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December 25, 2006

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Intellectually Acceptable Comics

Khoi Vinh’s pretty astute observation about the ubiquitous Chris Ware:

In spite of his many and frequent innovations, Ware’s name, to me, has become synonymous with ‘intellectually acceptable comics’ produced for people who basically think comics are crap. His works — especially his commissions — reflect not so much an appreciation of the comics art form, but rather a keen understanding of how it can be parodied, satirized and even ridiculed in the service to the intellectual flattery of an audience that would otherwise be offended by less self-conscious practitioners of the medium.
This is the pattern of culture, though, right? The novel, jazz, the blog … Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco — these folks are the Daniel Defoes, Bob Dylans and Louie Armstrongs of their medium. Which, hey, you know, I totally wouldn’t mind.

Posted December 25, 2006 at 8:00 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Comics


I probably shouldn't be so happy to see a Chris Ware takedown.

But I am.

You're right though, it doesn't mean Ware's work is illegitimate -- just that you have to understand its place in the constellation of comics.

I gave my sister the two volumes of Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis' for Christmas. Now that's a graphic novel with a brain AND a heart.

Wow. I mean, wow. I'll admit that I've never done a survey of Chris Ware's work. I've skimmed Jimmy Corrigan, I've seen the New Yorker covers, and a couple of the pieces from the New York Times Magazine's "Funny Pages." I own the McSweeney's anthology he edited, and I'm almost universally pleased when I come across a page of his somewhere.

In all fairness, Vinh seems to be more unhappy with the editors who only seem interested in publishing Ware than with Ware himself. And I've never reacted to Ware's work as a satire of form, I've always seen him as more reflective of a deep-seated, physically painful misanthropy and self-loathing. Everyone in a Chris Ware comic hurts. Faces are pinched, even in their miniscule rendering, and often invisible—viewed in three-quarter or from behind.

I think in part, Ware's work is often published because it's so easily compartmentalized. While Jimmy Corrigan is huge, he hasn't written a comparable extended work since then, focusing instead on his Acme Novelty Library collections and designing the gorgeous and laudable Krazy Kat reissues.

I can understand how one can be sick of Ware, but I'm not sure that he's really ripe for a takedown. The work he does is amazing, and while it's not fair that people who don't like comics seem to focus on Ware's work as the best and, indeed, the only thing out there, that's not his fault. Furthermore, as he garners more attention, he seems to retreat from it, working in smaller and smaller pieces, statements, and formats. Ironically, this makes him even more publishable. An oddly vicious cycle.

By all means, there are a wealth of people out there doing excellent comics, and they should be read. Interestingly enough, I think Ware himself would be the first person to tell you that you should be reading Tomine, Bechdel, Clowes, Sacco, Seth, anyone other than himself.

(As a side note, there's also an interesting current of resentment in Vinh's piece on the neglect of superhero comics in the appreciation of the broader culture. I would like to see a broader discussion of Kirby, Romita, Ditko, and other comparable artists. At the moment there doesn't seem to be any middle ground between disdainful neglect and hero worship, and I don't really fit into either camp.)

You're totally right. It's not Ware that makes me mad; it's the Cult of Ware.

The best superhero stories I've read in recent years are the giant-size books painted by Alex Ross and written by Paul Dini for DC Comics; there's one for Superman, one for Batman, one for Wonder Woman, etc. They feel almost like children's books. The stories are smart but entirely sincere: There is no deconstruction, only appreciation.

Man, R. Is it that I took so long to post my comment, and so no one's seen it, or is it that you and I (and Matt) are the only people who care about comics?

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