“Why do you write about this stuff if you hate it so much?”
“I really wish you’d write about stuff you like instead.”
“Why are you so mean?”
No doubt Tucker Stone has heard all of the above and probably worse at one point or another. Over at his Web site The Factual Opinion and in his weekly column, This Ship Is Totally Sinking, at Comixology, Stone has mad a name for himself via his snarky, scorched Earth policy towards mainstream comics, sinking his fangs into tripe like Nightwing and Thunderbolts, declaring it tastes awful and then moving on to the next book in the pile. It’s an critical attitude that’s earned him a number of fans, myself included, but also a number of angry, and perhaps to some degree confused, detractors.
I tend to think there’s considerable value in snark, especially if it’s informed snark. Stone — as well as his wife Nina, who does the “Virgin Read” column for the Factual site — writes with a good deal of humor and insight and I envy his ability to cut to the quick of what marks a particular issue succeed or fail in just a few sentences.
I also think there’s a method to his madness here, beyond simply making fun of bad comics. In critiquing what’s wrong with, say, New Avengers, he’s actually talking about what’s wrong with the comic industry as a whole. He’s critiquing the specific to make a larger statement about the whole.
I talked to Tucker and Nina Stone back in August from their New York City home. I want to thank them not only for taking the time to talk, but also for going back and helping edit this interview extensively when it turned out my phone is a piece of crap and only caught every other sentence. Their help filling in holes was much appreciated.
Q: Tucker, tell me a little bit about yourself – your background, and how you got interested in comics. That sort of thing.
TS: I was an Army brat. I grew up in Texas, Kansas, West Berlin, back when there was a West Berlin. I don’t remember reading a lot of comics as a kid. I’m trying to remember how I actually got into comics–I think we were at a used bookstore that my mom went to. My Dad got out of the service and we had moved to Georgia. I got an issue of the Detroit Justice League at some used bookstore and just thought it was the best thing ever. That and Detective Comics, when Batman got in a fight with the Corrosive Man. I mostly just collected superhero comics until at some point I got a driver’s license and started dating. Then I was completely done with them.
I didn’t come back to comics until I was in college. I remember I read in the newspaper that they were going to do a sequel to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and I thought “that might be interesting.” Of course, I didn’t like it, at all. But, somehow that got me back into the stores. I don’t know if it was the Jimmy Corrigan book – I don’t think that was out yet – but there was some issue of Acme Novelty Library, some Chris Ware stuff, so I started getting into random shit like that.
I moved to New York about eight years ago and there’s all kind of places to get weird ass art comics. I became a weekly guy again after I moved here, just because there’s so many fucking stores. That’s my background.
Q: What about you Nina?
NS: I’m originally from Wilmington, Delaware. I am a former Musical Theatre geek, dancer and actress, which is why I originally came to NYC. I have an undergrad degree in Dance Management (like a Business degree with a dance minor) and a Graduate degree from NYU in Educational Theatre.
I met Tucker about 3 years ago, and eventually took him hostage in his own apartment. Eventually he acquiesced to marry me – which just happened in April.
Q: What do the both of you currently do for a living? At least when you’re not blogging about comics?
TS: I work in advertising, predominately fashion. I make a lot of money, and I work with the most attractive people on the planet.
NS: I teach the Mommy & Me program at a Private Preschool. Mommy & Me classes for those who have immense amounts of disposable income. I also write songs for the 0 to 6 set, have a brand new pink guitar that I am slowly learning to play, often entertain at kid’s parties. I am aiming to have a CD recorded by the end of June.
Q: I’m assuming Nina that you weren’t a comics reader at all before you met Tucker.
NS: Exactly right.
Q: How did I get that impression? I don’t know.
NS: (laughter) Maybe because I talk about it every week: “I don’t really read comics.”
Q: Did you have any exposure before at all? Perhaps the Archies down at the supermarket?
A: It’s funny you say Archie. When Tucker came down and met my family for the first time, they all found out he was into comic books and went “Oh comic books! Like Archie?” “Um, no.”
I may have had an experience with a comic book or two. I don’t really recall. I remember watching the really old Batman and Robin show on TV. We watched reruns at my friend David’s house, and then we’d play some version of Batman & Robin, or Superman and I would get told that I was Catwoman, Batgirl or Wonder Woman. I remember wishing we could “play something else.” Then there was the Shazam and Mighty Isis hour on Saturday mornings. And we had Super-Friends, too. So sometimes I’d watch that, though I only really remember the Wonder Twins.
Q: How can you forget them?
TS: Oh yeah, an eagle and bucket of water. I never even watched the show and I knew about that. They tried to bring them back in the Justice League comics. DC turned them into aliens.
Q: I didn’t know that.
TS: It was before Grant Morrison started writing the Justice League. I know a lot about that.
NS: He knows a lot about that.
Q: That was during my anti-superhero phase I think.
TS I think even during any anti-superhero phase I want to know what the Justice League is up to because it’s like a base, if comic books were chemistry. The boring base that turns acid to water.
