Everything’s Ridiculous (even the stuff YOU like)
When it comes to the opinions of those around you, do you lurk, gathering intel, to decide how best to apply tact and spark a constructive conversaton? Or do you plunge in with your opinion, as honesty is the best policy, and you am what you am, whether or not you are in fact Popeye the Sailor Man?
Or do you instead sniff derisively at any written question that only offers two answers? If that’s you, we should meet, so that I can construct an inferred picture of your opinions and then non-offensively cultivate a mutually rewarding discourse.
Discussing a shared interest with someone you don’t know well is (at its best) enervating and inspiring, but the problem in not really knowing with whom you’re talking is… you don’t know where the boundaries are, or what the penalties are for crossing them. That always makes me uncomfortable, and the why is probably better addressed in a series of other posts or, better yet, after I die, by which time the Science will have developed brain/soul analyzers powered by the frolicking of nitrogen-rich-algae-crunching dugongs, and a horde of enlightened individuals can pore over my cell-scans and explain exactly why I was so uncomfortable when considering my potential to offend.
See the dugongs frolic! Hear them moo!
Anyway, one of the lovely things about my current job is that we all read comics and have done for long enough to have relatively informed opinions. We all think about comics (sometimes referring to them as “sequential art”) pretty deeply, and my colleagues have included Masters students and even currently one PhD student, all studying the form from various perspectives. We’re not planning to rush the University Challenge studio and stage a Brain Slam, but we’re also not scurrying home with pilfered foil variants (being careful not to press the foil, lest it crinkle) to mouth-breathe over illegally downloaded hentai and troll angrily about how Batman SUCKS, duuuude! We have lives and minds, would have been the shortest route through this paragraph.
And we all enjoy different comics. Sure there are some we most all agree on, and some we all agree should be read by anyone interested in comics, whether we enjoy them or not. Those we shall refer to as the “Worthies”. But overall, we have varied tastes. And we podcast together every week. So we discuss comics every week, and have to work with each other every week, and can’t afford to let debate become debacle. And like every other group of people who share an interest, we have guilty pleasures. I’m frothing a little with anticipation just thinking about mine, the froth growing blood-flecked as I think of some of the crap my colleagues go back to month after month. I’m pretty sure they think the same about my pet favourites (though they’re wrong, WRONG, FOOLISH ILLITERATE… aah, the dugongs, such harmony!) but somehow none of us has yet been slain…
… perhaps because we love comics but we can never take them too seriously. Disposability is built into them. They were sold on newsstands, in Japan they’re printed deliberately on atrocious paper and left on the subways like so many (vastly culturally advanced) copies of the Metro. Moreover, in being serialized they cannot command the gravitas of a film, play, or concert in the minds of the masses. Because there’s another one every month (or depending on the title, every week, sometimes twice a week), and you can read them anywhere, anytime, usually in under 15 minutes (and that’s allowing for “art appreciation” time), and for only a couple of pounds (maybe less if you work at it).
[I’m waiting for comics to have their HBO moment, where one publisher establishes themselves in the minds of the greater public as a purveyor of only the finest, series’ so fine as to transcend all previous estimations of the medium’s worth, and thus engages a halo effect around the rest of the form. I have been waiting for some time.]
So even though I will fight to the death to see Moon Knight #1 by Charlie Huston and David Finch nominated for “Best #1 of an Ongoing Series Ever”, I know there’ll be another Moon Knight comic coming around, and another new series of something else, and another grabber of a #1 to fall in love with.
Comics, moreover, have been scorned for much of their history, and while their recent relation to blockbuster movies has raised awareness of them, well… critics remain critics, and comics remain words and pictures, the combination somehow lacking the artistic gravitas of either the one or the other. Telling people you like comics still usually leads to twitching eyebrows, mentions of “cartoons”, and inquiries into the worth of attic-loads of crap. Unless they’re, y’know, cool.
But more than this, there’s a silent acknowledgement amongst our hardy lot that in amongst the high drama and splosions, buried in the scratchy pencils that begin every panel, there is something undefinable that speaks to us.
Comics have their academics (as we’ve already mentioned), and they will happily discuss just what exactly constitutes a “comic” for hours on end, contrasting schools of thought and using the word “McCloud-ian”. The same can be said of films, music, and art. But of all of them I like to think that comics lovers are the most able to laugh at the medium even as they’re intoxicated by it. And that’s why we can handle each others’ shame-faced revelations. Because we know that what we’re really talking about is the human ridiculous, or the ridiculous human, the laughable blob of cosmic silly putty at the core of us all that makes us like one thing or another for reasons we can’t explain with these “words”, or even these “images” of which you speak, but that is clear and present when you turn a page and a 2D arrangement of lines and colours makes you grin from ear to ear.
We have all shared the joy comics can bring, so we don’t judge each other when the fun stops at one. (I love rhymes) Nor do we probe because we “just want to understand”.
More on that impulse next time…