Saturday, December 23, 2006

Spreading Sadness and Ill-will

As some of you know, I'm a part-time critic, and so I sort of see spreading sadness and ill-will as my duty. And I think disagreement is often actually helpful for art in all kinds of ways. So here goes:

First of all, I quite like the pictures you posted, Robert. They're trippy and creepy and highly detailed, all things I very much enjoy in art. And I love Steve Ditko and Berni Wrightson too.

I also agree that the comics scene at the moment has a lot of problems. I'm not sure I agree about what they are, though. I don't think that the problem with comics is that there's too much conceptual innovation. As far as I can tell, there's hardly any. Most American alternative cartoonists don't even vary page layout outside of a grid; mainstream comics are trapped in a super-hero rut from which there seems to be no escape (and I'm speaking as someone with a lot of affection for super-hero comics.) I do think American comics tend to be boring, but I think that's because they're conceptually barren, not because they are too innovative.

Now to a couple of things I disagree with:

As someone with a child, I don't think you're quite right when you assume that having a kid decimates your creative output. It's certainly a huge sink of time and energy (I'm trying to get my son to take a nap even as we speak.) But as far as art goes, it can also be an inspiration and a goad. Siah's a big part of the project I'm currently posting on here (which may be good or may be bad, but there's certainly a lot of it.) And I only started getting gigs writing criticism *after* he came on the scene. Not that you (or anyone) should have a kid if you don't want one; I just don't think that having one spells disaster for an artist.

And, probably the biggie: I find your attitude towards women off-putting. It's not the breast-fetish — most guys have some sort of fetish, and breasts is fairly standard (I've had the odd crush on Jayne Mansfield and Cristy Canyon myself.) But when you talk about woman (or "females") you seem to present them mostly as sexual objects, rather than as human beings. (You say you don't want a woman "to look after" for example; a woman's a person, not a dog — she'll look after herself, y'know?)

Your views are pretty standard, of course. But part of the reason I think this is worth discussing is because I think it points out some of the limitations of this blog, and of this group in general as a force for revamping comics as we know it. I like the art on this blog, and I'm happy to be a part of it. But I think it fits pretty easily into the sort of thing underground cartoonists were doing 30 or 40 years ago — the clubby, virtually all-male atmosphere included. I just don't think that this is where change in comics is going to come from; it's been done before, it's appeal has been shown to be limited; it isn't likely to have a huge audience outside of the small world in which comics is already ensconced. (Where I do think change is going to come from is shoujo and comics for girls, which are incredibly inventive, phenomenally popular, and hugely inspiring to a whole new crop of cartoonists, who will start being old enough to create some serious shit in the next decade or so.)

And, finally, I disagree with the thinking behind this paragraph:

"I would also hope that I would pave the way for more artists to draw anything they want (and I do mean ANYTHING) without being afraid of what people think of them, without being judged as a terrorist for getting disturbing images out of their heads and onto the page, without being looked as less than human for drawing things other people don’t understand. Without being accused as a criminal for lines on paper that make people think about things they would rather not."

I think that there's plenty of validation as it is for artists to draw "anything they want". Sure, there's a lot of puritans about, in lots of different contexts. But people think R. Crumb's a genius precisely because he has used his comics as dumping grounds for his id. In general, I prefer art in which the artist has exercised some critical faculty and thought about what they want to say, rather than just "getting disturbing images out of their heads". (Don't get me wrong; disturbing images can be great (I love David Cronenberg and Johnny Ryan). But they can also be boring or tiresome — as is the case with a lot of racial caricatue stuff, which is just disturbing because its racist, not because it's inventive or interesting (and yes, you can be both racist and inventive...but just because you're the first doesn't mean you're the second.) (And as long as I'm annoying people, I really didn't like the blackface cannibal in Paleo's strip from a while back -- it just seemed gratuitous and boring (though I like Paleo's drawing in general.))

So there you are. I do mean to prompt discussion rather than give offense, and I can promise not to do this sort of thing again if people would prefer I didn't....

14 comments:

aeron said...