Q: How did the Factual Opinion come to be?
TS: I used to write in a little notebook what I thought about novels and nonfiction books I’d read. That’s what I read a lot more of anyway; I read a lot more of that than comics. Then I wanted to try to document what I was reading and watching, but I didn’t really like writing it by hand. I was on MySpace with my brother and sister and Nina, and I started writing – “This is a book I just read, this is a movie I just saw,” etc. But they weren’t really reviews; it was more like a personal response. I just used the blog format that was on the website.
Then I just started doing a thing once a week where I’d write about a comic that I liked. Just “I liked this.” People really enjoyed that, including people who don’t read comics but were my friends – they liked this little blog I kept. I was at work and I had a really easy job. I would be on the computer all day. I only had about two hours of work, but I had to be there for eight hours. It was good for a while. I did all the financial stuff for an interior designer. Some weeks we weren’t paying vendors because the boss wanted to buy a blueberry farm, which he ended up doing. Checks bounced. Anyway, I quit that. That’s when I started the Factual Opinion, when I was transitioning away from that job.
NS: What about your comics of the week? I would come to his apartment that he was living in with two other guys. There’s only one thing up on the wall in the kitchen and it’s a comic book in a plastic frame. Wednesday night he would walk out and change it to “the comic of the week” – what he had proclaimed to be the comic of the week. I think that’s where his “comic of the weak” upkeep sort of started.
TS: Yeah, but [the comic] had to fit in that frame, so …
Q: Do you still do that now?
TS: The last three times I did select one and change the frame, it was for the latest issue of 100 Bullets. I don’t do it as obsessively as I used to, but yeah I still change it occasionally.
NS: It’s totally cute.
TS: You can only fit a mainstream comic in that frame. You can’t fit anything else. If anything is ever better than a mainstream sized comic, then it’s shit out of luck.
Q: Moving on from there, tell me a little bit about how you got the site together and what you wanted it to be.
A: You know the band Fugazi? I read an interview with Ian McKaye, one of the lead singers. He had this thing about how he started Discord Records to document what was going on in the Washington DC music scene. In a really, pretentious, overwrought way I really wanted to document what was I reading six months ago, but for myself, in an easy to find location. Before I started, I’d have to look in these notebooks to find out, these random little black notebooks, with my terrible handwriting. I’m reading something all the time but I have a hard time keeping track of all of it. I thought a blog that would help keep track of the date when I finished something.
Not a lot of people ever looked at it when I started. When it first started sometimes I’d post something two or three times a day and they were a lot shorter. It would be a movie I had just watched, that sort of thing. I wanted to not talk about my personal life at all, because I just hate that. I hate reading a lot of “I really like Batman. When I was growing up my mom used to tell me I was ugly and Bruce Wayne was the only thing that kept me from wanting to kill myself.” That kind of shit. “Herbie was really important to me when I was growing up, because Lindsay Lohan reminds me of my old babysitter.” Shut up.
That’s why the Factual has that tone of pretending there’s some office somewhere. I tell Nina to write whatever she wants, Marty writes his music column once a week, he can do whatever he wants. But I try to keep myself from writing in that first person “I like this.” That’s just my preference. I’m just not interested in reading any silly diary style review where it’s “The reason I like Ultimate Power is because Greg Land draws pretty pictures.” Of course, now there’s the Economist stuff, but that’s not really “me” talking, so I’m still not really there. I guess I just wanted, or want, the Factual to be something that I would find entertaining and somewhat interesting to read. That’s the only ambition with it. What it’s turned into is … unexpected, to put it bluntly.
NS: Talk about how the Comics Journal influenced you.
TS: Well, around the time I got started, I had become a pretty obsessive reader of this British magazine called Wire, as well as a pretty obsessive Comics Journal reader. That definitely changed things, it made me a lot less interested in trying to say things like “you should read this,” because those guys don’t, and it’s not really interesting to read that kind of “you should read this” kind of stuff anyway. I really just want to sound like Noah Berlatsky mixed with Jog. I love those guys. At the end of the day, when I’m done with all of this, I’d like to be called Jog Berlatsky.
Q: That’s a high goal. Nina, how did you get roped into writing for the site?
NS: Let’s see. Tucker liked to talk about comics that he’d read. And that was really adorable, at first. I can’t really put it into words, except that I was always fascinated by how much he got out of them. The bigger picture he got from them. I was always like “Is that really written into that comic? Is he seeing a lot more in there than is actually there? What is going on with these comic books?” We would talk about it a lot.
He was showing me some argument on some blog somewhere – I can’t remember – about comics appealing to their original audience. And then there’s the whole feminist thing that goes on. I would read those blogs and it would be interesting to me how intense these women were about women in comics. Tucker and I would discuss the various issues that reading those blogs would bring up, and I’d realize that I did not generally share their point of view. Maybe because I don’t have as much time invested in comics and their various character histories…and if I did I’d be as upset as they were. But, I don’t think so.
