Sunday, August 26, 2007

Criticism in the Comments (Comment Pull Quote)

[I just had an idea: we have lots of smart and/or important discussions in the comments, but I fear there are a number of readers who do not post here that also do not read the comments. How about Sundays I take a comment from the week and give it its own post here, to make sure it is not missed by incurious readers, like the discussion of heart in Casanova with Jason Powell and Matt Fraction last week?]

Unfortunately, this idea was inspired by a negative comment made today on a post from four days ago, but the guy makes at least one fair, if old, point, and I thought I should bring my response forward. It would make me nuts if anyone read it but did not read my response, and it makes me nuts thinking there are people who are thinking what he is thinking and not saying anything.]

So here it is. The Brian's comment was cut and pasted, so any mistakes are his own. I corrected a word on my post, because, well, it's my blog. Ha.

Brian said...

I'm not even particularly fond of this arc so far- although I think it's going somewhere- but I find the statement that your favorite Morrison story was his JLA: Classified arc.

It was pointed out by a Wizard writer, talking to Douglas Wolk about his book and mentioning yours as a point of comparison, that your book was all text-based and didn't talk about the art at all. That's a very real criticism, as art is a huge part of comics.

I'm sure a comparison could be made between this Batman story and the JLA story: three issues apiece and involving some of the same characters, issue 668 even making reference to a mind-controlling ape, but I just feel the need to point out that these Batman issues win on an art level. Not like this makes a good comic automatically- Killing Girl is still pretty bad, actually- but those JLA issues have one massive flaw in a place where this arc finds much of its power.

It's also worth noting that your lack to engage the visual side of things is missing out on a lot of the implied history of reinvention.

Brian said

I know you address the art in these reviews- you think the style comes off as a mishmash on the page, which I think speaks to an inability to read the image.

Geoff Klock said

I am well aware that the criticism that my book does not talk about art is a serious one. I always defend it the same way: The ground-breaking book on poet and painter William Blake was written by Northrop Frye, but he mostly just talked about the words. So did many of the people around that time. Blake studies was starting out and everyone did what they could do best. Now, everyone loves to point out that weakness, but there is no way to deny that Blake studies would be nowhere without Frye. My superhero book is not as ground-breaking as Frye's but the point is the same -- I wrote what I was good at writing about, and never said that was the last word on the subject.

Second, I was 21 when I wrote it and that was seven years ago.

Third, Reprinting art in an academic book -- not easy, or cheap.

Fourth: One of the main aims of this blog has been to look more at the art. I have many posts here about visual style. It has been something I have been working on for years, because I know it is important. Go read some of the comments on the New X-Men posts and you will find people telling me that I am spending far too much time focusing on art, that it does not matter that much. I disagree and say so, and continue on talking about the art.

Fifth: My comments on Batman are a bullet point review. A first impression. Now, with Tim Callahan, more will be coming, and the art will be discussed. Again -- I never said that Batman review was everything that could be said.

Sixth: you can say that my claim about style shows an inability to read the image, but notice how you offer no evidence, reasons or examples. If you think the style is unified -- not a crazy or uncommon claim and one that we are all going to get into again with Tim Callahan -- be be a little more specific at how that can be.

I am going to avoid talking about your grammar and tone of voice. I am going to avoid grammar because I make mistakes like you make here all the time. I am going to avoid talking about tone of voice because everyone can see it, and it does not need pointing out.

That last paragraph there uses a fancy rhetorical device with a 14 letter name -- it involves talking about something by claiming you are not going to talk about it. Ain't I a stinker?

The last two paragraphs of mine are cheap, yeah? I never know how to respond to internet criticism. Talk all nice, and you look like a push-over. Talk mean, and you become a message board psycho.

33 comments:

Timothy Callahan said...

I wouldn't call McGuinness's art a "massive flaw." He's one of the best superhero artists around.

(I'm re-reading the entire Morrison JLA run right now, and I can't help thinking how much the bizarre Howard Porter anatomy and facial expressions detract from the stories. The series doesn't actually start working until Oscar Jimenez comes in for the Green Arrow two-parter.)

Geoff Klock said...

I love LOVE Ed McGuinness. Its like the best cartoon you never saw, all the time.

So Sara just woke up and I gave her the Batman issue. She just gave me a long talk, with specific points about the colorist, the "lighting" and the lines, about how she thinks the style is not a mishmash on the page. And she is getting a Masters in painting, so she would know. I will give it more thought. Live and learn.

Eric (APredator) Bloxsom said...