Heh, if we can make comics that look like they were made 40 years ago we WILL be punching the current comic scene in the nose.

I can't speak for anyone else but the last thing on my mind is to make something that will become super popular or reinvent the wheel. I just want to make a fun, interesting, vivid, detailed fantasy story that you can lose yourself in and come back to a hundred times and find something new each time you read it. If you've seen monsterbrains, then you know my preference for art. I want to see more stuff like that in the comics field. ...interesting fantasy worlds.

And I saw David's blackface cannibal as a great nod to old cartoons.

Noah Berlatsky said...

The first point's fair enough, and popularity's tricky anyway; there are a lot of communities in any art form, and there are lots of ways to make an impression.

About blackface: comics has a long and shitty history of racial caricature. Reproducing a racist image may be a homage; unfortunately, it's also racist (unless some effort is made to comment on or deal with the image, of course). It's sort of like the battle over sport team names; the people who want to keep the name "Fighting Illini" are nostalgic traditionalists; alas, the tradition they're nostalgic for is a racist one.

I'm not saying the cartoonists who use these images are racist, but once you put art out there, it has a life and meaning of its own....

Robert Adam Gilmour said...

I really apprecite you bringing this up, but I assure you that you don't need to be so concerned about my attitudes towards these things.

1. The amount of controversial stuff I do is comparitively small to the straight-lighthearted stuff. It's just that I think i'd be more associated with the extreme stuff before my stories about happy little elves. I could be taking alot of shit for it and lose the trust of most editors and companies because of it, but I feel strongly about making these things less taboo/unspeakable.

2. Having children obviously has no creative disadvantages, but it does mean that there is less chance of me making a living at my dream job, children are a very important thing that I would despise myself if I fucked up on them, so I'm not going to have them for the sake of it, like many people seem to do. I think there are aspects of fatherhood that I would love, but I don't feel strongly enough (yet or possibly never) to justify actually having them.
I can completely sympathise with you getting pissed off at the idea of people saying that you become all normal+ boring if you settle down with a wife and kids, I certainly don't believe it myself.

3. I was a little saddened that I gave a not so good impression towards girls in my intro, I am not so unfeeling as the "females" heading, I just wanted to give it a vaguely amusing heading.
I am just as sensitive towards girls as I am to myself and am very respectful of their feelings, and I think it shows in my art if you look at some more of it. Not to sound like a pompous "girls are better than boys" git, but girls have mostly strongly appreciated my depiction of them, they certianly fuel what I would consider my most thoughtful work.
It's impossible to talk about the spiritual side that attracts me to girls in the precision and detail that I can about how much I love their forms, plus, it's very hard and very unwise to make specific pre-requisites about personalities because they are very complex. I am quite fond of funny girls, but you cannot grade personalities in the same way as you can measure breasts.

I'm not sure how you feel about my saying that i need a girl with a set bigger than her head, but I feel it's completely necessary and considerate to the poor girls that I could fall in love with and not stay sexually enthuisiatic for. I was not exaggerating one bit when I said I was obsessed with breasts, my obsessions dwarfs many fellow fetishests even if it is a fairly common fixation. Trust me, if I had a C-cup girl and a F-cup neighbor, my mind would turn to shit no-matter how strong my love was. An obsession is a blessing and a curse, my obsession has far more cons than pros, but I have to abide by it, I enjoy following its rules. What's the point of making 2 peoples lives crap just because some idiots think I'm shallow for listening to my cock a little for safety?
Also, I think you may be underestimating the power of glamour photography to capture the spirituality of a topless girl, don't knock it if you've only witnessed the unfeeling mainstream crap. I enjoy the warmness and smiles of those women as much as I enjoy their bodies, take a longer look at the photos and you might see it. I don't sit looking at these hours after I've came for nothing, they're really special to me.
When I said "looking after a woman", this is not pure lazyness, I mean it in the same way that I meant about children: I should only do these things if I'm actually capable of doing a good job. I'd like to be very lonely and prolific right now, without anyone else to think about.