Q: You didn’t care about whether Spoiler died or not.
NS: If Nana died I’d be really upset about it. But, no, I don’t know anything about Spoiler. Well, I didn’t. Anyhow, through those various things Tucker came up with the Virgin Read.
TS: No, no, no.
TS: We did the Virgin Read because we did the interview that I originally called Stuntcasting, where I interviewed you about an issue of Nightwing. What happened was I had asked you some question about Nightwing and it was some real obvious thing that even though I assume people don’t know anything about what happens in comic books, anything at all, I still assumed you’d know that Nightwing used to be Robin. Look, every time I read some anecdote that makes this assumption “Well most people know who the Flash is.” “Most people know who Green Lantern is.” That’s not true. (laughter). We did this interview with Nina’s sister last week and she didn’t know that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a mugger.
Most people don’t know anything about these characters. If they do it’s because something happened in the last five or ten years, like a movie. It’s not because of anything in the comics. It bugs me because every time you read those things people are like “Well I think a new reader would really be into that” Why? Why do you think that? They wouldn’t! No one would. Superman number 14 or Death and the High Cost of Living number 3. No, they wouldn’t enjoy this. Not a normal run of the mill person. Nina’s the only person I can actually lay some relationship commitment deal writing for me for free every week. Why is she doing this? As a favor to me. (to Nina) You enjoy it.
NS: I do enjoy it. Some people play tennis. We do this. (laughter). It is kind of fun. Though I need a primer for a lot of it.
Q: I wonder if you’re reaching a point where you won’t be much of a virgin reader anymore. Do you feel as though you’re becoming more aware of this community and the industry?
NS: I know some of them. This week I’m about to read Hellboy, part 2 of 3 and I’ve read some BPRD. I found both of those really interesting. After reading Hellboy I wanted to know more about him and that whole world. From there I was interested in seeing the movie. One that in the past I may have skipped seeing all together. But I really enjoyed it. Same with Powers. I’m this huge Powers fan now. But I read Infinite Crisis last week –
TS: Tell him about the research you did.
NS: OK. I saw that some of [the site comments] directed toward me were saying things like “this is like jumping into chapter seventy in a seventy-five chapter book and you really shouldn’t expect to understand.” And, you know, I learned from my American Splendor experience. I didn’t like the comic – and my opinion was based solely on that comic, at that time. People “commented” that I should really read his older stuff to get a better picture of what he’s really all about. So, I read a bit of his older stuff and watched the movie…and now I totally adore Harvey Pekar. And his wife. And I get it. I get what the comic was about, how it came to be, why it was successful, etc.
So, when it came to the “feedback” in relation to my Final Crisis review, I was like wait a minute, I’ve read one of the series –
TS: Countdown. Countdown to DCU.
NS: No it was something zero.
TS: Oh, DC Universe 0.
NS: The fifty-cent one. I read that one. Because I thought it would be a great way for me to get to know stuff. Get more familiar with all the characters. But I read it, and I remember being like, this is just a series of commercials and I don’t feel like I know anything more than I did before reading it.
Q: Yeah, that was awful.
TS: They did a commercial for it on CNN with Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns and they were like, “Here it is, the introduction to the DC Universe and our magical realm of stories.” But it didn’t make any sense.
NS: And at one point I was getting excited because I thought “They’re trying to appeal to a new audience, without making them spend a lot of money.” But I read it and I didn’t understand it. And then I picked up Final Crisis 3 and I thought it could have had some appeal. I mean, I read some parts of Secret Invasion about characters I’ve never heard of before – the Panther one comes to mind – and found it totally enjoyable and easy to follow.
So, after reading Final Crisis and all those comments, I decided to go to DCcomics.com, and spend a little time around there. Maybe there is some little primer there? Well, there actually IS some section that says “New to comics?” — so I clicked on it and it’s basically — I found it really funny because it has a FAQs page with minimal links and the questions are: “What are comics?” “Where can I buy comics?” “Where can I learn about comics and the comic fan community?” “And How does DC Comics, WildStorm, and Vertigo fit into all of this?”
None of those FAQs really helped. So I clicked on Heroes and Villains and basically it tells me that to get caught up I need to read — 52, was that it?
NS: Something. And if you can’t find it at the store, get it here! You can also click to find out all the origin stories of all of the characters. I thought it’d be, like this simple, I don’t know, flow chart? Stating the very obvious. Like a Cliff Notes of all the characters. I mean … I guess it sort of is – its two or so pages in comic book form. But, like, why not make that the first place you send someone “new to comics”?
TS: “New to comics? Then read this three page text document! Here’s a bunch of links to the original pencils from 52! A history of the multiverse! Come on, you can get it! Isn’t this so exciting!”
NS: There would be a picture of one of them —Wonder Woman! “In 1940, somebody drew the first Wonder Woman.” I don’t know if I answered your question.
Q: You sort of did. Let me back up a bit. What was your initial reaction when you met Tucker and you were introduced to this world of comics?
