicting only our best selves would be worse than boring, it would add to our collective feelings of alienation and self-loathing (afflicting the afflicted, etc.) while improving nothing.

  6. James Romberger says:

    Oh, yeah, sorry Tim, of course you wrote that! I reread the strip and while it definitely addresses professional jealousy, I still feel unclear what the device of the “program” is about—-I guess because I assume that all cartoonists would feel as I do when I see good work, thrilled and reinvigorated to approach my own, as in Brandon Graham’s rejoinder.

  7. Caleb Orecchio says:

    I see your point mazzacane, but I disagree. Brandon Graham is a pretty influential and relevant comic artist who worked his ass off for years before becoming the cartoonist he is today. As a young cartoonist, it’s extremely encouraging to see someone like him view a new artist’s work as something to aspire to and respect. So to me, this isn’t some utopian fantasy, but a lifestyle a top-notch cartoonist lives and breathes. I have little sympathy for people who feel the need to dwell on their shortcomings without putting forth the work needed to improve or change.

  8. Uland says:

    Sturm’s boring strip is about anxiety someone dumb enough to pay to go to a “Comics College” might feel upon learning someone who didn’t pay thousands to listen to people who couldn’t make it doing comics has successfully begged for money for a comic a lot of people apparently like. Am I getting it? Oh, and the “successful” cartoonist is identified as female, which means Sturm thought he was being cool with pasty millennial shut-ins, anti-sexism-wise, but failed to realize anything uttered by a straight white 40+ year old is immediately suspect. & then neck tattoo guy gets to pretend anyone who talks about envy like it’s universal phenomena is, like, a dick (somehow). Is that right?
    Well done, Urban Elf Cartoonist League; you’ve successfully bored yourselves into complete incoherence.

  9. Kim O'Connor says:

    “Discussions about the political implications of any work of art can only be enriching, assuming they are entered into honestly. . .”

    I wish that were true. But one person’s enriching conversation is, for others, more like tiring or depressing.

    At face value, I agree with much of what you say here, Tim. Sometimes art provokes uncomfortable responses. That’s one of the most valuable things art can do. But on TCJ posts discussing “controversies,” I often perceive a tendency to inflate “uncomfortable” works of art to a ridiculous degree. James Sturm is not Shakespeare or Harper Lee. Give me a break.

    But that’s beside my real point, which is: The specter of censorship haunts every conversation about racism and sexism in comics. Why? Calling out something for being shitty is not the same thing as taking it away and replacing it with a PC version. You lose me when you veer from discussion of the actual work and into the territory of perceived threat. “Obviously we would have to lose a great many stories” is fallacious thinking. That is not at all the logical conclusion of the Sturm responses that I have seen, anyway. Brandon Graham’s comic was good because it was a response, not a replacement.

    Fwiw I agree with you that the Sturm strip doesn’t endorse bad behavior. When I read the gender politics as intentional, I thought it was pretty funny. (The Crumb part made me lol.) But that was before I read responses from readers who thumped their chests and said ‘this is my life’…before the weird erasure of gender in responses by people including Heidi Macdonald…and before this, another heartfelt TCJ ode to the power of “uncomfortable” art that itself begins with an excerpt from the new Zap collection.

    Who will leave this discussion feeling tired and depressed? And who will leave it feeling enriched? The demographic breakdown will be the same as every other “controversy” at TCJ, I’d wager. Is that the mark of a healthy debate, do you think? This is not a rhetorical question. I would love to hear your thoughts.

  10. anonymous avenger says:

    anonymity is the spiritual foundation of 12 step programs and $ is a non issue. just two things that weaken the effectiveness of sturm’s metaphor.

  11. Tim Hodler says:

    @Kim. “Discussions about the political implications of any work of art can only be enriching, assuming they are entered into honestly. . .”

    I wish that were true. But one person’s enriching conversation is, for others, more like tiring or depressing.

    You’re right. Of course, a key phrase in that quote is “assuming they are entered into honestly.” Which does indeed make conversation with you tiring and depressing.

    Because yes, of course Sturm’s strip isn’t Shakespeare or Harper Lee, and I didn’t say it was. I also didn’t say it was “The Three Little Pigs” or “Hansel and Gretel”.

    Also, I very explicitly separated debate over perceived sexism (which I wrote was healthy) from criticism that equated depiction with endorsement (which I said wasn’t). It is difficult to understand how you can pretend I conflated the two here without expecting people to notice. The evidence is directly above, for anyone to inspect.

    I’m not going to waste time defending positions I don’t believe in and didn’t take. Anyone who wishes to can look at my original post and see that you are misrepresenting it. Whether deliberately or carelessly I won’t venture to say. I wonder if you know.

