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

March 15, 2012

Group Think: Who In Comics Is Underappreciated?

imageThe recent passings of longtime Fantagraphics art director Dale Yarger, on-line comics site pioneer Don Markstein, the Harvey artist Sid Couchey and yet another one of those French-language comics fans and organizers that helped establish that part of the world's vibrant comics culture has me thinking about all the ways in which comics is built by people that are never fully recognized for their contributions: people that are under-appreciated. I've been thinking about this more generally since Bill Blackbeard's death and the late archivist's appearance on the last two Eisner Awards Hall Of Fame ballots. The image to which I frequently return is the number of books in a great comics shop in which Blackbeard played some sort of role. It's staggering to me, and I'm not sure that as much lip service as we pay to someone's contributions in that way that we ever rightly come to terms with what they've done, internalize it, and move on. One of the wonderful things about being a comics fan in this day and age is that you can meet those who had a hand in the near-entirety of what we know as the commercial flowering of the medium.

So I was curious: who do you think, living or dead, is under-appreciated in terms of their contributions to the entirety of what we know of as comics? I understand that's a difficult question and one can lead to a lot of self-indulgent writing. I'm certainly of the mind that everyone in comics is under-appreciated, and I'm not immune to feeling the desire that my choice for someone I'd name in this fashion reflect well on me, or even flatter a person from whom I can benefit. So I hope that any of you that might write in will avoid the "You know who's still under-appreciated? Charles Schulz!" entry or the "My editor is an awesome lady" paragraph. I'm hoping to tap some sober appraisals, divorced from your personal relationships, perhaps just one or two sentences on someone you suspect has never quite received their due -- even if it's someone about whom you don't know a lot but wish to because you feel like you may be missing out. Another thing that's nice about comics is the most modest fulcra can sometimes make for the lifting of huge parcels down the line, so maybe a mention here could put a name into some future writer's head about a possible subject about which to write, or a different way to look at things.

My own wish list is extensive, but let me share three. I have a general desire to know more about comics circulation people and the decisions they were making in the '50s, '60s and '70s. So maybe Martin Goodman's Circulation Manager Johnny Hayes could be put down as someone about whom I'd like to know more. I always feel like Mark Alan Stamaty was a significant figure for a lot of cartoonists now in the prime of their careers, and certainly a productive artist, widely-published, with a great deal of displayed skill inherent in his work. I have almost no grasp of his work, though. And let me name one contemporary, another person about whom I know next to nothing. One of the interesting things about attending BCGF in December 2011 was that it really underlined for me how relatively little I know about the emerging generation of alt-cartoonists. I was at several points literally having to be led around and introduced to people like some sort of clueless dad at a cotillion. Two different people in two different conversations named one person in particular as important to some members that scene in terms of being a taste-maker, context-provider and generally being a way into understanding what's going on there. I have no idea if they're right or not, but I have it on my list of things to do to find out more about Ryan Sands.

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