NS: They took up a lot of space in his room. (laughter) I found it interesting. Tucker has a lot of interests. Things he’s really into. He challenges himself, structures himself. I found that admirable and really interesting because I don’t follow my interests as much. His pursuit and commitment to his interests and hobbies is unlike anyone that I’ve met. And so when he started introducing me to his interest in comics, I was happy that he wanted to share that with me.
Q: As you’ve been introduced to this and you’ve both become online personalities, what’s your general impression of the industry and its fan base?
NS: My impression of the industry? I don’t know how broad my …
Q: Let me rephrase the question. To what extent does what you’ve discovered match your initial prejudices about comic book readers and fans?
NS: Well, you know, it’s always been sort of cast in the nerdier light. And I’ve found there’s a part community that seems to live up to that stereotype. Like the “message board” side of things. May be not nerdy so much, but really damn intense about their comics.
Of course there’s a wide variety of people involved, I’m now learning. And they are vastly different than the stereotype. I’ve met the artists and I’ve even – I haven’t met them all but the ones I’ve encountered have been really cool. I saw Frank Santoro speak at MoCCA. Really great ideas talked about and that’s not what the mainstream perpetuated myth of “comic book people” supports. Listening to great artists talk about comics, reading cutting edge humor, and exploring big ideas through comics completely obliterated my initial idea of what people who dig comic books are like. There’s a side that is so smart, heady, artistic, challenging. It’s like the group of the really smart cool kids.
Q: Had you done any critical writing beforehand and if not do you find doing the Virgin Read a challenge?
NS: The only critical writing I’ve done would be related to theater. I have a strong background in theater and performing so in various classes I had to do little play reviews and stuff like that. There’s always a therapeutic aspect to the theater field, I find, so like there would be “no wrong answers” and thus there was no true skill in critical writing developed. [The Virgin Read] is definitely very difficult and that’s why I think I’m a little bit of a wuss because I’m just like “Ha ha, I don’t know what I’m talking about!” you know? “If you don’t like me, it’s ok, because I don’t understand anything!” So yeah, I am being a little bit of a wuss, but it is interesting.
Q: Tucker, you were saying how you started out doing little mini-reviews, things you like, how has doing Factual and your Comixology column challenged you as a writer?
TS: Well, you know I started out doing the stuff at Factual – there was no structure to it, so it didn’t matter. I told myself that I’m just learning here, no one cares, I know the four people who are actually reading it. Some of the early things on there were pretty short and, in my opinion, pretty mediocre. Especially the comic reviews, which some people liked. I remember I’d write something nice about a comic book and the writer wrote me and he was like “Thanks so much and I’m really mad at this other review site who said I was dumb but my comic’s good because you said it was good.” I thought to myself “What am I doing?” I didn’t like the comic that much. This guy shouldn’t feel good about this. It’s generic hackwork, and I was only being nice because it didn’t make me want to throw up on myself, and everything else I read this week did.
I changed it up one day. I read some issue of Legion of Super Heroes and thought, “Why am I still reading this?” It was so dumb. It was when they had Tony Bedard writing it, it had Matter-Eater Lad, and Matter-Eater Lad – who wrote that guy? That guy is so stupid. And Bedard, he has the balls to use Matter-Eater Lad, he has him show up in these Oakley sunglasses and everything. You’re waiting the whole comic and thinking “OK, he’s going to eat some matter.” That’s the only thing that he does. But then doesn’t have him eat anything. It’s irritating! Why use this character, this ridiculous, stupid character, and not have him do the one thing that makes him awesome?
That’s how the capsule format came about. That column just built itself. And now that’s the tone I want to go with. I want it to be extreme and offensive and entertaining. I don’t care if it’s not positive, or if it doesn’t help people decide anything. I just think it should be funny. And that’s hard, trying not to repeat the same thing over and over again, trying to find some way to be funny when you’re basically complaining about the same shit constantly, and you know it’s never going to change, you know there’s never going to be a moment when you read Batman & The Outsiders and you don’t want to crush your skull in a vice—because I’m still not writing it for anybody but myself. I’m just trying to make myself laugh, and it only happens every once in a while now. It would be a lot easier to just write about why I like 100 Bullets, or All Star Superman.
With Comixology, I knew they weren’t interested – and I wasn’t interested – in doing more of the same. They purposely said we don’t want to you to do superhero reviews. I said no problem. That one is more difficult. I like one of two tones. It’s either going to be silly and funny, but not gross. Or it’s going to be a little pretentious and serious. I’m kind of excusing myself when I do that, because if you’re making a joke, it’s usually a way to give yourself an out, whereas if you’re being serious, then you might actually start doing something like criticism, instead of just fucking around. The serious ones, the one I wrote about violence — I wrote something about a Russian movie and then wrote about how the violence in a comic was pointless because it wasn’t adding anything to it. I’m not offended, but at the same time, there’s this idea in comics, especially with superhero comics, that as long as a) somebody likes it, or b) its ok and tolerable, we’re all supposed to pat each other on the back, or there’s that accusatory “Well why do you expect so much?”
