Doug Wolk currently has an essay in Salon called “Comics fans, grow up!” It’s apparently an excerpt from a book he’s written about comics culture. He’s a self-described comics nerd himself, so he feels secure in his ability to critique said culture from an insider perspective.
Some of his essay is pretty accurate, particularly his take on the “collector” aspect of comics culture. Yes, people who pop the books straight into plastic bags without reading them because they think they’re preserving their investments are pretty laughable. And yes, the practice of “slabbing” (which I have to admit I’d never heard of) is not only laughable, but kind of obscene. It makes me think of buying a beautifully-prepared meal and then dipping it in a vat of polymer resin. Sure, it’ll never go bad, but that kind of misses the point.
Where Wolk’s essay breaks down for me is his constant complaints about how “self-hating” comics creators (and readers?) are. He portrays them as neurotic misfits who fetishize the bad comics of their childhoods while secretly yearning for a “spot at the table of high culture”.
Huh? Who has he been talking to?
Obviously, lots of comics have a fetishistic aspect to them. And I’m not just talkin’ about R. Crumb here. Manga, underground, autobiographical and even straight superhero comics are all to some extent about capturing the objects of desire. That’s what a fetish is. That’s why we started drawing in the first place. And if your particular object of desire is the fond memory of the terrible comics you read as a child, well I guess you better make a comic about it.
But do the creators and readers of those comics really spend a lot of time getting all angsty about how culturally marginalized they are? Do they really stay up night wishing that someone would take pity upon them and invite them to the “table of high culture”? Not the ones I know. People who like to make and read comics do it because they love them, not because they want some kind of recognition from the guardians of “high culture”. Except for the isolationist residents of a few vanishingly-small enclaves, the keepers of “ART” have virtually disappeared from contemporary culture. One day they’ll be reduced to living on small patches of government-protected land and being offered Cheetos out of car windows by tourists.
Wolk’s complaints about the self-hating nature of comics seems to be derived from his own inner life as much as anything else. He admits to being a lover of comics, but dislikes a lot of things about comics lovers. Maybe he feels he hasn’t gotten the culturallegitimacy he deserves. Maybe he spends too much time worrying about what other people think of him.
Maybe that’s why he wrote a book instead of a comic.