4. I've never been offended by stereotypes, as long as there is no venom or genuine racism, many of these characters are given normal personalities to acompany their strange looks, fun to draw too. It's really not all that different from how stereotypically old people are often depicted, but with no genuine agism behind it.

Noah Berlatsky said...

Hey Robert. Thanks for responding so thoughtfully.

1. A lot of creators do both taboo-breaking stuff and more mainstream work. I think you may not be as at much of a disadvantage as you think here. (Though I certainly could be wrong.)

2. I wasn't pissed off about the children thing, I don't think. I was just disagreeing. (And I was normal and boring before the wife and kid, so....)

3. As I said, I don't have anything against the breast fetish. A fetish is a fetish, and yeah, if it's important to you, you should find someone who fits your fetish.

And I don't have a problem with your consumption of porn either. The sex industry is a pretty complicated issue, politically. There are anti-porn feminists (like Andrea Dworkin – who was a sex worker herself, incidentally.) I think they make some good points, but I can't entirely agree with their conclusions. You might try reading Jenna Jameson's autobiography ("How To Make Love Like a Porn Star") if you're interested; it provides a pretty interesting perspective (she started doing soft-core glamour shoots, which is fairly typical I think.) You might try looking at some Andrea Dworkin, too (I think there's some available online.) She can be infuriating, but I've enjoyed arguing with her writing.

What I was reacting to in general was some of the things you said (as I pointed out.) You've basically apologized/qualified these, which I appreciate. Talking about this sort of charged issue can be difficult. If you care about causing offense (as you seem to) it is worth trying to think your language through fairly carefully.

4. I disagree about racial caricature. I think it's awfully hard to determine whether there is "venom or genuine racism" behind an image. I really believe racism is not about what you feel in your heart; it's about what you say and do. You can hate black people and make art that is not racist (because you're afraid of censure, for example, or for any number of other reasons.) Similarly, you can have no particular animosity towards black folks, and make art that's racist. It's what you do, not what you feel. (And again, it is possible to use blackface caricature in a way which isn't racist, but it requires a fair amount of work and thought.)

Black caricatures are offensive because they tie into a history of denigration and actual oppression. In general, they aren't given normal personalities at all, but are represented as stupid, shiftless, dirty, etc. There just is not the same iconographic viciousness behind the history of depicting old people (which is why there's not really an instantly recognizable single caricature of old people, the way there is of black people.)

Robert Adam Gilmour said...

I think you may be right about the racism thing.

I'm not sure about reading from either those people (Jenna Jameson and Andrea Dworkin). They both had their points for sure, but.
1. I've generally found Jenna Jameson quite pleasant, but once I saw the filming of one of her movies, and she was being a total bitch to one of the other actresses because the other actress happened to be an old porn legend. She was basically calling her an old cow and other agist remarks because someone else was getting more attention for her contribution to the adult industry.

2. Andrea Dworkin is infuriating, yes she did say many true things, but even her friends knew she was a little nuts. How can you fully trust the opinion of a woman who kept a baseball bat to protect herself from her loving husband? It's quite suprising how many famous friends she had considering all things. I share her horror at the idea of people being treated badly in the sex industry.
There was a time when Andrea claimed she got drugged and raped and everyone said "I don't believe you, who'd want to rape you", but I think lots of rapists would do it for the sheer humiliation factor. But maybe she was just going nuts like many said she was. She seems to be much more complex than her fans and detractors make her out to be, I cetainly don't think she was completely sane, it's obvious that she had a bad case of paranoia.
I'm not a big fan of feminism because I think the vast majority of them do not seem to care much about being equal or keeping a balance, but rather getting every advantage they can, whether men have it or not. The more radical and stupid feminists take the spotlight from the sane+good ones because they make more noise and their extreme views call more attention than feminists who talk sense. I've heard many feminists say that they have trouble being taken seriously because the loudmouthed idiots who steal the attention, which is slowly killing the amount of girls who turn to feminism, which is kind of sad. Is there not a better philosophy that fights for equal rights for both sexes? A philosophy that would stick up for men if they ever needed help?