Q: You want your comics to be good too?
TS: I know. One week Matt Fraction writes this fantastic issue of Iron Fist, something really different, really exciting, and the next week Matt Fraction writes a crappy issue of War Journal and there’s an attitude that it’s okay for it not to be any good, because– “C’mon man, what do you want? It’s Punisher War Journal!” But why shouldn’t you expect more? Here’s a guy who has already proven he can give you more!
It’s the same standard—that if it’s good, then it’s art, and if it’s not good, well it’s comics and you should shut up–over and over and it shouldn’t be because comics are in the same exact some marketplace as everything else. They’re not fighting for the comics dollar. There isn’t a comics dollar. They’re fighting for the entertainment dollar, It’s not just that manga sells more. Comics are up against TV, movies, video games, playing outside with a rope—run of the mill super-hero comics are fighting for the same free time that everything else is fighting for. It’s not enough that a comic is entertaining—it’s got to be more entertaining then it would be to watch a cat do something cute on YouTube, because that’s what it’s competing with for my time.
There’s a whole subculture of guys who “share” on message boards and write terrible reviews, they sit around and go on Savage Critics and tell people they should focus on the positive. Like we’re all supposed to pat each other on the back because, what, it’s a small industry and because it doesn’t sell that well? I don’t care. I don’t care if you have less money to operate with. The translation is you’ve got more freedom. It’s up to the artist to control their work, to take pride in it.
That’s the thing Frank talked about at MoCCA. He printed [Storyville] on newsprint. And he did it because it’s cheap, but he also did it because he wanted to be in control of his art. Filmmakers do that kind of shit all the time—the smaller the budget gets, the less of an audience you’ve got, the less the money people care about you. Nobody at Warner Brothers gives a shit what happens in a comic book that sells to 30,000 people. It’s totally meaningless to them. So why not do something crazy, why not try to create some art? Why keep pretending that this is a hobby, making these things? This is your life, your job, and how happy can you possibly be when you go to bed doing repetitive, geriatric spandex porn that sells mostly because of nostalgia and cluelessness?
I just wish people had thicker skin. That’s main thing with comics. There’s all this stuff recently about critics versus creators. Come on. Pauline Kael and the people from Cahiers du Cinema, they brought their art forward. They made films better, just by existing and pushing people to ask for more, to expect more. Or even the people who work on the Onion’s AV club, they make movies a better experience. They introduce you to stuff you’d never find on your own. But in comics it’s “Well how dare he say Alex Ross is a bad painter! I like Alex Ross!” Look, if you’re love of Alex Ross gets all fucked up because some dude you don’t know, who doesn’t share your taste, because that guy said Alex Ross sucks ass and should have his fingers broken, that’s your problem. Tons of people hate the shit I like, especially music, even my wife. Big deal. Doesn’t mean anything. If somebody else’s opinion on culture messes with yours so much it makes you want to cry, then you probably had started wondering whether you liked it that much to begin with.
NS: That’s the interesting thing. I could be wrong, I could be very wrong, but I feel like average comics readers, if you disagree with them, they take it personally. Someone called me a bitch, honestly. For not liking a comic book. You’d think they’d written it when you read the venomous hatred that was spewed at me in our comments section. I mean, you’d think I insulted them and then killed their father, they way they reacted. Are you serious? Are you that affected by me?
TS: I’m not going to sit around and tell everyone Factual is the new online version of Cahiers du Cinema, it’s the another AV Club or something like that. It’s not, and that’s not what it’s for. It’s entertainment, it’s a fucking blog.
That’s why I did this Comixology column that week about controversies on the Internet. Seriously, before you write that comment – it’s a comment board. You’re not going to have a debate. You’re not going to learn anything. It’s just noise, and sometimes it’s funny, but it’s never going to be some kind of intellectual salon for discussion.
Q: That’s one of the reasons I started this critic column is I felt people had a really genuine misunderstanding whether it was due to the Internet or whatever, about the way these things work. How basic criticism or reviews work. People seem to want to be all chummy-chummy with each other.
TS: You’re never going to have real relationships through this kind of stuff, real friendships. You’re providing ego fodder for masturbation when it’s positive and you’re hurting feelings when you’re negative. That’s reviewing to comics creators. I don’t believe them when they say they want anything different, in fact, I think they’re straight up lying if they claim they want anything less then praise. This bullshit that they want more serious writing about comics—come on. You’ll earn more serious writing about comics when you aren’t publishing something that’s totally average. Watchmen, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Criminal, Carl Barks, Darwyn Cooke, David B, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Krazy Kat—those comics, those creators get real serious writing because they earned it, because they did something that’s worth talking about, that’s worth taking seriously. If you’re not getting really brilliant reviews, really incisive, intelligent response—it’s because you don’t deserve it. It’s because you’re a waste of time to the people who might write those reviews. Not because “it’s comics.” It’s because that thing you did was just middle of the road, and you can’t say anything smart about middle of the road. Because you didn’t earn it, and no sour apples begging will get it for you. Criticism—which for me, is defined when you take a serious look at something, almost always through the scope of the past and with an understanding of where it came from, when it was created, why, and so on—that’s just over most people’s heads and rarely done. Most of what’s out there is reviews, and most of it is shit. But hey, that’s art. Most of art is shit. That’s not pessimism, and it’s not whining. It’s just a fact.
