Q: The blog has really opened doors for you. You’ve developed a real loyal following. I remember Dan Nadel at SPX calling you out, and people like Chris Butcher mention you when asked what their favorite blog is. There are a lot of people in the blogosphere, tastemakers who seem to really appreciate your site a lot. Are you surprised by the success you’ve had with it?
A: I hear sometimes from other sources – I heard this more back when I was starting blogging so maybe it was something of a blogging theme – that it was maybe not so healthy to even assume you have an audience or make any concession to an audience at all or believe the audience is there. You should only write for yourself, period. I guess I never entirely bought into that because even in the very earliest months of my site I’d be writing things with no one having any reason to read them, I’d pretend to have an audience. I’d be writing “And so readers” I didn’t think I had any goddamned readers!
It is a surprise. I think people just got to like what they saw. I think a farily big portion of it was I had a pretty regular output, decent stuff coming out pretty often that people found my site as reliable and kept sticking with it, reading it, wondering what I had to say. I’m really, really thankful that so many people say kind things. It’s really flattering to be honest. I didn’t expect the success I had but I didn’t really know what to expect because I’d never done anything like that. I’m really grateful for all of my readers.
Q: Well what do you do for a living? I ask because most people assume whoever is blogging about comics does something within the comics community.
A: Well, I work for a commonwealth agency in the state of Pennsylvania. And it’s an appeals board. There’s compensation issues. When appeals come to us I have to do research and draft documentation concerning those appeals. It’s sooo exciting! They’re going to be so glad they clicked on Newsarama today!
Q: I can always cut that out later but I figured I’d ask.
Who do you consider to be some of the best people writing criticism, both inside and out of comics, today?
A: I read a really broad cross-section of reviews. I don’t know who I’d call the best. I find I can’t even think of a best comic or movie that I like the most. I don’t know how I could find the best critic because there’s a lot of different approaches to criticism that render different critics incomparable. I could say that there’s a bunch of critics that catch my eye.
I read a very broad selection of critics. I read all of Tom Spurgeon’s reviews obviously. I wish Dick Hyacinth would review things more because I think he’s really catchy. I really like Derik Badman’s stuff when he’s reviewing. There’s some people I’ve been reading for a little while. There’s a blog by Steve Flanagan who’s an English guy who focuses on British comics and stuff that interests me. Marc Singer’s stuff I like.
Q: You don’t have to give me your favorite comic of the year, but run through what to you are some of the most notable books of the past six to eight months.
A: I really like Gilbert Hernandez’s Chance In Hell, which is a natural pick because I just adore Gilbert Hernandez in general, but I just think it’s a really ferocious piece of work. He and Xaime are both known for bold scene switches and stuff – you know, in the middle of the page they’ll go to a different scene without warning. I thought the construction of this book was particularly hammering in putting together different pieces of temporal information and putting it on puree to create this really disorienting picture of three different segments in this person’s life. I really enjoyed it a lot.
What else did I like? Well this won’t even account for this year, but that Belgian book I got at MoCCA, My Boy, was brilliant. I might violate a blogging law and go to e-jail if I put it on my best of 2007 list because it was totally not released in the United States in 2007. The English language European edition was released in 2006 if I’m not mistaken. But that was astonishing stuff. It was a dash of American comics, with a lot of Windsor McCay material. I thought it was really affecting. There’s a lot of thought behind it, not only in how cartoonists like McCay worked but also the implications of their work, the social, racial implications.
We’re obviously in the golden age of reprints too so there’s a million, billion reprints of stuff coming out. I really, really liked the Krazy Kat daily book that Fantagraphics put out; this big landscape-format thing. It’s well designed. It has this strong, left-to-right theme in it. It’s reinforced by the script, because it starts off with some of the early stuff that George Herriman was doing, when Krazy Kat would take over the Family Upstairs strip which it was tethered to for awhile. Then it goes into some of his regular daily strips which would be cut up and rearranged into different layouts by papers. And then it’s these really tightly done landscape-style panels where it was often done as one panel joined into different segments. The book called them “miniature Sundays.”
I think it’s interesting because the book’s construction suggested this development and this hearkening of a pyramid style that couldn’t be affected by the whims of newspapers. At least for awhile, while he had that sort of influence. Eventually he went back to more typical dailies.
But I like that kind of reprint collection because it’s not going to be a comprehensive reprint collection, or even if it is it’s going to have a certain character these days the academic information in it gives off an aura that surrounds the strip itself and makes a statement about the strip. I think if you’re going to do selections of a strip I think it’s good to do it that way; do something that quietly enhances the reading of the strip or at least enhances your thinking about it. I thought it was a really nice package.
Q: What do you think of the state of comics today? People like Tom and I tend to say how we’re living in a golden age. Do you have any vantage point where you can comment about what you like or what bothers you about the state of comics today?
A: I probably do have a vantage point. I have to say my writing tends to be very work-specific. I’m not really inclined towards industry punditry. When I did a column for a little while on Comicworks.com, that was where I felt “Well maybe I should try doing punditry.” Some of those columns turned out pretty well, but some of them just talked me out of doing that “statements about the industry” kind of thing. I usually find when I’m making statements about the industry it comes as or is suggested by reading individual books. I’m works-focused critic.