  12. mazzacane says:

    The more I think about it the more annoyed I am by Graham’s strip… Kim, above, calls it a “response, not a replacement”- but, in spirit at least, it feels closer to the reverse. Graham doesn’t give us his own characters dealing with a similar situation, or even Sturm’s characters in a new story- he literally redraws the same story but “fixes” it. But what is it about Sturm’s strip that needs fixing, or rather, what does Graham choose to fix? He fixes the characters’ basic human emotional responses, changing them from negative to positive. Now I’m grinding my teeth. The implication, since the characters don’t actually ACT in any negative way based on their emotions, is that simply FEELING negative emotions is WRONG and one should somehow will him/herself to feel more correctly. To paraphrase Gilbert Hernandez: this position is bullshit, anti-art and anti-life. No one is CHOOSING to feel pettiness and envy, but (and it’s sad that I feel like this doesn’t go without saying) we all feel it sometimes, including Brandon Graham. Discouraging its depiction will not make it go away.
    Basically, to me, Sturm’s strip says: “haha, it’s funny and sad that we all act this unpleasant way sometimes. What can you do but get back on the horse and try again?” Graham’s says: “anyone who related to that other strip: what’s wrong with you? why can’t you be more like this?” Which is bogus. So, to amend my previous conclusion: Graham’s strip in isolation is both boring and counterproductive, but, paired with Sturm’s strip, is egregious.

  13. Brandon Graham says:

    I’ll jump in here.

    My goals in the 10 minutes of my life that I drew that sketchbook comic(it was really just a quick farted out thing) were to have the characters talk about the art. I just don’t care what someone else’s Kickstarter made, If the work isn’t exciting I have no interest in someone getting a D&Q deal or their signings going out the door.– That was my gut reaction to reading it initially. Is Tessa good?

    I feel strongly that the hustle of making money off of art and the actual making of art are not the same skill set.

    I was never interested in shutting down what Sturm did, I just can’t really relate. And I like the back and forth of a conversation through comics. I was initially hoping that more cartoonists would do their own versions. I think there’s a lot to talk about in the culture of comics and for me comics is a fun way to do that.

  14. Tim Hodler says:

    Thanks for this, Brandon.

  15. To me, the accidentally revealing thing about the Sturm strip is how it’s drawn in a style easily mistakable for that of other cartoonists- It doesn’t seem that far off from Adrian Tomine’s “Hortisculpture” style, or Charles Forsman’s stuff, or Sammy Harkham’s drawings. And obviously these people’s style then looks back to Charles Schulz and Frank King and one hundred years of American cartooning. Sturm, as a comics instructor who started his own school, is a part of the codification of a tradition of cartooning into a pedagogy. When I think about female cartoonists who’ve been able to succeed wildly and earn book deals and have massive out-the-door lines I think about Emily Carroll and Kate Beaton, who are coming from a wildly different perspective which enables them to find a readership outside of “the comics audience” using the internet. (Note: As much as I love Matthew Thurber and thought his “Letter To A Young Cartoonist” was filled with smart advice, the fact that people who are in one way or another “outside” of traditional alt-comics culture are able to find success through the internet in ways that have nothing to do with the “alternative arts community” is the counter-argument, depending on what sort of cartoonist you are or want to be.) The idea of resenting people who are completely different from you for being able to find an audience you could never reach or speak to is “relatable,” but it’s also deeply silly. If Sturm’s goal is satirical, that’s fine and natural, but in some ways the fact that the people seeing this comic are perhaps unversed in that tradition/pedagogy Sturm’s a part of means they could miss the point of how freighted with the meaning of that drawing style this strip is and just see sexism.

  16. mazzacane says:

    Brandon: thanks from me too for jumping in.

    I think it’s interesting that, implicit in your explanation of your strip, there exists another strip, which you didn’t draw, but which, I think (correct me if I’m wrong), expresses your point of view just as well- which is a strip where the two men sit around and talk about how horrible Tessa’s comic is, how she draws like a 5 year old, how the word balloons aren’t sequenced right, etc. etc. I.e.: your point, if I understand you right, is not that we should feel any particular way about Tessa, just that you would prefer to talk about her work vs. her business dealings.

  17. Caleb Orecchio says:

    Mazzacane, I think it’s safe say you’ve missed the point, and trying to explain this simple sketchbook comic to you any further is a waste of time. You obviously don’t share Brandon’s point of view and it seems to have completely hindered your understanding of it. I have personally decided to stop checking in on this thread and go make comics.

  18. Uland says:

    Mazzacane is totally right. If Brandon’s logic is carried through to its conclusion, a strip about how shitty Tessa is as a cartoonist is just as legitimate as his.

  19. Uland says:

    Brian , are you saying some people saw sexism because Sturm is a teacher & drew in a style similar to other men? And that’s not a batshit crazy response? Am I understanding this correctly?

  20. Kim O'Connor says:

    Tim, I wasn’t trying to misrepresent your position by conflating two points or anything else. I honestly don’t know what you mean.

