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

February 25, 2007

CR Sunday Magazine

How To Fake It

imageDavid Welsh draws our attention to this article in the New York Times about Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read, soon to hit American shores in an English-language translation. A lot of what Bayard talks about should be familiar to comics fans, such as the passage Welsh cites about wanting a spouse to share in your reading material so that you can have an intimate world to inhabit together.

I found the article fascinating for those similarities and in how comics is actually a much more complicated forum for such concerns. First, comics is a much odder and a scorned by some, ignored by others artistic activity. Second, comics has a much broader capacity for author-reader encounters, through conventions like this weekend's New York Comic-Con and the constant churn of comics' on-line worlds, which are for the most part driven by talk. In return, you get to drop the philistine worry Bayard talks about: no one's going to think of you as less than engaged and interested in the world for not knowing who Frank Quitely is.

Here are some strategies I've developed over the years -- or at least seen used -- to deal with those unique social situations. Basically, what I suggest is to never fake it, but to find something genuine to say and bring that to the forefront, while remaining respect of helping the person with whom you're talking to having a good conversation. It's nice in comics is that you don't really have to spend energy fooling anyone, just as it's always good in conversation to meet people on their own terms.

Just Listen: Very often a fan of something who brings up that something in conversation doesn't want need for you to be on the same page as they are, but is quite happy to have you be interested and ask them about their interest. This not only reflects common courtesy -- making the yuck face or saying "that stuff is stupid" is crappy behavior in any circumstance -- but if you genuinely don't like someone's object of passion there's likely something of interest to you in how that person relates to it. With some more difficult people, they don't care if you have any view on what they're talking about whatsoever, so deference may be the better part of valor just in that it more quickly moves the conversation along to its conclusion.

Wink: Sometimes a person will offer up something about themselves, a book or a comic or a movie they like, for a bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with getting into it in great detail. If you're sort of conversant with it but not totally immersed in it, sometimes even that gentle nod towards someone is polite in a way you're welcoming what that person just said into the conversation. If someone brings up the TV show Battlestar Galactica, for instance, sometimes all that's necessary is to make a small joke about Edward James Olmos teaching kids calculus.

Admit You Could Be Interested In It, Even When You Aren't: In comics, saying you haven't caught up with something yet has the regular advantage of letting the person who just spoke know that what they brought up is of interest, and the added advantage of flattering the art form in terms of there being so many things out there to explore.

Don't Swing for the Fences: It may seem like a good idea to impress a new acquaintance with something as specific as "It's good to meet anyone who inks like a young Paul Ollswang, as I'm sure you're aware" but usually it's a good idea to save those things for later on in a conversation. Anything from someone in the first five minutes after meeting them sounds more like an accusation than an observation, and in conversation starting narrow rather than generally working your way from broad to narrow means you're close to the end of a branch with nowhere to go except jump.

Leave the Message Board Stuff On-Line: Message board conversations aren't as widely read as you might assume they are, and function in a different head space than meeting folks face to face, so it's frequently best to let that stuff exist on its own terms.

Pass Along Someone Else's Compliment: You generally don't want to lead with it, but it can be a nice touch later on in a conversation or to recover from a boneheaded statement of your own. A deranged person might see saying something like, "I hate to interrupt, but I can't help thinking my brother's going to be totally jealous I got to meet you" as a passive-aggressive shot, but there's no pleasing people like that anyway. Don't make one up, though. "My mother was buried with copies of your run of Avengers" -- not cool.

Divorce Success from Your Personal Endorsement: I like to differentiate the success someone has from whether or not I like the object which has brought them success, not as a diversionary tactic but because I tend to be sincerely happy for a lot of people whose work I like less than, say, Joe Sacco's, and I don't see any problem holding the two ideas in my head or expressing one of them. It seems like a lot of people in comics want to go around punching people in the face who enjoy success through the publication of books that they think are terrible. Not only is this unnecessary, it can sort of make you a dick. People understand that saying "Congrats on your Eisner," isn't the same as, "This person can never do wrong, and if I ever say so, I am totally a hypocrite." And if they don't, they should. Being sincere can be about generous; it doesn't have to be about being disingenuous.

Cartoonists Aren't Generally So Egotistical You Need to Suck Up to Them all the Time Though Constant Recognition of Their Awesomeness: Few cartoonists will be upset with you if you fail to genuflect and say, "I think your work on Metamorpho is genius" or whatever. In fact, many will be happy to make an impression on someone above and beyond their latest business deal, particularly after-hours at some industry gatherings.

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pictured: Eddie Campbell's next book from First Second, a comic so universally anticipated I figured I could use it to illustrate this argument because no one would think any of these "I don't like it, but..." thoughts would apply to it


Five Link A Go Go

* go, read: Shaenon Garrity in praise of the Byrne Board

* go, read: Al Capp's Hardhats

* go, look: David Heatley's Drawger site

* go, look: Jack Turnbull's blog

* go, watch: the Crumbs on video


Go, Look: Debbie Drechsler's Illustration



First Thought Of The Day
For the first time in my life, I realized upon waking that I couldn't if asked elaborate on the differences between sociology and anthropology. Luckily, it's never come up.
posted 1:54 am PST | Permalink

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