What I don’t like about comics

Tina’s here from Ann Arbor and we’ve been enjoying lovely home cooking (the three of us make a great team in the kitchen!) and catching up. I’m also downing cup after cup of honeyed tea, hoping to stave off a sore throat that kicked in hard and suddenly last night but seems to be calming down today (knock on wood). To rest, I spent the afternoon in bed with a sleeping, purring Tisha, reading David B’s Epileptic and writing in my journal.

I had high hopes for Epileptic. The topic is interesting (a memoir about growing up with an epileptic brother), the cover was awash with rave reviews, and David B was a major influence in Marjane Satrapi’s early comics career (in fact, her wonderful Persepolis looks very similar to his drawing style). I read the book in one quick sitting, but I was just not able to connect with it emotionally at all. I found it distancingly uneven in both storytelling and structure, and this problem was exacerbated by the book’s themes of violence and alienation. Consequently, I couldn’t really enjoy the drawings either. They’re detailed, smooth, and precise — usually qualities I admire in comics art — but in this case they only served to heighten my disconnectedness; the subject matter would have been better accompanied by Madison Clell‘s less-clear but more suitably anguished scratchings.

I realized after reading Epileptic that I have been a little disillusioned with graphic novels lately, which is maybe why this book has been sitting on my shelf untouched for a full year. It just seems like it’s so hard to find comics that don’t bug me for one reason or another. The books written by artists, like Epileptic or Hollow Fields, are visually excellent but often suffer from incoherence and verbal heavy-handedness. On the other hand, amazing writers like Greg Rucka or Nunzio and Christina are all too frequently matched with artists whose work is just not up to the caliber of the writing (IMO, since I realize my tastes are extremely specific… this might be another post sometime). Both combinations are — to my mind — just disastrous. Like a beautifully fitted gown made of cheap material, or a poorly fitted garment made from exquisite fabric, you’ve taken something that could have been striking and memorable, and made it less than the sum of its parts. It pisses me off!

On a related note, here’s another thing that irritates me exceedingly about comics, specifically autobiographical comics. I love the concept of graphic memoirs; I love the medium’s suitability for idiosyncratic self-expression and reflection. But way, way too many autobiographical cartoonists are just self-indulgent and self-absorbed to the point of repulsiveness. While I was reading American Splendor earlier this year I wondered if I’m just sensitized to this kind of thing because I’ve grown up in the era of blogs, webcams, and reality TV; I think there might be something in that. But seriously, sometimes I read autobiographical comics that are lauded as the best new thing and I just think, “Why should I care? Just because you can draw (and sometimes they can’t even)?” Obviously there is a lot of wonderful memoir out there, but all too often it’s just a really fine line between self-exploration and whining. And I say this as someone who writes lengthy blog entries all about myself, so I’m quite aware of the difficulty involved, and make no claim that I’ve overcome it!

Right, well, enough about What I Hate About Comics. I continue to be on the lookout for good work and inspiration. And, as I see from this entry, even not-so-good work gets me to think. So, in that sense, it’s all good.