    To clarify, *my* point was threefold. The first being, by my lights, the comic itself was a lot better than the conversation that sprang up around it. I, for one, didn’t find that conversation particularly enriching.

    The second being, TCJ seems to place a premium on comics that “start a conversation.” But those conversations tend to be…similar un-enriching. Cf. Karns.

    Finally, and most importantly, I don’t understand this panic fantasy of a world without Macbeth or Kafka or whatever. Graham’s comic never threatened to disappear the original. Nor was it, as another commenter suggested, an example of someone repressing his true feeling in favor of something more PC. Graham’s comic wasn’t an act of censorship or self-censorship. It was just a response. And while sure, I agree that it wasn’t High Art or whatever, I think all your lofty discussion of Sturm’s work alongside canon authors, fairy tales, etc. is straight ridiculous.

  21. Tim Hodler says:

    @Kim. I have to admit your second comment baffles and surprises me, but I’m going to assume you are being sincere and go through this point by point. Please forgive me for the length of the following … I feel like I was already pretty clear about all these things in my original post, so it feels a little silly to go over them all again even more slowly, but I don’t know how else to make this any more straightforward.

    This is from your first comment:

    Sometimes art provokes uncomfortable responses. That’s one of the most valuable things art can do. But on TCJ posts discussing “controversies,” I often perceive a tendency to inflate “uncomfortable” works of art to a ridiculous degree. James Sturm is not Shakespeare or Harper Lee. Give me a break.

    If you go back to what I wrote, I never compared Sturm’s comic in terms of quality to Shakespeare, Harper Lee, or anything else. The only judgments I made about the strip’s merits in the post and the subsequent comments were (1) that its central premise and metaphor were probably not as clear as they should be, (2) that “I don’t think I’d claim … Sturm’s strip” to be a great book by Kafka’s stated standards, and (3) that still, the fact that it covered subject matter potentially uncomfortable for both the artist and the readers was a point in its favor.

    Here is what you wrote in your comment: “Sometimes art provokes uncomfortable responses. That’s one of the most valuable things art can do.” I don’t think my actual words contradict your stated view.

    To go into this further, I did not compare the strip to Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, and “The Three Little Pigs”. I used those stories as examples of fiction that involved the main characters committing “bad behavior” but that were still worthwhile. I chose them on the grounds that they are a widely diverse set of stories that would be familiar to most if not all readers, that they would be considered “good” by most if not all readers, and that because they were considered “good,” their examples would demonstrate the weakness of the case for saying that depiction automatically equates to authorial approval. This of course does not necessitate in any way that “The Sponsor” is a good strip simply because it depicts unpleasant attitudes; it just means that it shouldn’t be criticized on that ground alone. Clear?

    Next you wrote:

    But that’s beside my real point, which is: The specter of censorship haunts every conversation about racism and sexism in comics. Why? Calling out something for being shitty is not the same thing as taking it away and replacing it with a PC version.

    In my original post, I was very explicit in saying that I had absolutely no problem with the criticisms of the comic for being sexist. I don’t happen to agree with that reading, but I think it is a valid one. To quote from myself again: “I think the debate over the strip’s perceived sexism is largely a healthy, useful, and important thing, even though I don’t fully agree with that reading. … There are always multiple competing valid readings for any work of art, and everyone is entitled to their own response.”

    And to repeat again for clarity’s sake: I am not in any way concerned with people calling out this comic or any other for perceived sexism, not because of a fear of censorship or any other reason. I may or may not disagree with any particular critique, but I don’t think it’s up to any one person to decide such things for anyone else. I don’t know how to make this any more clear.

    Continuing on to the supposed “specter of censorship” that haunts my post, let me again state for the record: I am not in any way concerned about censorship of this strip, and don’t believe that a fair-minded reading of my post supports the claim that I am, especially once you link it, as you did in your comment, to “every conversation about racism and sexism in comics.” Because, first, see above: I explicitly stated I think those conversations are largely positive things, and I have no problem with anyone who sees sexism or racism in a work of art speaking up about it. In fact, I think such speech is “healthy, useful, and important.”

    And second, because when I wrote that “obviously we would have to lose a great many stories,” I did so only after I had moved on to discussing “another popular response to the strip that I think is far less defensible, and much less healthy… the apparent belief that artistic depiction of bad behavior necessarily equals endorsement.” This is what I mean when I say you conflated the points about sexism and the points about depiction equaling endorsement.

    “Losing a great many stories” is a figure of speech, and not intended to spark any thoughts of censorship, and again, I don’t believe a fair-minded reading of that sentence in its context would support that claim. But just in case, let me say it clearly now: I’m not worried about people censoring “The Three Little Pigs” because two of the pigs were irresponsible.