I generally try to stay away hardcore porn because I find it utterly alienating, rarely arousing and sometimes heartbreaking( if I see a model I like, sucking someone off on camera, it really hurts my feelings, but really, if there is any lack of respect on my part towards these models, it's that I feel like they are vulnerable little souls that need to be the big bad world, most of them do hardcore for fun, because they already get a decent amount of money for photos).
I like to stay in the ultra-friendly world of no sex, topless innocent fun, it generally allows much more room for creativity and a chance to show a much more truthful side of the models themselves. There are far less assholes roaming around those parts, and the worship and feedback/satisfaction that the girls get is much more positive. Of course, I cannot tell everyone to like what I like. If sterile, unimaginative, characterless FHM, Maxim, Playboy stuff does it for you, there is no point in changing what you buy just because it does'nt show women in a more sensitive light.

Noah Berlatsky said...

Andrea Dworkin's husband was, from what I understand, hideously abusive ; I presume that's why she kept the baseball bat. It's also why she turned to prostitution, and is (finally) probably why she was a bit paranoid. And, of course, you don't need to be good looking in any sense to be raped.

I'm sure Jameson is a pretty unpleasant person in many respects. Her book is great though; very straightforward, and with a lot of insight into how the sex industry works and why people get involved in it. (It's not exactly for fun, and I don't think it's exactly because they're vulnerable either (and, of course, it varies from person to person.)) I wrote a longish review of it which is online if you'd like to check that out first: http://www.bridgemagazine.org/online/features/archive/000113.php

Feminism gets a bad rap in general, I think. There are lots of different feminists who say lots of different things. Some of it I agree with, some of it I don't, but I think sexism exists and that it remains a real problem — much more of a problem than the much-touted oppression of men. And lots of feminists are in fact interested in men's problems in various ways. (Feminists are big into gay rights often, which affects lots of men; feminists are into reproductive rights, which I think is important for men too; etc. etc.) You might check out Bust magazine; it's not ideal in every way, but it's pretty smart and very sex-friendly.

Luke P. said...

Noah- I'm not sure if you're paragraph that includes the pretty general criticism about this blog ( 'not doing anything new', etc.) was aimed at Roberts' bit about his admittedly grandiose aspirations, or if its' a general thing about all of us here, but , I'll echo Aerons' statement ; I am completely disinterested in any idea of "progress" that sets out to radically revamp comics. This is not the place, you're right. I'm absolutely weary of anybody who sets out for the "new" ( which, in real-market terms, never arrives..).
I think the future of comics will be about people making a lot of comics and critics continuing to argue about what the next thing will be.that's what's next.
I think what we have here is a collection of pretty idiosyncratic talents who could be considered myopic in that they aren't interested in making concessions to anybody elses' vision.
- This is the only "future" of comics I'm personally interested in and I'm glad I've found a group of guys ( yes, guys, they are white too..) that I can share this stuff with.
I also thought it was a little unfair to call out Robert for writing about not wanting to 'take care of' a woman. There are many, many women out there who do wish to be taken care of. This isn't anything new.One could say that the tradition of marriage is in part based on this premise. And, you know, maybe Robert doesn't know many "reporductively healthy" BUST reading girls. Maybe that's okay.
It just seems like your interested in imposing your view of the subject onto Robert, who clearly doesn't share the same background or concerns as you. It'd be another thing if Robert wanted to enter a mental hygiene program at your local graduate school. It's as though there is only one correct vision of 'womankind' or something, and you'll let us all know what that is. Bull.

Robert- I hope he doesn't mind me pointing out- is also very young and seemingly pretty isolated from greater social interactions. I don't think any of us had fully mature ideas about women at 20 years old. I know I didn't.

Luke P. said...

