Dave Sim's blogandmail #126 (January 15th, 2007)
Jaka's Story (STAROO359)
It's always been an abiding belief of mine that you can never have too many copies of Jaka's Story on your shelf if you're a comic store owner.
But, then, it would be, wouldn't it?
Okay, having finished the Eisner/Miller review, we're now onto the "après traffic accident" stuff in the latest issue of The Comics Journal.
Oh, this was interesting. "The Art of Depicting Nature As It Is Seen by Toads". You read a title of a review like that and you have a sneaking hunch this is not going to be an unqualified rave. It's the title, taken from an Ambrose Bierce quote (strangely enough a quote that is critical of exactly the sort of precious-normalcy-as-creative-subject-matter which the Comics Journal has been championing all these years) of Noah Berlatzky's review of Jeffrey Brown's new book from Top Shelf Every Girl is the End of the World for Me. It was interesting because I had read the book pretty much the day before having bought a copy at Now & Then. I had met Jeffrey Brown in the bar at TCAF in 2005 and had a short chat with him so when I saw his name on the book I thought I'd pick it up and see what I thought. I thought it was good. He's definitely of the totally-capitulated-to- feminism generation that draws male and female characters pretty much interchangeably. Chester (no relation) pioneered that approach in I Never Liked You as far as I know. Jeffrey's the one with the beard stubble in this one. The girls are the ones without the beard stubble. I'm being unduly jocose. I found it informative. Girls calling up guys and asking if they want to "hang out" together. It could be just hanging out or it could be a try-out for a date by the looks of things. You keep showing up and "hanging out" and the girl will eventually let you know where you fit in and how you fit in like a (what do they call them now?) a Human Resources Manager. He did seem to have picked up on the fact that these things happen in clumps—the entire 104-page book takes place over three weeks and suddenly it looks as if he is about to be lousy with females contending to "hang out" with him. Then just as suddenly one of them goes wrong and as soon as one of them goes wrong then they all go wrong. Yeah, I noticed the same thing about twenty years ago. What is up with that? So it seemed worthwhile that someone would document that. Lots of hugs. The new female currency. You can hug anyone anytime and not be considered a slut. A kiss is a different thing. Some guy kisses you on the mouth and you can have him charged with sexual assault if he guessed wrong on your level of interest (I keed, I keed). Noah seems to take a lot of this personally in his review. Actually Noah seems to take a lot of things personally in his review.
It doesn't have the visceral, soul-crushing monotony of David Heatley's endless My Sexual History, nor is it an inglorious, overweening pratfall like Art Spiegelman's In The Shadow of No Towers.
I don't think I've ever remotely considered a comic book to be "soul-crushing". Maybe my soul is made of sterner stuff. And have we—by that I mean have all of the "inside people" at the Comics Journal who collectively establish these things for all us lesser beings—definitively established that In The Shadow of No Towers is, indeed, an "inglorious, overweening pratfall"? Again, I think I've missed some linkage that Gary Groth used to be scrupulous about. I thought the TCJ consensus was that In The Shadow of No Towers was, you know, so-so. From there you go to "disappointing" and from there you go to "pratfall". I used to swear that Gary must've kept flow charts of all this stuff. You can forgive Mr. Spiegelman for flipping to the end credential immediately. "Who IS this guy?" "Noah Berlatsky" it says here "also writes occasionally for the Chicago Reader and Poor Mojo's Almanac(k)." I wonder if either of those illustrious periodicals has ever won a Pulitzer and (if it has) if it was Noah Berlatsky's occasional contributions that really just pushed the Pulitzer Committee over the edge in their decision-making. "Poor Mojo's Almanac(k)—with Berlatsky occasionally contributing? It's a lock!"
But Brown doesn't work around or within his limitations or struggle to minimize them. Instead he just lets them sit there proudly, like a 3-year old who's taken a dump and wants to show you the turds…as soon as he turns to autobiography, he clenches up as tightly as if every guitar ever strummed by every sincere emo frontman in the nation has been simultaneously shoved up his ass.
In general, if you find an artist with this level of aesthetic constipation, you've found an artist whose bowels are in the grip of an unforgiving authenticity claim.
Michael? You're looking for suggestions? You might want to do a "ca-ca poo-poo ectomy" on some of these reviews. I mean, if you really do intend that the Comics Journal is looking for a way to take the mainstream bookstore market by storm (all of the comic-book stores having pretty much, you know, let you guys down), I think it's safe to say that literary and artistic criticism that steers clear of turds and anal invasion and constipation as metaphorical touchstones is apt to have maybe a slightly better shot of attracting more than the one-off attentions of Mr. and Mrs. Barnes & Noble when they're looking for a new publication to display on the coffee table in their fashionable midtown condo next to the New York Times Review of Books. Just, you know, if you are looking for suggestions.
What else have we got here? Review of The Illustrated Jane Eyre with a sample image by Dame Darcy. "The whole image throbs with mystery, unhealthy dominance and repressed sex. It's as masterful as one of Bernie Wrightson's classic drawings for Frankenstein—and I can't think of higher praise." Yes, and Melinda Gebbie is the new Gustav Dore. See, that's what I mean by no standards.
Shortie review of Jules Feiffer's Passionella and Other Stories—little sloppy afterthought of a thing stuck on the end of the review section—which is a grave disservice and, to me, another example of no standards. I talked Chester into buying that one at the Beguiling and Feiffer so far as I know still hates my guts. If Feiffer shot my dog in front of me I'd still tell people they have to own a copy of "The Lonely Machine" which is included in this volume. Evidently Feiffer had "very little respect for it [the title story]…the more they loved it, the more contempt I had for it." Twenty-five years later he "looked at it again. This is one of the best things I've ever done. Why was I so hard on it?" Probably because it was in a mainstream magazine like Pageant and it was popular. In the avant garde that means that the pit of oblivion has opened beneath you and your only hope is to loathe what the hoi polloi likes best most especially if it's your own. Feiffer covered just that leftist avant garde tribal shibboleth both admirably and succinctly in Hostileman (THAT I can't WAIT for them to republish) with "Tony In and the In Crowd". He was taking a run at Andy Warhol with Tony In but I thought he knew he was in the same category. Live and learn.
Okay, I'm all done. Thanks as always for the free copy, Gary, Kim, Michael. Good luck conquering Barnes & Noble with this stuff.
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