Q: I meant it more from an aesthetic point of view actually.
A: Well, if you view comics as a very wide thing then there’s differing zones of comics that co-exist right now in a very strong state. There’s manga. There’s the superhero area. There’s the kind of stuff that’s talked about in mainstream publications. I guess you’d call it the “art comics” area although I’m a little uncomfortable with that term. And they’re all pretty strong. I think they’re developing their own individual audiences.
I know we’ve talked about how superhero comics aren’t getting any new readers, and it’s all the same thing and everyone’s getting older and now everyone’s 50 years old and soon there will be rotting skeletons in basements! (laughter)
But I can’t really comment about the demographic of superhero comics. I know that superhero comics do attract at least some new people. I don’t know if it’s enough to sustain them, but I do know that the art comics or highbrow or maybe even middlebrow – there’s so many divisions within these things anyway – they’re attracting new people and I know manga is really, really attracting younger people.
It’s going to be really fascinating when this new influx of people who maybe are interested in this type of comic they’ve signed up for develop more and more and look at these other types of comics, when they’ve had a lot of their aesthetic sense of comics built by things like “reads left to right” or “looks like Dan Clowes.”
That’s kind of silly talking about art comics like that because there’s a lot of different types. A lot of them are pretty different from each other. Obviously some of them operate in the same way. I think there’s enough variety there that it’s hard to talk about it gaining much of an audience without sounding like “the bourgeois likes this.” I don’t know if someone who likes Chris Ware would even like Dan Clowes that much because while they may have similar themes the operation of these works is very different. The aforementioned Steve Flanagan mentioned an anthology which had a story by Dan Clowes and a story by Chris Ware in it and he said that Clowes’ style is more prose whereas Ware’s construction of the page is much more poetic.
But I realize there’s an inclination towards putting audiences into boxes. Maybe I’m just anti-box, I dunno.
That was an incomprehensible answer. You better have some good images to put next to that.
Q: No, it’s going to be all text. I’m too lazy.
Speaking of which, you started using images on your site now. I got the feeling from talking to you earlier that was a boon to you.
A: For awhile I didn’t put images on my site because I felt it cut down on how much I could do. Later I realized it didn’t take a lot to teach myself how to [post images]. At that time I thought there’s a value doing links for images rather than putting images in because when you’re on my site or The Savage Critics, it’s not like the Comics Journal where the image is at the top or off too the side of the text. The images here blend directly into the text and essentially become part of the text itself.
I think you ought to at least try to use pictures intuitively. I started using pictures on the Savage Critic and enjoyed how it looked. It really got started with that Tony Wong piece. I think it came out really nicely actually, having the pictures relate to the text in a thematic way as well as an illustrative way. That sounds so fucking pretentious.
Q: I think you’re right though. It does come off as more than just an illustrative example.
A: I mean there’s value to illustration too obviously because sometimes you don’t want to have to click on a link but if there’s a picture you have to look at it.
Anyway, I think that went really well so I’ve been trying to introduce this kind of thing into a lot of my theses. I kind of have one hand behind my back because I don’t have a scanner. Ideally I need to get one and start editing images so I can have control over how they’re placed to the text. I’m at the mercy of whatever stuff I find.
Q: You need to update your Christmas list.
A: Yeah. But that’s another problem in constructing essays of this type. You don’t want to have to hold yourself back from what you need to do because you can’t find the right image. I’d rather not have images than do something like that.
Q: Does using images now feel freeing to you in a way?
A: I think I do a bit more freed now than I did before. Honestly I guess I’ve always been pretty self-indulgent with the site. I’ve never constricted myself all that much. I think it’s opened new ways of looking at this, molding words to compliment pictures and letting them operate together. Who’d have thought comics had pictures? (laughter)
Q: Last question, similar to the one I asked about the state of the industry. What do you like/hate about comic criticism that you read today? What do you think today’s comic critics are doing right and what would you like to see more of?
A: I think certainly online and obviously I can’t read everything, but I think there’s been an increasing appreciation of the visual aspect of comics, not in the posting of pictures to your site, but in looking into and analyzing the visual components of comics in a sturdier way. I think there’s an increase of that online and I’d really like that to continue.
It’s always interesting to see different – I wouldn’t say schools, but zones of interest in comics criticism. Some critics really enjoy this idea of comics as a quick and popular thing that include deeper content within delivering an entertaining experience. Then there are some critics who are really into aesthetic values and “beauty as beauty.” It’s interesting seeing comics criticism really develop into these different directions.
Print criticism is going to change just because comics are getting more mainstream attention. Print criticism is always going to include now things like Entertainment Weekly and other magazines which have requirements for what they can print. They only have so much space. They value a lot of fairly pithy criticism, sometimes only 80 words long, capsule reviews.
I think it’s interesting to observe in comics because I don’t know if comics criticism ever really had that requirement if only because they weren’t really seen this way in the mainstream publications. Comics criticism was often in places that devoted itself to comics – and devoted itself in good ways. But I think now that a lot more mainstream publications are looking at it, the average criticism is becoming more “review-y,” more like a lot of popular film criticism or music criticism. A lot of the more deeper criticism in print is found in stuff like the Comics Journal. It always relies on the strength of individual writers. Writers come and go but I think the devotion there is still present.