I think i like to be part of the silly rant posts, not that ranting is bad. Just a longer, more boring way of saying something short. I also completely agree with not ever knowing how to respond to internet criticism, just like you said. I myself think that when reviewing something one should touch on all parts of the object but, it is the reviewers choice. If someone can talk hours about colors in a painting another person could just as easily talk about the tools used to make said object. It is kind of like talking about your favorite book and its characters to someone that just listens to you but wonders why you have not said something about the book's wonderful cover sleave! Oh, and i also really badly want to know the 14 letter name for the rhetorical device mentioned. lol

Stephen said...

I've always thought that that "why so little about images?" criticism was off-base and that you are overly defensive about it. You wrote about a particular aspect of the works you discussed; others can write about other aspects. Unless something you ignored directly impacted on your arguments, I don't see why you're obliged to cover everything. I mean, bully for you for wanting to write more about art; but I think your first book was great and needs no apologies.

(Well, except that I think I disagree with your central argument. But that's another matter. :) )

SF

neilshyminsky said...

Is the Batman issue in question 667 or 668? I've been out of town and missed the discussion and haven't picked up 668 yet either. But 667 seems kinda messy to me, too (though, likewise, i lack any visual art training). What strikes me as 'messy', though, is the way that Williams tries to draw each of the League of Batmen in a different style in order to suggest that he's imping an artist or style that is somehow appropriate for that character - one character looks like David Lloyd's V, another like Chris Sprouse drew him, etc. It's messy, for me, because it's distracting and redundant - the base design and Morrison himself have already ably suggested these connections.

And the splash where the murderer kills his first hero at the end of 667? It's fucking hideous. Like, it's actually incredibly ugly, confusingly laid-out, and bares none of the delicate line-work that I expect of Williams.

neilshyminsky said...

Oh, and what's the word? I feel that I should know this but it's not coming to me.

Streebo said...

Geoff - Whenver I hear someone critique your book - How To Read Superheroes And Why ( available on Amazon.com) based solely on the fact that you don't discuss the art of the stories mentioned either:

A) Didn't read your book.

or

B) Read the book and had no fucking clue what it was about.

And Internet critics are useless twats - so say what you want to the non-productive bastards.

Brian said...

Hey Geoff, it's Brian. I really wasn't trying to make a big deal out of anything. I just wanted to say I think that JH Williams is a better artist than Ed McGuinness, and that I would be interested in reading a post about why you, someone who has read a lot Morrison's work, would consider that particular three-issue arc a favorite. I'm aware I said more. Feel free to take me to task here in the comments about my grammar. I wasn't aware I did anything wrong, besides overusing the m-dash, and on reread that first paragraph didn't really contain the complete thought of where I was going. Oops.

I don't have any problems with my tone of voice though. If you want to talk about it, go ahead, but I really don't think it'll strengthen your argument, at least in terms of gaining reader's sympathy. When attacking my grammar, clearly the goal is to cite your authority to make me look me foolish, but if you're discussing tone of voice it just makes it seem like you're unable to have a discussion.

I really don't think my comment warranted a bullet-point response. I'm not trying to start a fight with you. Thanks for giving me a broader platform, though. I was worried you wouldn't even read the comments, since the post itself was four days old and you had already received a decent amount of comments.

This is all very obnoxious. I'm sorry. I will move on.

My point about the inability to read a visual image was referring to the fact that this comic uses visual cues to hint at reinvention more than showing that as a narrative. It's completely different from what was done in Seven Soldiers, to the point where that's an unfair comparison. It's drawing a character in a Chaykin style, rather than going through a four-issue narrative arc. A painting wouldn't have a four-issue narrative arc either, but history is pointed towards with visual cues. You finding that unrewarding would seem to speak to you placing a premium on the revelation of this reinvention through explicit plot. Which is fair in general, because comics are a narrative medium, but reinvention is a huge theme in Morrison's work in general, and so should be allowed to serve as background material and subtext on occasion. I think JH Williams' art is great at that subtext.

Not like the comic itself is great necessarily, or even that the art isn't without its flaws.

Here's a complaint I haven't read anywhere else, that's art-focused: The opening flashback done in benday dots keeps the layout tricks of the majority of the rest of the book. This leads to breaking up an image into four panels for no reason at all, in a way that I've never seen done in, say, a Carmine Infantino comic. A large panel would maintain the grid effect in terms of pacing, the borders are superfluous.

Brian said...

Oh and I will admit that I didn't read your book, besides an excerpt that ran on PopImage years ago. I appreciated the distinction between The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

I don't think my not reading the entirety of the book invalidates my opinion, seeing as how I wasn't really talking about the book besides mentioning the opinion of someone who did read it.

That said, Geoff, I don't know what you'd think of Streebo's opinion that "internet critics are useless twats," but I'd like to think you'd disagree with it, seeing as how you're writing criticism on the internet.

Marc Caputo said...

