Never a fan of the art comics crowd, editorial cartoonist Ted Rall wrote a lengthy opinion piece over at Yahoo News about how utterly, utterly awful the New York Times Magazine’s relatively new comics section is, saving most of his vitrol for Chris Ware:
Ware’s word balloons were so small that many mistook them as evidence of his contempt for his audience. Those who scrounged up magnifying glasses learned the sad truth: just like Michael Stipe’s mumbled lyrics on early R.E.M. albums, hyper-reduction was Ware’s attempt to cover up his inability to write dialogue.
Nothing wrong with working around your weaknesses, right? But cartoons need great writing more than they need great art. Which is why Gary Larsen is better than Winsor McCay. “Little Nemo” was high art. “The Far Side” is hilarious.
Seven months passed. (To those who didn’t give up on “Building Stories,” it felt like seven years.) Disappointment yielded to apathy. Fixtures of the tiny world of “art comics” Jaime Hernandez, Seth and Megan Kelso followed with their serialized graphic novellas. Daniel Clowes’ “Mister Wonderful” treads standard art-comics territory: unattractive boy meets dowdy girl, insecure girl meets shoe-gazing boy, reader prays for Al Qaeda to blow up their café.
It’s a shame he held back and didn’t let us know how he really felt, eh?
Ted does have a point –Ted actually almost always does have a point until he gets carried away– that in terms of general tone the five stories so far map similar terrain in terms of emotion, pacing, etc. (An unkind person might use the word “mopey.”) I’m not sure if this is deliberate, or just luck of the draw as the editors picked their favorite cartoonists and had their work skew that way (Jaime’s story was unusually subdued, for instance)… although Jason’s “Low Moon,” which will follow Clowes in the Spring, is entirely different, and I’m sure Marjane Satrapi (who turned them down) would have been quite different as well.
Ken Parille, meanwhile, offers a pretty compelling denunciation of the article, while Dick Hyacinth notes the irony of Rall quoting critic Noah Berlatsky since Berlatsky also wrote this about Rall’s work.