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

August 21, 2007

Douglas Wolk: More Harm Than Good?

Although I'm still reading it, one of the more interesting things about the reaction afforded Douglas Wolk's book about comics Reading Comics is that people seem to be grappling less with any of the book's specific readings and more with the idea of how we process comics at all, and why, taking some of Wolk's pet notions -- his discomfit with the thrust of scholarly dissection of the comics form; the value he finds in modern superhero comics -- as an opportunity to grapple with their own takes on the form, finely tuned or not. This Chicago Tribune feature seems pretty typical of some of the conversations I've been having on-line and on the phone about the book. The Tribune piece offers an impressive mish-mash of general theories, some odd conclusions (on no planet was the early comic book industry and its avalanche of shit a coming to glory for the form; Exit Wounds is by far the most praised graphic novel ever, although it's a well-liked one) and an even odder timeline of significant works.

Eddie Campbell notes that article with this comment:
Douglas Wolk is a nice enough bloke, but my feeling right now is that his book "Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean" (Da Capo, 2007), which I haven't read, is probably doing more damage than good. I'm tired of having it all lumped together as though we are all doing the same thing. As my pal Evans once quipped; "Did Ingmar Bergman have to justify Star Wars every time he sat down for an interview?"
That's funny, and I feel for Campbell in that his best work is so frequently processed through this prism of it either not being a tale of crying Superman or teeth-clenching Batman, or being a more enlightened version of the same thing. I suspect we're a far way away from the day when comics are routinely engaged without the detritus of the medium's specific historical and cultural history gumming up the works in all sorts of strange, pathological ways. On the other hand, my gut says a lot of film critics writing about film over the last half century will feel similarly compelled to write about both Elisabet Vogler and Obi-Wan, or maybe just Obi-Wan. I'm not sure to what extent books like Wolk's should be expected to work outside of this formulation, especially when it seems to reflect the author's range of interests. Frankly, I'm not sure of anything.
posted 10:06 pm PST | Permalink

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