I made the mistake of responding directly to a creator who didn’t like the way I treated his shitty comic book. Back and forth, debating it like we respected each other’s opinion when in the end, I didn’t feel any different, he didn’t like me, and it wasn’t like he was going to break down and admit the thing was trash, and it wasn’t like I was going to lie and pretend I was kidding. At the end I felt dirty. I shouldn’t have done that. That’s me though, I had to learn. Now, I think I would just not get into it with them.
The other thing is, that I don’t care to meet artists. That fan aspect hits me when I see a guy like Eddie Campbell, but really, what the fuck do I have to talk to Eddie Campbell about? Why should he want to talk to me? I hear Jim Lee’s a good guy so maybe if you want to be best friends with Jim Lee, you should write positive reviews about him and email him all the time. I love meeting guys like Jog. I love conversing with people like Noah. That’s awesome, because they do the same thing, in a way, that I do, which is read comics and write on the internet about them. We’ve got something in common. But man, I don’t care if Frank Miller signs my Batman Converse All-Stars. But that’s part of what the fans like about comics. That it’s small.
Another thing I was thinking about – and it’s not an insult to all the great reviewers and writers out there – but the comics world is so small. There are some really great critics out there, but they don’t cover the same beat, the same stuff. It’s usually one or two pieces on the big art books and a million plot retelling style reviews from college students on the same issue of Secret Invasion with some idiot going “I liked it! I like everything!”
I think it was Jog who wrote that piece on Black Jack last year. Who else is going to look at that piece and say “Oh, I’m going to take the time to write a piece on Black Jack?” But that’s what criticism needs. Not to out-Jog Jog, but you need more voices who can write about this stuff and take a serious look at comics. We’ve got great writers who are basically running around and trying to cover everything. Of course, when Abhay writes a comic review, everybody else should just give up and take a pass. After that guy gets done, you’re kidding yourself if you think that you have anything to add.
Q: Are you saying there’s no specialization?
TS: Yeah. There just aren’t enough people doing it that aren’t completely beholden to the character over the form. It’s not cohesion, but multiple coverage. That’s what’s nice about film reviewing. You can take a look at the AV Club, especially Nathan Rabin and Keith Phipps. Then you can read Stephanie Zacharek, Sight & Sound, and they’ve all come at the same work from all these different angles, but each one of them took it apart in this smart way that no one else did. And Nathan Rabin did it while being funnier then just about anyone imaginable.
Q: Getting back just a little bit to Factual Opinion, in addition to the comics content, you have your friend who writes about music, and the Economist pieces which I assume are written by you. Can you tell me about how those features originated and what you feel they bring to the site?
TS: Marty is an old friend, and I really like reading what he has to say. He was originally on board as a “whenever he feels like it” correspondent, but he wanted to start doing a weekly music column. He’s written for a few other websites, and I’m lucky that he’s willing to do it.
The Economist Versus Idiot is more of an experimental thing that I started because I wanted something else as a weekly feature, like the Comics of the Weak. I tried a few different ones, and this is the one I like the most. I wanted to write about something that had nothing to do with comics, and this is the one that I feel works best to my strengths. It’s on a year trial, and I’ll see how I feel about it at the end of that. I don’t know that it brings anything to the site, again—the goal is for me to find it entertaining. I can’t even begin to guess what other people think of it being there.
Q: You were talking about your goals for the site and how you deliberately pick bad comics. That leads to the obvious question and one you get in just about every other comment thread, which is if you don’t like these comics, why bother reading and writing about them?
TS: Why do you think I do it?
Q: Well I think with both yours and Nina’s writing, it seems like your commenting more on the culture itself than any particular one comic book. It seems like in a lot of ways, and correct me if I’m wrong, that in articulating what’s wrong with Nightwing or Legion of Super Heroes, you’re talking about an endemic that’s going on in these comics. I think that’s true with Virgin Read too, only from a different perspective.
TS: Yep. That’s part of it.
Q: Well, it’s also fun.
TS: That’s the thing. I loathe overarching seriousness. I really loathe it. I saw Eddie Campbell a couple of weeks ago and I think somebody actually asked him this question about defending superheroes. Somebody asked him “Why they should take these seriously.” And Eddie said something like “Don’t! Who’s making you?” But that’s the attitude certain people want you to take, that you’re supposed to treat the 700tth version of a Superman cries and realizes that he’s the last of his kind issue like it’s the The Seventh Seal. I feel like it can’t go on like this forever. People go “Oh Watchmen sold 100,000 copies” So what? Watchmen’s always going to sell well. Nightwing won’t. The 800 trade edition of the 400th Legion revamp, that’s not going to sell well. I don’t need the Complete Garfield printed in the order which Jim Davis intended. Neither do you, or anybody else. Hell, you don’t even want it. Why would you?