Noah- I'm not sure if you're paragraph that includes the pretty general criticism about this blog ( 'not doing anything new', etc.) was aimed at Roberts' bit about his admittedly grandiose aspirations, or if its' a general thing about all of us here, but , I'll echo Aerons' statement ; I am completely disinterested in any idea of "progress" that sets out to radically revamp comics. This is not the place, you're right. I'm absolutely weary of anybody who sets out for the "new" ( which, in real-market terms, never arrives..).
I think the future of comics will be about people making a lot of comics and critics continuing to argue about what the next thing will be.that's what's next.
I think what we have here is a collection of pretty idiosyncratic talents who could be considered myopic in that they aren't interested in making concessions to anybody elses' vision.
- This is the only "future" of comics I'm personally interested in and I'm glad I've found a group of guys ( yes, guys, they are white too..) that I can share this stuff with.
I also thought it was a little unfair to call out Robert for writing about not wanting to 'take care of' a woman. There are many, many women out there who do wish to be taken care of. This isn't anything new.One could say that the tradition of marriage is in part based on this premise. And, you know, maybe Robert doesn't know many "reporductively healthy" BUST reading girls. Maybe that's okay.
It just seems like your interested in imposing your view of the subject onto Robert, who clearly doesn't share the same background or concerns as you. It'd be another thing if Robert wanted to enter a mental hygiene program at your local graduate school. It's as though there is only one correct vision of 'womankind' or something, and you'll let us all know what that is. Bull.

Robert- I hope he doesn't mind me pointing out- is also very young and seemingly pretty isolated from greater social interactions. I don't think any of us had fully mature ideas about women at 20 years old. I know I didn't.

Noah Berlatsky said...

Heh. I knew I could count on you to disagree strongly, Luke. Sure, like most people (certainly including you, from what I've seen) I'm interested in getting people to agree with me. That's part of what argument/discussion is about.

I don't think there's one correct view of womankind. And sure, some women like to be taken care of. So do some men. In fact, most of us like being taken care of at some point. But we're still all human beings, and being in a relationship works a lot better if everyone remembers that. Or such is my experience, anyway.

Robert sounded young, but I don't think that's any reason not to take what he says seriously (and when I say "seriously" I mean as in, "responding to it as if he's a peer" not as in "oh, my god, you've committed a serious sin!") I told him why I didn't like what he said, tried to explain myself thoroughly, and suggested some things he might like to read if he's interested in getting a better idea of where I'm coming from. I'm not quite sure why any of that is "unfair". I think what you actually mean is that you disagree with me. Which is fine.

Your defense of the blog, like Aeron's, is perfectly reasonable. I should have thought through my post my carefully on that point. My apologies.

Luke P. said...

It's all right. I mean, I guess where I was coming from with the 'unfair' thing was that it seemed sort of dogmatic.
I disagree with the concept but I also disagree with how it was presented. It didn't seem so much an invitation to discuss , it was more the issuing of a decree.
I'm with you on a lot of the criticisms though. I don't agree with a lot of the things he said.
And , you're right about the youth issue as well.
I look forward to a lot more of these discussions.

Noah Berlatsky said...

I didn't mean to sound dogmatic; really I was trying to sound as diplomatic as I could. I can see where that might not be immediately evident though; I tend to present my views pretty strongly (or obnoxiously, depending on where you're sitting I guess.)

I thought about your comment about marriage being based on taking care of women a bit; I really think that's incorrect. Marriage in general has historically been based on pooling economic resources in the interests of raising children, I think. Originally this involved division of labor (guys doing hunting and gathering, women doing household chores, more or less.) These days it's about both parents working. For brief periods (Victorian era, post-WWII), and for a relatively small number of people towards the upper end of the income scale, it has been a sign of status to have a wife who did nothing, or very little, economically. It's an aberration, though, not the norm.

Also, re: Bust — it's far from my favorite magazine. They're way to chipper and rah-rah for my taste; even their sex positive stance annoys me. Basically, it's all about Alpha-Male vs. the Gay Utopia for me. Both make me helplessly sardonic. (I firmly believe that everyone should read Jenna Jameson's autobiography, though.)


And speaking of sardonic -- I'm totally with you and Aeron when you say that you're just into making good art, not revolutionizing anything. But I have trouble swallowing things like "idiosyncratic talents who could be considered myopic in that they're not interested in making concessions to anyone else's vision". I mean, I know I make concessions to other people's visions all the time, and thank goodness; if I didn't I'd probably still be writing poetry about my romantic angst. And that wouldn't make anybody happy.

aeron said...