I think that art's a MORE subjective thing than writing. You can point to someone's writing and show haw they either succeeded or failed at things like characterization or plot development or themes, etc. Where the arguments come in, I feel, is where one thinks that the writer didn't mean to go a certain way or how much the writer is telling you where to go. I think that after reading for over 30 years, I have acquired the ability to fill in things that aren't explicitly shown to me (in comics, reading "between the panels") but only if I feel the writer has set things up for me to make those leaps.
Now, when it comes to art, there's much more subjectivity. I LOVE McGuinness - he has done nothing that I haven't really enjoyed. Even though my first exposure to him comes from Superman/Batman 1-6, I wouldn't want to see him do Batman or Detective, because the tone of those stories typically don't lend themselves to his style. Williams is working brilliantly on Batman, but I wouldn't want to see him do, let's say, Spider-Man.
But when it comes to writers, the more I like a writer, the more I'd like to see him do anything and for the most part, could see that writer doing something. I think Morrison could do a fantastic Spider-Man run, for example.

Just wanted to throw in with this one - hope I wasn't rambling.

And I think Streebo was either being sarcastic or speaking of people who critique on Amazon.com. Once again, my 2 cents.

Geoff Klock said...

Eric, Neil: I actually cannot remember the name of the rhetorical device, which is why I wrote the sentence like that. It is a long word but I do not know if it has 14 letters in it, I was just being silly.

Eric: that's my feeling: write what you can write. It takes a village, or something.

Neil: either 667 or 668 will do for this discussion.

Streebo, Brian: Brian is right that I would have to point out that I myself am an internet critic, though I think Streebo meant people who are only internet critics on blogs and message boards, and not also print critics.

Brian: I have been avoiding talking about JLA: Classified because I prefer to talk about comics that are a mixed bag -- good and bad. But that might be fun, and it will not be too long. I will think about it.

But Batman 668 is like Seven Soldiers 0 -- obscure characters from different periods drawn in styles to reflect their origins with Morrison and Williams, then the characters start dying.

I disagree strongly with this though: "You finding that unrewarding would seem to speak to you placing a premium on the revelation of this reinvention through explicit plot." Just because I am not in love with this particular visual clue does not mean that I put a premium on plot and ignore art generally.

My only problem with the benday dots flashback bit is that it is over-done.

The problem with me insisting reading only some of my book is not enought to talk about it, is that we are all talking about Morrison's current Batman arc before it is done.

Never let me bring up grammar again. I am being punished for that, because I am in a bit of a hurry writing this.

Jason Powell said...

"You can point to someone's writing and show haw they either succeeded or failed at things like characterization or plot development or themes, etc. .... Now, when it comes to art, there's much more subjectivity."

Not really true to someone who's studied art criticism, and can point to someone's art and show how they either succeeded or failed in their use of form, color, space, etc.

neilshyminsky said...

Maybe it's my fault that this point was lost, but I still want to know from folks who have studied visual art - what is Williams contributing visually that Morrison isn't doing textually? Williams mimicry of various styles is clever, sure, but Morrison is making the exact same gestures on his end - and so it seems to me that Williams' contribution is entirely redundant. Or is there something that I'm missing?

ATOM-HOTEP said...

You're missing the part where the art complements the script - all the stuff that Morrison is implying about the characters and their 20+ years of unseen history is depicted literally by the art. I don't think this is bland mimicry or Godland-style evocation of Kirby dots. I also don't think it's just obvious criticism of comic book history, it's also not psycho Superboy beating the hell out of Golden Age Palooka Superman.

Geoff Klock said...

Neil -- well Williams has to sell Morrisons ideas, has to persuade us he is doing something smart, good, entertaining. If it was Kordey drawing 22 pages in 10 days I would just remove the staples and use it as scrap paper, no matter what Morrison wrote.

AH: You have told us what it is not, fair. But then what IS it?

Streebo said...

I was just being an asshole when I said that. The people on this blog are very intelligent and friendly and I apologize for behaving so belligerently.

That said -

It was Jean Sibelius who said “No one ever put up a statue to a critic!”

I find a great amount of comfort in that statement.

I work my ass off to write and draw my own comics. I produced, wrote and directed my own full length feature horror film - which I am currently editing on a full time basis.

At the end of the day - a critic - who contributes nothing to the creative world other than voicing their opinion on someone else's work - will come along and piss all over several years worth of my work in a matter of minutes.

From time to time, I like to go back and read over reviews of classic films from the past. Usually – anything that was ahead of it's time gets torn to shreds by critics. See if you can figure out which movie these quotes refer to:

“A sad prostitution of talent.”

“A Gothic absurdity.”

“I was so sick and tired of the whole beastly business that I didn't stay until the end.”