NS: I have to add though, about Tucker’s sense of humor – He loves the absurd, and he’s known for being that-really-offensive-guy. The one who will take the joke where no one else dares.
TS: Yeah, I kind of tone it down for Comics of the Weak.
NS And — I don’t know if I’m putting words into your mouth – he’s not always like that, but he has a lot of fun writing that way. It’s just his brand of humor in writing. And it works well with bad comics.
TS: The thing about comics – and art comics are just as bad as super hero comics – is that they have this attitude of “We’re a baby industry. Nobody cares about us.” Any time something happens that has any connection to comics, it becomes this big deal “Comics are out of the closet” and that sort of thing. But they continue to behave industry wise with no balls. When Dash Shaw wants to do Dr. Strange –
Q: He’s doing a Strange strip for the Marvel version of Bizarro Comics.
TS: Good point. But most of the time, DC and Marvel just have no balls whatsoever. You’ve got someone like Josh Simmonds doing that Batman story that’s online. Whether you like him or not Simmonds is one hell of an artist, and he’s got a really, really interesting thing going on there, this throwaway piece that takes about five minutes to read, and it’s “illegal” or whatever, but, and yeah, I’m sorry, but it’s better than Grant Morrison’s take. It’s not even because I look at it and go “Ooo, it’s cool” It’s just a really fascinating, weird thing to do. It’s unexpected. It’s different. It’s got guts to it.
I think part of the reason that happens is it’s just an industry of people patting each other on the back for trying. Everything you do is OK. Everything you do is wonderful. Every kid is special. Every comic matters. No, they don’t. The majority of it is trash culture. Just like the majority of music is soulless. Just like the majority of movies are soullessly designed to make money. That’s the way thing go.
Q: Just to be a devil’s advocate here, there’s the counter-argument of “there’s so much garbage out there, shouldn’t we be focusing on the good stuff?”
TS: Well, Nina says criticizing shit is fun for me.
NS: There’s an element of truth there. Sometimes Judgment is sport for you. You do Factual because you enjoy it. You enjoy yourself while you write.
TS: As much as I love the guys I love to read, like the Savage crew, Noah, Matt Brady– they don’t have the time or just don’t do it often enough to go after bad stuff. The people who go after the bad stuff are, for the most part, crazed lunatics. The kind of people who are still crying over Barry Allen or Peter Parker’s marriage. Jog or Noah will do a spit take now and again, but not often enough for my tastes. We need an Anthony Lane, a Nathan Rabin, a Stephanie Zacharek. People who go after big mainstream shit titles, tear them apart, and make you laugh while they do it. Creators and companies don’t, but I don’t know why anybody should pay attention to what they think. It’s not like they have the audience at heart when they’re doing this masturbatory nonsense designed to get a movie deal and sell toys.
Q: I do think you have larger goals than just being mean.
TS: Yeah, I do.
Q: And there can be a certain satisfaction in pinpointing exactly what makes a comic fail.
TS: I’m better at sussing out what’s wrong with a comic than I am with, say, movies. I love film. I’m a film geek.
NS: The DVDs take up almost as much space as the comics.
Q: You might have to rent out a storage space soon.
TS: No, no storage space. That’s cheating. People who do storage space, unless they have children, those people are cheating. That is not ok. If you’re single or just a couple, you just gave up. You are off the list.
Here’s the thing: it obviously doesn’t matter, especially in mainstream comics. Plenty of smart, insightful criticism has been written about books like Omega The Unknown, Seven Soldiers, Wildcats 3.0, Jonah Hex, Gotham Central, B.P.R.D. – yet what do people continually read, purchase, and defend? Repetitive crap. Garbage comics,that no one remembers. Comics like Amazing Spider-Man and Secret Invasion that lack originality, any technical innovation — comics that they don’t even care to remember or re-read within weeks. Over and over again, people get told that Criminal is superb, that Casanova is trying something new and different, and yet what do they jump all over? The same shit, again and again. It’s the same with manga–the best reviews you’ll read about manga are for stuff like Drifting Classroom, Dragon Head, Nana – yet it’s the Naruto types that carry the sales.
Comics have turned into this thing that film and literature both continue to be able to sidestep, because they’ve grown as art forms: it’s genuinely accepted that critics in those mediums are going to talk shit about a Brendan Frazer mummy movie despite the mass embrace, and even with that general difference, you’ll find that mass audience admitting they know that popular doesn’t always mean “good.” But in comics, you’ve got people like Mike Choi, or Mark Millar and a countless others saying that, because the majority of comics fans embrace a shit comic like what Uncanny X-Men has become, that somehow translates it to being a “better” comic than something like Punisher MAX, Scalped, or the Kyle Baker Plastic Man. It’s absurd. High sales prove nothing in the larger, more successful arts, and that’s something that you can find even the most dyed-in-the-wool romance reader admitting: “I just want to be entertained.” In comics, it’s not enough to admit you read Nightwing or Daredevil just “because it’s entertaining generic super-hero stuff”, they have to take it further and say “See! Secret Invasion is the BEST! It’s better than stupid Acme Novelty, it’s better than Walking Dead, or all those stupid MOME anthologies!”
