Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 10, 2014

People Are Talking About People Talking About Things

So there's some stuff going on I guess I should talk about, although it's tough: a lot of the attention the following received are due to factors beyond any reasonable standard of newsworthiness. Let's wade in briefly, though.

* a cease and desist letter was sent from Daniel Clowes' lawyers to representatives of the actor and occasional cartoonist Shia Labeouf. The instigating incident was the recent discovery that the actor plagiarized to a spectacular degree a published comic from Clowes in order to make a short film he submitted at Cannes last year.

There's a bunch of other stuff that's happened, as the actor has engaged in a cycle of publicity-type stunts marked by increasing furtiveness and oddness, but it's not really stuff I care to cover. When a celebrity is involved in something like this, what you very frequently get is a lot of close attention that revolves around factors other than the legalities at stake or even the moral/ethical issues. It eventually becomes untethered from the actual structure of the story: actor wrongs cartoonist.

What's extra-horrible about the extra noise here is that it exacerbates the harm done Clowes in the first place, at least in terms of dragging him into a situation against his will where there's a lot of general ridicule involved, as well as some hostility from fans of the actor that -- because they're fans -- will boil this down into an us versus them scenario. At some point down the road, there's a chance that people will be less receptive to any compensation Clowes might pursue or receive because they'll be "tired" of the story -- from the actions on one side.

I'm annoyed by the time I have to spend reading these articles, I can't imagine having to live in the world of these articles for several weeks. I hope Dan Clowes is okay; he deserved to be left alone.

* another thing worth noting here: an irony involved is that as much as it pains me that this happened to Clowes -- who strikes me as a decent, private guy who would like to work and has a sense of the limited time to make work we all have in our lives -- part of me is glad it happened to someone like Clowes. Clowes can afford representation. Clowes has a popular and distinguished profile. Clowes has a career in film that might make damages easier to claim in a copyright-type case. One horrible thing is that the unique qualities discoverable in Clowes' personality and career on this circumstance underlines to how many people this could have happened where there would have been very little anyone could have done about it, or would care to do about it.

I hope that if Clowes wants compensation he receives it. I hope that no one takes very seriously any of this as a platform to discuss issues of artistic appropriation: this wasn't an act in a continuity with Lichtenstein; this was an act in continuity with a guy that downloads a term paper off of the Internet. I hope that very few people get tired of the actual issues in close proximity because they're exhausted by the one-sided shenanigans from the actor, and I hope that maybe everyone takes a look at how accessing, consuming or re-using art can sometimes be done against the will of the original maker of that art. This is a bad thing no matter how much we like one artist or the other. It's a bad thing no matter the legality of what might be permissible. It's a bad thing when consumers do it and it's a bad thing when fellow artists do it. We should all try to stop.

* the other item of much on-line chatter is another interview with Alan Moore about the primary thing on which Alan Moore seems to be interviewed: what people think of Alan Moore. There's some magnificent writing in there: mean and spirited and funny. I will never write anything as funny and brutal as "herpes-like persistence" to describe a peer.

Many, many people will hate this interview.

I would imagine the objections to the interview will fall along the lines of 1) Alan Moore is a grumpy hypocrite who wants to criticize in others what he has done and enjoyed himself, 2) Alan Moore shouldn't be going anywhere near certain issues of rape and violence and race he's decided to engage and his excuses for doing so are weak-ass, 3) his dissection of encounters with the journalist Laura Sneddon are imbalanced and excessive, 4) seriously, fuck that guy.

I have to admit: Moore almost always sounds super-reasonable to me in the general. His specific cuts are so nasty and funny here that I can't really claim they're reasonable in any way. The items of contention are difficult for me to figure out. I will say the proportion of upset he directs in certain ways makes sense to me. I know people who get more upset about far less: I think people mistake the amplification that comes from material appearing on-line for a kind of obsessive seriousness on Moore's part.

Mostly, though, I have a hard time understanding why people keep asking him these weird questions, interview after interview. It's like all of his interviews since 2009 have been about the kinds of things one usually throws in at the end of a longer, more substantive piece. I wish he would interview with Gary Groth again, or some other skilled talker about comics and issues. The least interesting thing about his recent League books to me are the legality of some of their plot points, or their nature as "narrative reveals." It also seems to me the least interesting subject on which we can hear from Alan Moore in general terms is Alan Moore. It takes a writer of Alan Moore's skill to make me want to read something like that, and I think I'm out on any future installments with the same creative team, let alone any new ones.
posted 1:35 am PST | Permalink

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