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A new way to look at things

A few weeks back we ran my ORCA Q&A with Durwin S. Talon about his book, Panel Discussions (TwoMorrows Publishing). At that point, I had not had a chance to read the book. That situation was remedied this week.

While I’ve read some of Will Eisner’s critical work on sequential art, for whatever reason the lessons offered there just did not take. But I have to admit, after going through this book replete with its myriad examples of storytelling elements and tricks of the trade, I feel like an ignorant hack of a critic.

There is so little I know about sequential art, it boggles my mind. If you are a comic fan of any kind, or if you’d like to get inside the head of creators like Wieringo, Giordano, Mignola, Stelfreeze, Simonson, Pratt, Mazzucchelli and many more, you need to get this book. Coming in at just a little more than 200 pages (for $19.95), my brain is awash at all the different ways I can read comics that I’ve read dozens of times before.

That’s not to say that all of Talon’s analysis is breaking new ground. He and his interview subjects may very well be offering information that has been provided in numerous earlier analyses of the comics medium. What makes Talon’s offering unique in comparison to other works is the manner in which he presents an equal balance of text and graphic supporting evidence.

This book affords a glimpse into the minds of publishers, editors, artists and other collaborators in the comics creative process. This book hit me at just the right time for me to label it one of the best nonfiction comics related books of 2002. For an idea of how much the book opened my eyes to comics even more, here’s an example.

Long-time readers of my columns know how much of a Walter Simonson fan I am. Anything of his, for the part, I’ve pretty much visually dissected for all the entertainment value I thought I could pull from it. And yet, before Talon’s interview with Simonson, while I was aware of Simonson’s utilization of typography in his work, I never truly appreciated to the degree Simonson uses it as a tool to better and more effectively tell his story.

My only complaint about the book (as I mentioned in the recent interview) is that there is not one single female interviewed for the book. Thankfully, Talon concedes this oversight and plans to rectify it with his next project along these lines.

I Guess You’re Just Smarter Than Me

When I was a teen, I’d flip through The Comic Journal (TCJ) and put it back on the shelf. The analysis washed over me, overwhelmed me, and ultimately failed to spark my interest. TCJ was something that I grouped along with classical music, ballet and opera. I thought if I was smarter I’d really like it. But I just lacked the maturity to grasp the work, that’s what I always told myself.

I’m 34 years old. I still dislike classical music and opera (after spending two years recording classical concerts at my university’s school of music you would have thought that changed—actually it magnified my distaste for both musical forums). Ballet? Haven’t seen a ballet since high school. Am I less for it? Yes. But I know what I like.

So before even analyzing TCJ 247 (focusing on the comics about or benefiting 9/11) I’ll fully concede, the folks at TCJ are smarter than me. They know more about comics than me. Their collective opinions will always be more widely respected than mine. These are facts in life I’m willing to accept. They’ve just got to accept (as if one of them would care about my lowly opinion), I still don’t get TCJ.

In terms of comic book journalism, there is no publication that approaches the high quality of content that TCJ consistently offers, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think I’ve read a group of people more down on comics than this group of critics. They don’t hate everything, they just appear to find a flaw in everything. There’s a smugness to the editorial content that permeates every page.

More than a month back my friend Ron loaned me a copy of the issue for review purposes. And every few days I’d pick it up to review, and then put it right back down. Admittedly, I was partially overwhelmed by the content of the issue (which was predominantly 9/11). Ron wanted me to read it because of the thoroughness in which the editorial staff approached the subject. Again, I can’t dispute the accuracy or passion of their opinions.

It’s just the smugness in which they convey their opinions. Odds are were any of the writers to note my opinion, they would have a field day dissecting how my own insecurities fuel my ability to project a mistaken perception of arrogance on their part. Maybe it does. But I just don’t like reading editorial content that makes me want to wince. And about half way through the Ted Rall interview, that’s exactly what I was doing.

Groth, Fiore, Worcester are all folks that, again, know more than I’ll ever know about comics. That being said, I don’t get the idea they’re having fun. Maybe they are, but the most fun I had was reading John Giuffo’s scathing critique of Rall’s work (which TCJ provides an online version of the essay here). I was literally laughing out loud at the tone of his article when I suddenly realized I was enjoying an article for the same reason I hated the others. He was tearing down Rall, the fact that I agreed with him should have made no difference. I think it’s possible to tear down a work without tearing down the person, and to a certain extent, TCJ doesn’t share my standard.

Again I’m not disputing they may be 100 percent right, I just don’t enjoy reading it. I wonder if I’m alone and/or naïve in this sentiment.