“There is not an ounce of decency or of genuine human artistry evident in front of or behind the cameras. . . this is the most miserable peepshow I have ever seen, and far more awful and suggestive than any pornographic film I have ever seen.”

“If you are lucky enough to arrive too late for the beginning, try missing the end and the middle too. It's almost worth the journey.”

For those of you that are thinking “this sounds like a review for Eli Roth's Hostel” - then you would be sadly mistaken. These are all excerpts from contemporary reviews for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. As time would tell – Psycho – would become one of the most influential horror films of all time. It basically started the modern era of horror. At the time it was released – there was no shortage of critics to tear it to pieces.

I just don't have any respect for an individual whose sole purpose in life is to critique another individual's artistic endeavors. It all comes down to matters of taste and personal preferences and those are imprinted characteristics that can't be bought and sold. Every viewer, reader, or consumer is entitled to their opinion – as they approached the material in search of entertainment or perhaps some small amount of enlightenment on the human condition. The reading or viewing audience has the right to critic what they paid good money to see, hear or read. They didn't approach the material with the sole goal of critiquing it for the world – which in many ways amounts to nothing more than expounding upon one's own opinions and preferences. If that is your sole reason for existence – IE: you're not teaching, writing creative fiction or non-fiction, creating paintings, film or music – then explain to me what kind of contribution that really makes to the world. Who are these critics trying to entertain or enlighten? Since they don't create artistic works of their own – they literally act as parasites attaching themselves to living, breathing and vital hosts that were trying to offer something of themselves to the world. Their sole purpose is to destroy what others create. Internet critics are the worst - because now that we all have a platform we can speak from – they choose to use this bed of fertile imagination to leech off the works of others and more often than not - tear them to pieces. For that I say go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself.

Ummm...I'm not talking about anyone specific here so please don't take it that way. I'm generalizing and nothing more.

Constructive criticism from our peers is the most valuable tool an artist can have – but hearing the critique of an opinionated critic with no artistic endeavors of their own is not something an artist should have to endure.

I read Geoff's book and accepted it as a valuable teaching tool. It taught me many valuable lessons about one of the art forms that I chose to work in – the superhero narrative. Beyond that – Geoff gave me a new context in which to look at all forms of art. It was not a book of reviews and critique but instead offers a new way of understanding where the superhero narrative came from – where it is going and the best way it should go about getting there. For that I will always value the time I spent reading it and the amount of time I had to spend flipping through the dictionary in order to understand it all.

LOL

Like Hitchcock, Geoff's work is so ahead of it's time that the vast majority of the comic reading and creating populace cannot yet comprehend what it means. I literally got sick of trying to encourage people to read it on the various forums such as CGS or Newsarama or wherever. No matter what time period we live in people are never ready to really hear the answers to so many of the problems afflicting them. I gave up trying to convince people and went back to creating my work. In ten years time – Geoff's book will be hailed for the visionary work that it truly is.

No, I'm not buttering your ass – just telling the truth.

Thank you for giving me a new understanding of my chosen art form and for giving me a new way of creating it as well, Geoff.

Kenney said...

Mark me down as another who wants to see you write about why you found that JLA story so good.

I read it and I don't remember being terribly impressed or anything. Maybe a little confused, but it didn't stick with me.

I would love to read about why it was so good to you.

scott s said...

everybody should check out the douglas wolk interview over at newsarama, which is very relevant to the conversation. there's also a sample chapter on grant morrison.

neilshyminsky said...

atom-hotep wrote "You're missing the part where the art complements the script - all the stuff that Morrison is implying about the characters and their 20+ years of unseen history is depicted literally by the art."

No, I got that. I wrote that, in fact. (Well, everything except the 'complements' bit, which I don't see at all.) I just don't know that Williams actually adds anything new here - he's doing the exact same thing, but in a visual medium rather than a textual one. It's reiterating Morrison's point, sure, but I don't see where it's adding anything.

It's like they're both singing the melody and have forgotten about the harmony. A brief aside: one of the reasons that the Beatles 'We Can Work It Out', for instance, works so well is in the bridge, where McCartney sings a high, almost manic melody and Lennon contrasts it with a low, nearly monotone, and vaguely snarling harmony. McCartney's optimism is completely undermined by Lennon's boredom, leading us to believe that McCartney's confidence in the chorus/verse is wholly unfounded. But we don't get that productive clash in Morrison/Williams' Batman - we get two artists doing the exact same thing, and it's incredibly unsubtle and uncomplicated.

(But maybe I just expect too much of collaborations? Admittedly, I just set the bar really high.)

Jason Powell said...

