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

August 27, 2007

Various Chat & Theory News Updates

* This article still has Lynn Johnston ending the current real-time incarnation of the For Better or For Worse strip in September.

* Eric Burns, once and perhaps still the most widely-read writer about comics on the Internet, weighs in on newspapers dropping Opus from a useful angle: what it means in the history of the strip, once presented to editors as a savior of newsprint.

* Speaking of which, Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim says she wasn't offended; Eugene Volokh labels the first of the two dropped cartoons as lame.

* Matthias Wivel responds to my assertion that scholarship on cartoonists like Rodolphe Topffer aren't really debunking a widely-held, firmly-argued myth that comics started with The Yellow Kid. I'm not all that convinced by Wivel's restatement, and I find a lot of his rhetoric slippery. For one, I very obviously didn't show in my original argument that Gary Groth is ignorant of 19th Century comics-making in favor of a view of Yellow Kid as the genesis of everything. What I pointed out is that Gary was unfairly portrayed that way in a film trailer when I thought it pretty clear he was looking at Yellow Kid as a landmark starting point in terms of industry impact and locking into place a firm path of development at that point forward -- the way Christopher Columbus discovered America for modern Europe despite entire civilizations already being here, or the way you can point to seven or eight American college football games as the first one depending on your standards for doing so.

I think the Topffer scholarship is valuable and Kunzle's work admirable and enlightening, but I don't think learning about Topffer has ripped the scales from anyone's eyes or shattered anyone's view of comics, and I think that's the basis of a claim being insinuated on its behalf. Even as a college student with a half-assed interest in comics, I knew about artists like Wilhelm Busch and William Hogarth. Even a promotional interview at Newsarama contains language qualifying Yellow Kid as a seminal work, and an American one, and clearly using the industry cohesion construction when making it more sweeping historical claims. I wonder sometimes if there isn't an underdog mentality to comics that makes people want to state all achievement in terms of casting down a nefarious orthodoxy.

* Steve Flanagan takes up the same issue, with a specific example:
You asked, "Did anyone worth considering ever really take the Yellow Kid seriously as an artistic starting point?"

I have in front of me "The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics" (Kitchen Sink, 1995) in which Bill Blackbeard argues
just that, using a definition of comics (multi-panel, word balloons, no text outside the frame) designed to exclude all predecessors. It's as hugely unconvincing as his assertion that the Yellow Kid was cancelled because the Spanish-American War made the colour yellow unpopular with New Yorkers (it's in the Spanish flag, you know).
Okay, I'll confess, some people do believe this. There's all sorts of theories people have, like the one that Peter Arno was the first to do third-meaning cartoons and thus is either a progenitor or an exemplar of the form, or that it's useful to split the history of comic books into Olympic medal categories according to developments in one genre. But I don't think it's a widespread, bedrock notion among serious writers, not anymore.

* I think I totally skipped another recent flare-up of comics argumentation, or, as R. Fiore put it, another instance of several bald men fighting over a comb, in this panel from San Diego about comics not being literature. Neil Cohn comments. T Hodler comments.
posted 10:06 pm PST | Permalink

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