I've spent many years excercising my ability to have tunnel vision towards very specific artistic goals. My only concession is to possibly write my stories in a real language. As much as I admire the Codex Seraphinianus, there are many concepts that can't be expressed through a language that nobody can decipher let alone read.

Luke P. said...

I should have been more specific in my marriage comment; I think it's about people taking care of eachother, more than anything.
Historically, practices like the giving of a dowry as a part of marrying off your daughter were very common, even among the most poor. The fact is, that in harsher times, men had a much easier time providing for themsleves, while women did rely on already established homes. As such, women didn't really have much in terms of material to 'pool' together with the husbands'. It was acknoweledged that in taking a wife you are taking on the responsibility to provide for her. Men were interested in marriage for the purpose of having children. As such, women were 'taken care of' in material terms , while the males desire to establish a family ( in order to accrue wealth, usually) was 'taken care of' by the wife.
I think this is the genesis of what we now call 'marriage' .
And it's an improvement on more archaic forms of marriage.
In more primitive conditions, everything was by necessity a community effort. Monogamy, as we know it wasn't established yet as a rule and was not practiced in many parts of the world. So, yes, the varying conditions called for different solutions, but I do not associate these in direct fashion with what we call marriage today.
But, ultimately, how we'd like to idealize marriage ourselves has little ramification on eachother.
it's my opinion that the modern form of marriage- both parents working,etc,- is not working. We're growing dumber by the year. Rockefeller was quite clear about the reasons behind the promotion of feminism in mass media; more people working means more taxation.Modern marriage isn't not working because it is an outmoded concept, it isn't working because modern culture mitigates against the primary foundations of marriage.

As far as the paragraph you don't buy- I stand by it. Sure, we cannot communicate without speaking a common language, but this by default. We don't know how to speak any other language. Thus everything we learn is framed by this language as is everything we put out there. No concession is made in terms of what we do or do not use this language to communicate.

Paleo said...

Hi, sorry for no answering sooner, i was without phone for more than two weeks, and i couldn't get my password to work whenever i tried to answer elsewhere.




Noah, Jeeez.... to think that after i posted that comic i made a joke about how you oughta punch your kid, it ain't just luuuuvely how you might have me pictured now? "Paleo, the racist kidbeater"



And i have a question, it is me, or if George Bush had said the "N***** word" it would had been a much, much greater scandal than Katrina and the actual death of almost 2000 people?



I showed that comic to lots of people and never heard anyone complain, being from Argentina ( wich IS a deeply racist country, but that's a different story ) i don't have as present as you people do the dire implications of perpetuating that ooga booga- cannibal stereotype, i was just drawing from inside my cartoon memories, i needed a desert island setting, i might have replaced the offending character with a palm tree, but i liked the barreness of the island as it is... and it works better with TWO characters looking crazy starved, doesn't it somehow counts that the black and the white character manage to somehow live harmoniusly in such a small space?



Seriously, i thought of saying i'm sorry, but then, any manifestation of remorse is meaningless if i don't remove the comic, wich, after much thinking it over i'm not going to do, call me a racist, bah, you already did, but i think the most exact term will be "Asshole", i'm an Artistic Asshole, (was Joseph "Le Petomane" Pujol a Vichy collaborator?) It seems like you're the kind who thinks art should evangelize, but i'm not a nanny or a social worker, i'm a cartoonist, granted a gloriously balls and feathers to the wind moronic cartoonist who rather insult a entire nation of people that excise his goddamn idiotic drawn drivel from an obscure blog, but then again, the comic its NOT about the blackface character, and it wasn't my intention to offend anybody, frequently, it is! i'm mad as hell all the time about everything!, but not this one, neither i was thinking that i was some kind of taboobreaker ala Crumb or such nonsense, as far as i can remember, i was just focused in making my tortuous little joke work.




For what is worth, i will refrain to try to have "Serious Cereal Hardships" printed over there.