I know it's a digression, and Neil sorry to disagree, but ... man, I hate that popular interpretation of "We Can Work It Out." Lennon’s section doesn’t undermine McCartney’s section. It complements it. (Sorry if that word is starting to be overused in this thread.)

To call McCartney’s section optimistic and Lennon’s section bored is to ignore the lyrical content. There’s not a lot of optimism in McCartney’s line, “There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long.” And Lennon’s section is not bored – it’s urgent. “Life is very short, and there’s no time...”

There is contrast in the music of the two different sections, and I agree that the tension between McCartney’s high-flung melody and Lennon’s dogged single-noted-ness does is part of what makes the song so engaging. But Lennon’s single-note style (which he utilizes in most of his work as a Beatle) is a result of Lennon’s songwriting style, which was to avoid extemporaneity in order to get his point across in as naturalistic a way as possible. He writes melodies that imitate the way he speaks. He sings “Life is very short” on a single note because that’s how he’d say it, not because he’s bored.

I also don’t see mania in McCartney’s bit. It sounds as controlled as any McCartney’s melodies – but that’s probably getting a bit subjective. The mistake, I think, is to see McCartney’s relentless “we can work it out” as optimism rather than an attempt to win an argument (i.e., my way is right, your way is wrong). It’s almost overbearing, in a way, and when it’s read in that light, Lennon’s text flows quite naturally from McCartney’s. If anything, the dichotomy being struck is not optimism/boredom, but rather personal/universal. (McCartney is about “my way” and “your way,” and Lennon’s is about “life.”) Lennon isn’t knocking the foundation out of McCartney’s verse/chorus – he’s providing it.

Jumaan said...

"But we don't get that productive clash in Morrison/Williams' Batman - we get two artists doing the exact same thing, and it's incredibly unsubtle and uncomplicated."

Ah, now I see the problem, which was always my main problem with the book to begin with, namely that it was unsubtle and uncomplicated. For some reason, I think the whole justification/condemnation of Morrison's Batman run can be encapsulated in the infamous Joker prose story issue. In that issue, there is terrible art that somehow manages to service the thematic quality of Morrison's script, sneaky bits that bubble under the surface of a trashy, pulpy tone (Joker appears at the end of the prose issue dressed in the surgical/butcher's outfit from one of his first appearances in Detective Comics, Andy Kubert's depiction of Batman 666's ridiculous Batmobile clown car, especially the look on his face), symbolism that is far too obvious or far too obscure (Batman quoting the most well known Yeats quote while Commissioner Gordon rolls her eyes, the fight in front of the Lichensteins, throwing Joker in a dumpster, honest to god armed gorillas wearing human clothes, naming the damn kid DAMIAN - opposed to deliberately obfuscating the accumulated history of the Club of Heroes, allusions to the kinds of villains Batman confronts (The Old Man, The Black Glove and, apparently, Satan) and the completely tortured and feverish quality of the writing that you find either completely ridiculous and bad or completely ridiculous and fun.

I remember a bunch of reviews of Batman 663 that specifically addressed the horrible descriptions of Gotham City in the opening paragraphs, totally missing the point that many others got, in that the history and depiction of Batman and the elements that surround Batman, the Joker, Commissioner Gordon and Gotham City are all a kind of crazy quilt - all of these depictions exist on some level in any depiction of Batman. All of them are so convincing as to be valid and in the ridiculous descriptions of Gotham, you can see the elements of 40's with cellphones Batman: TAS Gotham, the flopsweat dripping Miller Gotham, giant prop factory Gotham, daytime Gotham of the civic committee Batman, Anton Furst Gotham; all synthesized in the form of the glitzy gothic Vegas which, to me, is a strangely compelling depiction. This also isn't really a new idea by Morrison, as Pluto One Million seems to be depicted in this exact same way by Val Simeks in DC 1,000,000, except more like a huge, planetwide mall.

The overblown pulp style of Batman's history, which encompasses every aspect of his character throughout history is the mode that Morrison seems most convinced by (I get the feeling that he really loved Batman Forever and saw more things in it than most people would care to) and that's the mode he chooses to write Batman in. This is why I said it's not entirely a critique of the Miller style, indeed it reads like a companion to Miller's equally ridiculous ASBAR. All of this stuff is possible, but I don't think it's a literal reconciliation with the various stages of Batman continuity (and they are stages because every ten or fifteen years since his creation, there is a conscious revamp of the entire Batman mythos that manages to work on some level) but a synthesis of all the elements that make up Batman. Batman is more than just a superhero that DC publishes, Batman is one of the two superheroes recognized by everyone in the world. Even though it's not his deepest or most emotionally resonant work and even though it fails at some points, I think what Morrison is trying to do with Batman is kind of ambitious and cool.

I wrote way too much and didn't even address 667-668. That'll have to come when I get home from work.

neilshyminsky said...

