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June 1, 2009


A Note On My Recent Comment About The Masters Of American Comics Show And Female Cartoonists

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Peggy Burns, whom I respect a great deal, fairly kicks my ass over at the D&Q blog.

"What I find more curious is the ire Sturm stoked with Tom Spurgeon over at the Comics Reporter by saying that the Masters of American Comics should have included a woman, to which Spurgeon replies that you can only say a woman should have been included in the show if you are ready to say which man should not have been. Really, the only way to say that women like Lynda Barry and Majorie Henderson Buell helped to define the artistry of comics is by saying they helped to define the artistry of comics more than a man? Really? Perhaps there was an edict that said that only 15 cartoonists could be spotlighted, hence the need to pit cartoonists against each other. Otherwise, this argument seems a little cage match-y to me. Lame."

Yikes!

imageI'm honestly not sure what I can say here that doesn't make me sound super-defensive on any number of delicate issues. It's my job to communicate my points, so obviously I failed there. But let me take a quick shot at what I think is the heart of it.

The key is that I'm arguing for specificity, not a rigid framework. There are a million ways to discuss the excellence of a cartoonist like Lynda Barry; I just think most of the really good ones apply specifically to Lynda Barry, the career she's had and the books she's published and what's effective about each one. Similarly, if you're going to argue the success or failure of that Masters exhibit, my hunch is that most of the best, most effective arguments are going to be specifically about that show, the list they came up with, the specific oeuvres of each cartoonist selected.

So yeah, let's discuss great cartoonists and comics-makers in every way possible. But if we're going to bring in the Masters exhibit, let's get in there and talk about it. Why bring it into the discussion otherwise? I laugh at rolled eyes and crushing people in five words or less as much as anyone does, but I like it even more when people dig in to say, "Oliver Harrington is a much better cartoonist than Chester Gould" rather than "There are no African-American cartoonists on this list." And I'd be just as happy if people were specific according to Peggy's standard. I prefer, "Any list too small to include Lynda Barry is an illegitimate list" over "Where are the female cartoonists on this list?"

So no enforced cage matches, just a general hope for a dialogue of specific examples over summary dismissals. And no real, stoked ire, just a reminder how frustrating discussions about important comics industry issues can be. If only arguments against the Masters show had been more like Peggy's criticism of me: specific, on-point and brutally direct.

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posted 12:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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