Friday, 2 January 2015

Freaking Fandom

Now that superheroes have been legitimised by Marvel's Cinematic Universe (they were just for kids until a talking tree became Vin Diesel's most complete performance), it is possible that Anglophone comics might become a matter for scholarly research. The independent comic, from Crumb through to Dave Sim, has always been a rich source of justifications for the medium, even though crass misogyny, rampant egotism and bad perspective ensure that the aesthetic of the indie is just as problematic as the power fantasies of the mainstream.

Despite the post-modern directive that high and low art are meaningless distinctions, the academy has been slow to recognise sequential art: the occasional monograph is too limited in scope (Carrier's entry thinks comics are just the short pieces found on the newspaper funny pages), and the longer studies tend to focus on the history of the form. The vast bulk of writing about comics comes from fandom, whether it is the intelligent commentary of Ultron is My Elvis, or the fractured bickering of the Comic Book Resources' discussion forums.

Aaaron Meskin's essay is representative of the more thoughtful commentary: it begins with the usual awkward claims for the status of comic book as art, clarifies that they are not all about flying guys in tights and mentions the usual respectable suspects (Maus, Watchmen, Little Nemo et cetera et irrumbantia cetera). After the throat clearing, it gets down to the discussion of the value of comics, because people always question the value of an art form before embarking on a study of it. 

However, Meskin doe sketch the territory of contemporary analysis of comics, and makes trenchant remarks on its relationship to other art forms - the characteristics it shares with film and opera - and the problems of defining the medium (while acknowledging Scott McCloud's 1993 definition as a strong starting point). It is a rich article that opens up the ontology of the comic as a viable basis for investigation of the impact of the comic.

(To unpack that: the nature of the comic itself - disposable, ephemeral yet also reproducible - is a good place to start when considering what it does).

I also like this.

If ‘succession in time in time is the province of the poet’ and ‘space is that of the painter’ (Lessing 1962: 91) then perhaps comics, which might be said to combine poetry and painting (in some very broad sense), do exhibit an internal tension.

What does that remind me of?

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