Tuesday, September 14, 2004


The most recent Comics Journal (Aug/Sept, #262) is an attractive package with a smashing Toth cover, and gobs of nice full color reprint pages. But this issue, which feels like the end of the transition between the George and Deppy eras, begs for analysis of its contents vis-à-vis the question: has anything really changed?

Yes, and No.

The Toth section, which is composed of an old interview, an article by Bob Levin, and a juicy reprint section is, in fine Journal tradition, good, but not as good as you thought it might be when you saw the cover. The interview shows the strain both of being of being overly reverent, and really old (the ancient interview reprinted from now defunct European magazine is another Journal tradition), especially when Toth mentions current projects or talks about any peripheral subjects. Being someone who doesn’t know much about the guy, however, it worked for me as a brief introduction. Personally, I would have preferred that they print the legendary aborted Groth attempt at an interview instead (the one that allegedly ended in an acrimonious fit), but I probably learned more from this one. I found the accompanying article very nice, again mostly because I don’t know much about Toth’s life.

Toth is one of those artists that everyone respects, but who remains a bit mysterious to most of us comics plebeians. One of the reasons for this is that his work is generally unavailable for anyone of casual interest, and I myself have read very little of it (just some of the random DC work, and the stuff that was reprinted in the “Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics”). Alot of my exposure is via decontextualized drawings of his, mostly his animation work. The article actually addresses this point, acknowledging that due to his lack of any consistent work on a recognizable serial (except perhaps Zorro), his work tends not to be reprinted, and this not seen by anyone but the hardcore collector. In this way, this section was perfect for an audience of what I imagine are a bunch of interested folks like me who need the quick intro, and a little taste of the work itself. Just don’t approach this as more than a surface swoop at the topic of Toth’s artistic genius. Besides the color reprint section (the importance of which should not be undervalued), there is nothing here that wouldn’t have been seen in past years of the Journal.

The newswatch section is also about the same-as-it-ever-was, but contains the fantastic article “Collective Inaction: The comics community tries and tries again to get it together.” This is an excellent well-researched account of attempts to organize comic professionals that, in my opinion, is the most valuable thing in the issue. The letters section (Blood and Thunder) prints only one letter, however it is exactly the kind of letter and point-by-point response/filking that so marked the last iteration of the magazine. The letter (from Chris Oliveros) is picked mercilessly apart my Michael Dean (also the author of the fantastic Collective inaction piece). This was business as usual.

The manga essay was light, but fun and makes some good points. Most importantly, though, it is different in tone and content than what I’ve been accustomed to. Thus emerges the main point of deviation from the George years: the presence of commentary that dares to brave the cold heart of the comics mainstream (read “the direct market and Manga”). There had been some recent stabs at this (during the transitional phase), and all were thoroughly condescending and worthless except as comfort reading if you have similar views. This issue was very different. The nu-marvel article (part 1 of 2) is basically an admiring letter to the rise of Quemas (although part 2 will, we have been warned, not as kind to the post Jemas Marvel), something of the sort I thought I might not ever see grace these pages. The article is well reasoned and suggests that the Journal may now be able to broadly analyze the industry without dismissing large segments of it out of hand. But, hey, that’s Dirk for you.

The Cwilklik article (“Obsolete”) is even more evidence that there has been a fundamental shift. The article argues that superhero movies have outdone superhero comics, and there may be no turning back, but it does it without really condescending to either fanboys or mainstream movie audiences.

“Fighting Words” was fun, and I think a magazine like this is wise to have a feature that simultaneously keeps its ear to the chatter, and presents it in a gossipy-fun way. The momentary tonal shift adds to the reading experience.

The reviews were also basically same old/same old, but I was happy to see Smax and Demo in the bullets section. The only review that bothered me (and it wouldn’t be TCJ without that) was the Blanket’s review, which had something of a salient point to make but sort of lost it in the execution. Austin English compartmentalizes Craig Thompson’s Blankets to a genre, teen romance to be specific, solely in order to help take it down a peg by association. I understand the point, and may even agree with some of what he’s getting at, but it is impossible for me to embrace the implication that “just” a teen romance could never, by virtue of what it is, attain the level of great art. English also claims to really like the illustration, but refuses to let this in anyway affect his judgment about how good the book is (a little odd when evaluating a comic). Any of this could have been in the old Journal (the Blankets review was even a year late! - Journal tradition, again).

The last and worst item was an overwritten piece of BS called “Time Out of Joint.” The article is basically an attempt to expound upon a relatively easy to understand and convey worldview (a sort of grand unification conspiracy theory of world control and psychological manipulation) with some relatively simple consequent conjecture, which is presented as fact and hidden inside jargon and unnecessarily baroque language. I’ve never seen anything quite like this in TCJ and I hope it was an aberration because it simply did not belong here (comics it definitely wasn’t, and calling it cultural criticism is really pushing it).

So has the Journal changed? Yes, some. But it never needed to change that much to begin with, and the changes here all seem to be steps in the right direction. Not all the annoying things are gone, but I think the tweaks we see here, both physical and editorial, bode very well. This is a good time to start reading if you aren’t already.


At 7:45 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Kenneth Smith, the author of "Time Out of Joint," has been a regular TCJ columnist in the past: his written material has always read like "Joint" and, as a writer, he has a sizable share of detractors. I personally find him impenetrable, but I'm also ready to admit that I haven't put a lot of extra effort into reading his stuff. Liked editor Dirk's graphic alongside Smith's column, though. . .

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Todd C. Murry said...

Good point. So, put another mark in the buisness as usual column. I guess, in reviewing this issue, I felt like I had to read every word of it, and in prior issues I may have read a few paragraphs of an artice like this, and moved on. Incedently, the article is (eventually) penetrable, but just not worth the penetration effort. The language is an attempt to dress up an odd but shallow point of view, and the theory is kinda' pie in the sky. I'm probably ragging it too much, because there was something interesting about it, but the execution was overcooked, and lacked the necessary perspective (i.e. it took itself to seriously by half).


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