    Okay, as to the new points in your latest comment. You write: [By] my lights, the comic itself was a lot better than the conversation that sprang up around it. I, for one, didn’t find that conversation particularly enriching.

    I have no problem with that. I think it is valuable for artists and readers to hear what strikes other people as sexist, and awareness of possible negative reader reactions will lead to stronger work in the long run. But I don’t really mind if you think that isn’t worth the debate’s unpleasantness (or if you object to the idea for some other reason).

    Then you say: TCJ seems to place a premium on comics that “start a conversation.” But those conversations tend to be…similar un-enriching. Cf. Karns. As mentioned before, you yourself have written, “Sometimes art provokes uncomfortable responses. That’s one of the most valuable things art can do.” So this doesn’t really seem to be a large point of contention between us. Also, for the record, I think that while of course all strong art can start a conversation, I don’t by any means think that conversation always has to be political or contentious. Krazy Kat may be the greatest comic strip ever drawn; Popeye is my personal favorite; neither are likely to lead to flame wars. Or to get more contemporary, you could cite Roz Chast, Patrick McDonnell, or many other cartoonists who aren’t likely to offend many people for political reasons, but who we have run very positive notices about on this site. I think the fact that the stories that tend to spark the most outrage get the most attention may skew casual readers’ perception of the site’s actual content.

    (As for Karns, I have never read Fukitor myself, and am skeptical that I would enjoy it much. As far as I can remember, it has only been mentioned positively by contributors to this site two times, once by Jim Rugg and once by Frank Santoro. Frank subsequently apologized for promoting it.)

    I’ve already addressed your third point about censorship above. I’m not concerned about it in this context in the slightest, and believe that you simply misread me. And again, I don’t think that Sturm’s strip can stand next to Shakespeare, and never said it could.

    I appreciate that you dropped the hostile tone this time around. Thank you for that. I hope this clarifies my views. Let me know if you don’t understand any of this.

  22. Kim O'Connor says:

    Tim, I’m not sure how to respond. My perception of you (in the few times we’ve gone back and forth in this way) is that you *always* misinterpret my comments and that you’re *always* dismissive and defensive and rude. So thank you for not being rude this time around.

    You’re right–your original post was clear and straightforward. And I think my reading comprehension was (and is) in working order.

    I never thought you were trying to quell the conversation about sexism in Sturm’s comic. My comment on censorship had nothing to do with that. At all! Clearly you think the conversation surrounding the comic is healthy, enriching, etc. Message received.

    Me? I haven’t found the conversation enriching, mostly because it seems to be an argument about whether or not sexism is even depicted in the comic. To recap, I think sexism is clearly depicted in the comic. But I also thought the cartoonist was making fun of those guys, not endorsing their bad attitudes.

    I do think it’s important for art to explore discomfort and ambiguity. But you’ll notice that the critical conversations surrounding To Kill a Mockingbird are not about whether or not racism exists. That is just assumed as a baseline. We’re not there yet with sexism (or racism) in comics. That’s what makes me tired. Depressed.

    So if we examine Sturm’s and Graham’s comics side by side, evaluating them as Art (a strange task, I think, but the one your post concerns itself with), I don’t see sparking a conversation or whatever as a point in Sturm’s favor. While I’ve seen people like Sarah Horrocks and Tom Spurgeon say smart things about the conversation, the conversation itself has been fundamentally stupid. And I’d add that Sturm’s comic hasn’t seemed to make people uncomfortable in a particularly healthy way. I’ve seen readers who identify with or feel validated by his protagonists. But I haven’t really seen them take that second step of taking the strip’s implicit criticism to heart or grappling with it in any real way. Maybe I haven’t read widely enough, I dunno.

    And so now we have a familiar scenario: the people who are made to feel uncomfortable (tired/depressed/etc.) by this conversation about sexism in comics are (some) women. Once again we’re stuck arguing the premise: this exists. I guess that’s why I feel particularly frustrated by what I perceive as your post’s lofty tone and abstract reflection on what’s valuable in art. The problem with the notion of “uncomfortable” territory in comics is that it tends to consistently make the same people uncomfortable. Who’s feeling enriched? I don’t know, but dollars to donuts–and seriously, I say this with no animosity, Tim–they all look like you.

  23. Tim Hodler says:

    Look, I’m not sure I agree you understood what I wrote as much as you say, but it’s probably not worth arguing about more at this point. I doubt anyone‘s going to feel enriched by continuing this much further! So maybe it’s best to move on from that for now. If I’m reading you right, you seem to be saying 1) that discussions of sexism and racism are often unpleasant, particularly for the groups feeling attacked, and 2) that most “uncomfortable” comics have been created by white men, and this should be kept in mind when discussing this topic. I agree with you on both points. Thanks.

  24. Kim O'Connor says:

    No, you are not reading me right. Thanks, Tim. As ever, a treat.

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