The main reason that I don’t focus on the positive is because comics readers don’t care about reading great comics. They don’t even care if they’re good. They’d rather read what everybody else is reading, and they’d rather it be something that’s unchallenging, cookie-cutter shit that they’ve read a hundred times before. Most of the time, they just can’t imagine a future that doesn’t include them reading the next issue of Green Lantern, and they certainly can’t accept that it won’t be the Green Lantern they’ve been reading for however many years. Scared of change, scared of quality, scared of art. The worst thing that could happen for these people would be to read something that might make them realize that Chuck Dixon is terrible at dialog, or that Stan Lee wrote for children. And that’s what happens to people when they read a great comic — their nostalgia suffers.
Q: Nina, I was going to ask you if you follow any of the Internet critics Tucker mentioned.
NS: I’m just starting to now. I’m just starting to get to the place where I’m recognizing people’s names and will check out what they wrote about a book I’m about to read.
TS: Twice in a row Jog reviewed a comic that Nina was going to do a Virgin Read about. It was BPRD and then an issue of Hellboy. She read those.
NS: I’m still a little slow on this. It’s not the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. I don’t care that much yet. I’m gearing up for preschool this year. I’m really excited about that.
TS: Every time Abhay posts something we read those.
TS: Actually, the way it works is that every time Abhay posts something, I read it out loud to her. We used to do that with Nathan Rabin’s My Year of Flops as well. Because we’re degenerate hipsters with massive yearly incomes. That’s how we roll.
Q: Well, let’s quickly talk about what’s good out there. What’s the last thing you read that you loved?
TS: 100 Bullets. I’m just so impressed by a comic that can make it work for that long. I got issue 94 this past Wednesday and I just never get tired of it.
There was one storyline they did that was set in a jail, and that was just about as perfectly constructed a story as I’ve ever read. It hasn’t hit that high point again, even though it’s still pretty great, but back in that jail story? There’s one page where they pan out to show this dead bird on a tin roof of the guard tower–those panels were magic. It’s such a solid genre work. I can’t really think of a film or novel – maybe a couple of crime things that Lethem screwed around with – where someone has taken that classic noir language and then updated with such intelligence.
As much as I love Criminal and I think Criminal’s just about perfect, it’s safe when it comes to the language. It’s got the classic noir-speak with only a little bit of an update. At it’s core, Criminal is using the same language that Jim Thompson used when he wrote Recoil or the Grifters. 100 Bullets takes everything you see in something like The Wire, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammet, Robert Altman — and recreates in a way that’s totally fresh and innovative. I can understand people’s lack of tolerance to the violence because the violence is so extreme at times, but I don’t get why more people aren’t head over heels in love with the dialog in that comic.
Then there was that Skyscrapers of the Midwest, that Josh Cotter thing with the cats? That sequence where the kittens died and they grew the robot angel wings? That broke my heart, watching that little boy realize they were gone, and when he started saying he was sorry. Later on, there was that moment with the drunken redneck who hits his girlfriend with the wrench, and it was just so goddamn hard, so unsettling, because it was so obvious how stupid and scared he was, just wanting to run away and escape — and the way she reacted, running away with her hand on her face, still loving him even though he’d hurt her so badly. That really got me. That comic, everything about it, that was such a surprise. I love it when you get something that’s a fully formed work and you’ve never heard of the person. I picked that up based off of your recommendation. I’d never heard of the guy. I’d heard of the company’s name before. But picking that up and taking it home. It’s just perfect right on the page. Nothing about it didn’t work.
Q: What about you Nina, I know you’re a big Nana fan.
NS: I love Nana, just because it’s so girly.
TS: Well I love Nana too.
NS: Yeah, you got me hooked on it.
TS: Nana will make you crazy. I’m like “I’m not gonna eat, I gotta finish Nana.” I’ve bailed on lunch breaks to buy Nana.
NS: It was the first book where I was like “Wow.” I was reading the book on the subway. It’s kind of terrific that I’m reading a comic on the subway. Nana was the first one I seriously reading right there on the train.
I love Powers. I love the art in it, the storyline. I’m a true believer. I’ve only read a few issues and now I’ve got the first trade that I’m working my way through. I can’t quite explain why I like it so much, I just do. Tucker just reminded me that I like All-Star Superman and Ultimate Spider-Man. I got into them through him and his enjoyment of it. One of the first comics I read was All Star Superman. He loved it and had written this piece about it that just made me want to read it too. I can’t remember the details except that it was really good. Oh, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Tucker will read passages where he’s almost acting it out and I think it’s totally adorable.