Jason - I don't necessarily see a contradiction in my labeling McCartney's vocal 'manic' and your calling it 'overbearing'. In fact, I think they're entirely consistent - manic and overbearing would actually serve as a perfect description of McCartney's method as a songwriter and performer with the Beatles. I also think that optimism and 'i'm right' work well with McCartney in this context. The song, reportedly, is about his relationship with Jane Asher, which was falling apart at the time. He was desperately clinging to it (while controlled, it's also near the top of McCartney's range, and 'life is very short' is very staccato, almost screamed), confident they'd figure it out, but also wanting to dictate its terms.

But I certainly have to disagree with your interpretation of Lennon's vocal. The single-note style, for one, has nothing to do with naturalism - it's because he wrote songs on his guitar, and since he wasn't a very good player he preferred progressions that required limited hand movement. But even if I were to agree that Lennon's vocal sounds like it's being spoken, anything less than McCartney's intensity provides a contrast whereby that same intensity is made to seem excessive.

I'm perhaps reading too much of their biographies into the song, but I don't think that's unfair with the Beatles. Lennon sounds bored to me because this song was written during his incredibly depressed period. He doesn't care if he wins the argument, his delivery sounds snide because 'fussing and fighting' is all he and Cynthia ever do. He's 'asking once again', but he knows it's useless - it's still incredibly intimate, not at all universal. When we read that on to McCartney's performance, we get the sense that he may be equally hopeless - but only because Lennon's there to provide the subtext.

The Satrap said...

Hi. This is my first comment on the blog.

I think that JWHIII's contribution is not redundant. He is supporting Morrison by stressing the notion of ownership (and, hence, de facto authorship) of established comic characters. A writer can only dwell upon it with some difficulty.

By drawing the Gaucho guy like a Chaykin character, we are not only led to believe that he's the kind of character you could easily imagine as written by Chaykin: we actually get to think that the only writer of any renown to have ever tackled the guy was Chaykin, and that he's been so influential that the character has never quite got over its "Chaykin funk" ever since.

Morrison can obviously comment on stereotypes, grim & gritty, specific aspects of the canon/continuity etc, but he has a more limited palette than the artist to achieve the above effect. In fact, he almost certainly would be forced to pun on bits of trademark dialogue and other mannerisms from his precursor. This would be problematic because:

-it's crass;

-not everybody is Frank Miller, whom you can evoke by merely using "goddamn" and "Batman" in the same sentence;

-the result could be prolix or otherwise get in the way of the story.

Not that the device is that effective, mind you. For one thing, JWHIII is a bit too fond of it (I suspect he likes to show off his talent for mimicry). He's a brilliant artist, to be sure, and the result can be impressive. It can be quite hideous too. For example, his Kirby and Bianchi impressions in Seven Soldiers #1 were splendid, while he sort of butchered Cameron Stewart.

Of course, Morrison is himself undercutting JHWIII inasmuch as his apparent attempts to step out of Miller's shadow are not being entirely successful, or enjoyable...

The Satrap said...

I'll also add, following up on jumaan's excellent post, that Morrison appears to be trying to "step out of Miller's shadow" not by providing an indictment of Miller's contribution, but by integrating it into what Morrison sees as the greater whole of the Batman "mythos".

He's not succeeding, IMO.

Jumaan said...

I actually thought J.H. Williams Cam Stewart characters were spot on, I think what he had the most trouble with (everybody had the same problem in the other books and on the trade dress) is Frazier Irving's Klarion. It's such a great design that's totally iconic in the hands of Frazier Irving but I have never seen the character look remotely good when anyone else draws him. It's those damn hair spikes.

Jason Powell said...

Neil,

“The song, reportedly, is about his relationship with Jane Asher, which was falling apart at the time. He was desperately clinging to it (while controlled, it's also near the top of McCartney's range, and 'life is very short' is very staccato, almost screamed), confident they'd figure it out, but also wanting to dictate its terms.”

Hmm. I see where your “manic” and my “overbearing” dovetail. But then, as you note above, McCartney’s mania spills over (in the form of staccato, high-pitched singing) into the bridge that you claim completely undermines it.

“But I certainly have to disagree with your interpretation of Lennon's vocal. The single-note style, for one, has nothing to do with naturalism - it's because he wrote songs on his guitar, and since he wasn't a very good player he preferred progressions that required limited hand movement.”

