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Robert Stanley Martin On The HU List And Other, Related Things
posted March 20, 2012

Hi Tom.

I've read your replies. I have to say I don't get the anger. I considered this a matter of polite disagreement. Looking over what I wrote, I don't see how it could have prompted such a hostile response. As the editor of the HU Comics Poll, I take particular offense at your decision to insult the literally hundreds of comics people who saw fit to either contribute or help publicize the project. That particularly includes the 45 participants who considered Calvin and Hobbes a top-ten strip. I'm sure they'll be happy to read you no longer consider their viewpoint worth taking seriously. It's a shame, because you seemed on pretty good terms with a number of them.

Just so you know, the intent of the poll was not "to draw a 'look at me' response from people." I realized it had publicity value, and I certainly sought to exploit it, but that was hardly the main reason for doing it. One goal was to get an idea of the comics canon as it presently stands. Canons change over time, and the TCJ list, as interesting and valuable as it is, has become dated. Another goal was to come up with a list that avoided the tendentiousness inherent in panel-of-judges efforts like TCJ's. The Sight and Sound model seemed like the best one, so that's what I went with. To be a contributor, you had to be a comics creator, actively write about them, or otherwise work in the field. That was the best way to guarantee that the opinions that helped shape the list were respectably knowledgeable or considered. Overall, though, I know how much fun movie aficionados have with the Sight and Sound polls, and I thought comics people would enjoy something similar.

By the way, the most frequent criticism I encountered about the final list was that it was too much like TCJ's. Just so you know.

You write, "I'm sorry to break it to you, but there are whole swathes of comics-makers and comics-readers and writers about comics out there for whom Watchmen doesn't even register." If your point is that you think my perspective is too insular, all I can say is that you need to take a good look at yourself. You apparently see the various pockets of the comics subculture as the be-all-end-all of discourse about comics. You don't take the discourses of the larger culture into account at all. When I point to the Time and EW lists, or the academic regard for Watchmen, that's what I'm asking you to do. Watchmen is one of the few comics that the larger culture of arts and literature holds in esteem. I'm not faulting you if you don't think the book deserves that status. Nor am I faulting you if you think other works deserve it more. We're all entitled to our opinions. But when a writer about the field turns a blind eye to the fact that Watchmen has that status, it makes my alleged insularity seem pretty insignificant.

Finally, thanks for indicating that you had a posted personal list. I wasn't aware of it. As I'm sure you remember, you refused to let your list for the TCJ project be published, so I assumed that was that.


Tom Spurgeon Replies: There's nothing in there that's anger; if you don't understand that you don't really understand anything. Most of the rest of the letter I just disagree with, and it's not really worth time arguing as to why. I mean, to take one line you drop in there, I couldn't make it more clear that I'm not arguing the "be-all-and-end-all" of anything, but almost exactly the opposite; I'm arguing that a range of opinions exists or at the very least notable exceptions. I'm perfectly aware of the standing that Watchmen has with some groups. I don't value Time and EW as much as you seem to, but I'm aware these avenues for praising Watchmen exist. I'm also aware it doesn't have that same standing with everyone, and I'm therefore not going to be as convinced by an article that seems to be basing a bit of its argument on universal approbation as I would be by an article that offers up a greater allowance for that exception. Even you admit it's hyperbole.

Also, if anyone makes being on "good terms" with me my not disagreeing with them strongly on matters like the relative value of Calvin & Hobbes, whether it's great or super-great, I can't imagine that's any big loss.

Thanks for the letters, Robert. I appreciate you taking the time to write them.