Eisner-nominated webcomic creator Dylan Meconis takes a bite out of … comic critics? NooooooOoooOoOoo!!!!
So, earlier this week, Dylan Meconis — renowned webcomic creator behind Bite Me, Outfoxed, and Family Man — wrote a piece entitled “How Not To Write Comics Criticism.” My first thought was, “Oh, no, after years or snarkily criticizing comics, Dylan Meconis has finally come after meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Awesome!” Of course, like that song says, I’m so vain that I probably think this blog post was about me.
Ms. Meconis was actually going after writers of more mainstream magazines who sorta look down on comics or don’t know much about comics at all. Admittedly, I don’t run into these often, but I usually stick to fringe sites where the writers know what they’re talking about. In the more mainstream publications, I imagine they tend to hire starry-eyed young kids who think they’ll be reviewing the next Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but are instead given a graphic novel to read through. Ms. Meconis takes these writers to task:
However, one group wasn’t served by “How Not To Write Comics,” because this group is not interested in writing comics per se. They are interested in writing about comics – or their editors are forcing them to try. Because now that comics have infiltrated the mainstream book trade (and the reading lists of grownups) in the form of graphic novels, memoirs, and trade collections, an increasing number of critics are faced with the task of reviewing the damn things.
The results are, shall we say, mixed.
For every column inch of well-considered and well-informed discussion, there are fifteen yards of lazy, confused, condescending, clueless, unhelpful, and sometimes even frankly hostile copy.
Some of these critics are just jerks who resent that their editor has torn the galley copy of the latest Houellebecq novel out of their hands and replaced it with some stupid book with pictures in it. Pictures. Only Umberto Eco gets to use pictures!
I can’t help those people. I just feel bad for them, because they’re going to miss out on a lot of wonderful and important books.
Ms. Meconis then outlines several items about how to write comics criticism, such as avoiding the tired trope of “Comics aren’t for kids anymore” or sidestepping the whole “it’s not a comic, it’s a graphic novel” discussion. Her last point was fairly poignant.
Another error bred by too narrow a reading list. A critic reads a comic book (“Book A”) and finds some aspect of it striking. The critic has only read one other comic book (B). The critic then adds two and two and gets seventeen: clearly, Book A is deeply influenced by Book B. This leads to a lot of bizarre attributions that seem less like comparing apples to oranges and more like comparing apples to Kevin Bacon. Surely you must see the clear influence that Spider-Man has had on MAUS!
Alternatively, the critic can’t stomach the thought of referencing other comic books at all, or can’t remember even a single one (I once met a graphic arts professor so impressed with himself that he claimed not to have heard of Garfield).
So she spends the entire review talking about nothing but prose work and fine art, etc., as if the cartoonist had invented an entire new medium from the leavings of greater art forms.
Comics in their current form are a tradition dating from the 19th century – like film and the modern novel – but static-words-and-pictures-telling-a-story-in-sequence are as old as words and pictures and nearly as old as sequences; to express such surprise at the notion implies that you’ve been asleep at the critical wheel.
Man, can’t say I’m not ever guilty of that. Still, I think I avoid most of Ms. Meconis’ pitfalls to comic criticism. Hey, maybe this means I should start spreading my resume to far more literate publications than this meager blog, eh? Hey, HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW! CALL ME!