The phenomena of a single-note melody and an uncomplicated chord progression are not necessarily connected, and I don’t think they are in Lennon’s case. A wide, far-flung melody can be sung over a single chord. (Example: the first line of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” everything up to “many years from now” is over a single chord, for example, with the first change happening on “now” – unless I’m misremembering/mishearing). Meanwhile, the same note can be sung over complicated and rapidly changing chord progressions. (For example, the Lennon-composed “If I Fell” changes chords on almost every word, but the notes of his melody move in small increments. Also, a listen to other songs in the Beatles canon shows that even when Lennon has devised a harmony vocal on a progression built by McCartney, he still very doggedly will keep things on a single note if the progression allows it.) Melody need not be dictated by what chords can or cannot be played. The reason Lennon’s melodies are low on incident and tend to lack a lot of jumps in intervals is because Lennon sought melody in a naturalistic way, i.e, seeking out a note for the new chord that was as close as possible to the note he’d previously sung. Which is to say, he didn’t fuss over complicated melodies – life was too short. :)

“But even if I were to agree that Lennon's vocal sounds like it's being spoken, anything less than McCartney's intensity provides a contrast whereby that same intensity is made to seem excessive.”

But again, as noted above, the bridge also contains McCartney’s vocal right on top of it. If you’re arguing that “desperation” characterizes the “optimistic” verse/chorus, then doesn’t that desperation carry over into the staccato and high-pitched plaintive cry of “life is very short and there’s no tiiiime”?

“I'm perhaps reading too much of their biographies into the song, but I don't think that's unfair with the Beatles.”

I agree, perfectly fair, but at the same time ...

“He doesn't care if he wins the argument, his delivery sounds snide because 'fussing and fighting' is all he and Cynthia ever do. He's 'asking once again', but he knows it's useless”

This all seems like a lot of “reading in” to stuff that isn’t actually in the text of the song. Other than implication based on vocal tone, there’s nothing to suggest he doesn’t care, or that his “asking once again” is useless. Indeed, if he thinks it’s useless, why is he asking again? I’d say “asking again” implies the opposite, that he thinks there’s a point in asking.

“it's still incredibly intimate, not at all universal.”
If it’s all about Cynthia, then yes, it is. But I think that’s too much reading in. “Life is too short for fussing and fighting, my friend.” That’s contextualizing one argument in the frame of life in general.

“When we read that on to McCartney's performance, we get the sense that he may be equally hopeless - but only because Lennon's there to provide the subtext.”

I realize it might be hairsplitting, this argument, because I of course agree that the two sections enrich each other – I just don’t think it’s an “optimism”/”pessimism” dichotomy. It is McCartney who sings, “If we see it your way, there’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long.” That – along with his worry that he might eventually not be able to “go on -- is as pessimistic as anything in Lennon’s bridge, so I can’t see how it is Lennon who is solely providing that darker angle, either as text or subtext.

(You know, it suddenly strikes me as hilarious that we’re arguing about a song that itself is about an argument. Try and see it my way, Neil! Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?)

Marc said...

Streebo--I think it's odd that you separate review-style criticism from peer criticism, audience reaction, and academic criticism, all of which (for all their considerable differences) are based around the ideas that responding to art is a worthwhile endeavor in its own right and that such responses are best shared. I also think it's odd that you associate all reviews with negativity and all negativity with reviews; there's more than a hint of that old fallacy that equates "criticism" with tearing something down. Frankly, I can think of plenty of reviews and critical essays I've enjoyed more than the works of art that motivated them.

But I mostly wanted to respond to this:

"It all comes down to matters of taste and personal preferences and those are imprinted characteristics that can't be bought and sold."

Wouldn't it be nice to think so? But what imprints those tastes and personal preferences? Where do they come from? A couple of posts ago, you wrote:

"I like Morrison's Batman because it has two great tastes that go together - fucking NINJA MANBATS."

Did you write that because at some point you imprinted on ninjas and Man-Bats like a baby test monkey imprinting on her cruel laboratory overlords? Hell, how many comics with a Man-Bat and/or Man-Bats had you read prior to Morrison's first Batman arc last year? Does this comment really represent some longstanding aesthetic preference that can't be bought and sold?

Or does it represent an attempt to play along with geek culture's recent preference for ironic, smirking celebrations of over-the-top stupidity? When was that taste imprinted? How deep does it run?

I don't buy the idea that our responses to art are purely subjective, all just matters of taste--that sounds too much like an attempt to let art (and artists) off the hook by preemptively shutting down all criticism and analysis.

Streebo said...

Marc - thank you for your kind response.

I don't have any answers for you aside from the fact that yes - ninjas and manbats were imprinted on me at an early age so when Morrsion put them together I loved the idea.

"I don't buy the idea that our responses to art are purely subjective, all just matters of taste--that sounds too much like an attempt to let art (and artists) off the hook by preemptively shutting down all criticism and analysis."

Well, I'm not selling that idea to you. I don't expect anyone on this blog to agree with me and I very much feel like I'm swimming in a trail of blood with the sharks circling around.

