I'm as grown up as I'm gonna get, Mr. Wolk

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.

5 thoughts on “I'm as grown up as I'm gonna get, Mr. Wolk

  1. Becoming.. Radioactive…

    Sounds like Wolk is pretty proud of himself for mostly misunderstanding the entire genre. Your thoughts are very insightful on it, bobbo. One of the many facets of Daniel Clowes’s work that delights me is how he talks about various attitudes towards that medium, from other creators, the audience, and people who don’t know anything about it. I love how he goes from silly self-parody to the very eloquent praise for what the comics medium is as art( i think in ice haven, but it’s been a while and i sold a lot of his stuff on amazon).

    Ten years ago a kid i worked with interviewed me for her project about comics consumers, and she was big into the distinction between collectors and readers (myself of course being of the latter category). I didn’t know it was called slabbing, but yeah, i’ve never understood that either. Good analogy about making a great meal and preserving it in resin. When i get a paper copy of a good evaluation at work, i joke that I’m gonna bronze it. Now, your ordinary poindexters wouldn’t get that, but my supervisor, who draws comics, he totally knows what i mean!

    One more free associative thing and then i must make coffee. This example isn’t precisely comics the way that most would think of them, but since what i love about the juxtaposition of the text and the visuals in Lynda Barry’s work totally typifies the lofty stuff that Clowes and others say about the comics medium, i’m reminded of this story. WHen i was working for the stupid jocks at this one nonprofit we had to put little trivia about our selves on the photo board, and one of them was favorite book. I think that narrowing down any art, music, film, writing, etc, down to a singular favorite is pretty impossible, but i couldn’t think of anything i liked better than Lynda Barry’s DOWN THE STREET (an anthology which i beleive includes if not the exact strips then the same characters and timeframe of when i first heard of her work from punky clipping them outta The Reader for me in the 80s), so I put that on there. The staff attorney came up to me and was asking about stuff and i tried to begin to describe lynda’s career, which is pretty hard to do when someone is unfamiliar with her, and the woman goes — “OH, you mean it’s cartoons?” It was one of those situations where i couldn’t really say no, and the situation was not appropriate to explain further and I would have sounded defensive had i explained that the writing was a big part of it and even without the groovy drawings that make me so happy, the words alone have as much or more content than any books that the other people listed as their favorites, so i had to just say “yeah.” No big deal as i was misunderstood there all the time, but I’m just saying. So many situations where saying no is inaccurate but saying yes is misleading. It’s like asking if Pumpkin is a movie about developmental disability. Well, not exactly analagous but you know what i mean.

    Oh here’s the perfect example of people asking stupid questions. If you watch pleasantville with people who don’t know how to shut up and experience a film, they ask a very stupid question very early on. I don’t want to ruin it in case some of your readers haven’t seen the film, but I think if you’ve seen it you’ll know what i mean. And there is no way to answer that question without cheapening their experience of the film. The answers Yes, No, and Just Watch It and Find Out, all take away from it, although when we watched it at my night job i am not sure that the other people were getting that much out of it anyway, but i asked them to please not ask any questions during the movie. Okay now i’m way off topic here, but as you know that is the way of the pipette.

    I got a new job. They are nice to me and happy to have me there. I’m learning a lot, being treated and compensated better than i’m used to, and I think i’m gonna like it a LOT. I keep thinking it’s not real and then every day they tell me about some new perk i didn’t think i’d get but i do get. Life, she is good.

    Alright. Coffee.

    • Re: Becoming.. Radioactive…


      Thanks for replying to this, pipetti. So glad to hear about your new gig. I’m gonna have to get me one of those in about five months, so it’s nice to hear there’s something out there besides sales associate positions at Home Despot.

      People? Asking stupid questions? That seems so … unlikely. I actually haven’t seen Pleasantville, but I know what you mean. An acquaintance of ours very often tries to anticipate the way a televisual program will play out without bothering to just shut up and watch the damn thing (“Is he going to find out his father is the murderer? “They’re not going to split up, are they?”) Drives me five kinds of crazy.

      • a smart (sic) question

        have you ever wondered if stan lee really talks like that or is just sort of doing a parody of how he thinks people think he talks?

        Derniers mots du vendeur comique de livre

        NOT! This discussion reminds me i need to catch up on my favorite Salon dot com (ics) I read Tom the Dancing Bug, This Modern World, and, to a lesser extent, story minute and the K chronicles. I’m not reading mr wolk. though i am seriously tempted to make fun of his name…

        You and Aunt Barbara should definitely experience Pleasantville, SANS your friend who keeps a commentary going. It is one of those movies that is really fun the first time through, and then every time you see it afterwords you notice more meaning. Then you’ll want to share it with other friends and a few minutes into it they’ll go “So, does it________ when they ________?” and you’ll understand TOTALLY how much life sucks. But then the underlying mythos of the movie redeems everything so it’s okay.

        • Re: a smart (sic) question

          I’ve read a couple of Stan Lee’s books, and yeah, I think he probably does talk like that. I’d be willing to bet he dreams in all caps as well.

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