The idea that our responses to art is purely subjective came to me during my time in art school. There were too many times when my peers or teachers would find beauty in something where I saw none and vice versa. I always had one teacher that would tear apart everything I did - but then another would look at the same work and see what I was trying to accomplish.

So to me it all comes down to how we are imprinted - exactly like God's test lab monkeys at whatever age.

Geoff says he loves Morrison's JLA Classified and everyone keeps asking him why. People keep saying they don't see what's so special about it. Well why don't we ask Geoff why his favorite color is blue while we're at it. It's a matter of his how his tastes were imprinted on him and how they add up to make the totality of what he is as a human being.

I see it as a matter of taste and preference. I don't come to this blog to preach - but to learn. I know I am far from perfect and I do not take the time to construct a proper thesis before making posts on a blog. I simply say what I feel.

What I look forward to most of all is learning from you all - which is why I come here.

Thank you for your time.

neilshyminsky said...

Hey Jason - great discussion. I'll make only a couple quick comments.

"Indeed, if he thinks it’s useless, why is he asking again? I’d say 'asking again' implies the opposite, that he thinks there’s a point in asking."

Because I think that Lennon is going through the motions. I don't have my copy of 'Revolution in the Head' nearby, but I seem to recall that this song was written only months after other Lennon pieces like 'Nowhere Man' and 'Norwegian Wood'. There's a certain nihilism and self-defeating angle to a lot of his lyrics at this time. Lennon hasn't quite figured out what he wants out of life just yet, and so he's asking simply because he's supposed to. And don't the lyrics admit this much? 'There's no time for fussing and fighting my friend' is contrasted with 'so i will ask you once again', as if they realize it's an inescapable trap that demands a certain performance that will never yield a desirable result.

"'Life is too short for fussing and fighting, my friend.' That’s contextualizing one argument in the frame of life in general."

Except that the Beatles, and Lennon in particular, tended to draw the great majority of their material directly from their lives. There's a personal story behind nearly everything John wrote. I would also be remiss if I didn't point out that Lennon himself would later claim that every song he wrote was about him and spoke to specifically to his own life. But he had a certain revisionary streak. :)

"(You know, it suddenly strikes me as hilarious that we’re arguing about a song that itself is about an argument. Try and see it my way, Neil! Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?)"

But if I see it your way, there's a chance that things my fall apart before too long!

And it's a song about an unending argument, no less. It's really just a metaphor for the internet, isn't it? :)

Marc said...

Streebo, I worry that my last response came across as a little harsh. Not how I meant it at all.

Obviously, there's a hugely subjective and personal component to anybody's tastes, but I don't think that makes it pointless to talk about them. I'd love to hear Geoff talk about why he loves Morrison's JLA Classified story (of course, I like it too, though it's far from my favorite Morrison work), and for all I know he might have some interesting thoughts on the color blue. Even if our tastes were entirely subjective--and I don't think they are--that doesn't mean we can't discuss them with some degree of objectivity through a common language. We can still learn a lot about art by hearing about others' tastes, and that can in turn change and expand our own.

I think tastes are in a constant stage of evolution, both culturally and (I hope) personally. To rephrase my comment about the ninja Man-Bats with a little less acid (sorry--just read a few too many blog posts about the face-rocking awesomeness of things we liked in middle school), I can't imagine that fifteen or twenty years ago, anybody would have cited "ninja Man-Bats" as something to like about a comic. (But charming old Silver Age gimmick villains re-envisioned as transsexual serial killers--magnifique!) Fifteen or twenty years from now--or, given the cycles of internet-driven fads, fifteen or twenty months from now--everybody will be loudly proclaiming their allegiance to some other aesthetic banner. These tastes aren't fixed or intrinsic to us, and I suspect we inherit them as much as we come to them naturally.

Streebo said...

First let me just say that I love this blog. Reading over Neil and Jason's debate about Beatles lyrics was fantastic.

Marc - Thanks for taking the time to respond. I agree that I find great value in comparing each other's tastes. I love hearing about what other's find aesthetically pleasing. I said more than enough about critics on this blog and Geoff had to give me a damn William Blake quote to think about - so I'll cogitate on it all for a bit. I was more than a bit rude with my initial comments so I deserve whatever people wanted to say to me about it. I seem to have the rare ability to simultaneously piss off the comic community as well as the horror community.

"Fifteen or twenty years from now--or, given the cycles of internet-driven fads, fifteen or twenty months from now--everybody will be loudly proclaiming their allegiance to some other aesthetic banner. These tastes aren't fixed or intrinsic to us, and I suspect we inherit them as much as we come to them naturally."

I think there is a lot of truth to that. Thank you for your comments.

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