Andrew Wheeler on the new Doctor Who series and why fans make crappy critics:
And I admit, it is passably entertaining. In spite of its terrible shortcomings as a work of fiction and as a piece of television drama, it does provide for a light and inoffensive 45 minutes of silly nonsense every Saturday dinnertime. It isn’t intelligent. It isn’t original. It isn’t even terribly faithful to the original. But it’s forgiven all its sins simply because it’s there, and the viewers are grateful. …they seek to excuse the show’s flaws. It’s a phenomenon referred to in my social circle as ‘nerd blinkers’.
Nerd blinkers. The apologist fan’s greatest weapon; the ability to stubbornly refuse to admit that there’s anything wrong with your beloved TV shows, or movies or … comics.
…I worry that comic readers are generally too generous in their appraisals. Some of the titles acclaimed as the best on the market are passable pulps rather than compelling narrative works. The whole medium suffers from being a fan’s medium, and the fan’s instinct to excuse any shortcoming leads to a pervasive attitude of critical laziness; an impulse to exalt the second rate, because hey, at least it’s comics. At least it’s there.
…If we’re content to be spoon-fed our entertainment, we’ll just get slop. There should be discourse that demands the best, not mewling gratitude that accepts what’s given.
- The flip-side of this problem, of course, is that fans can just as easily reject innovation and shout down anything that conflicts with their treasured memories of “the good years.”
- Is Wheeler overestimating the effect of criticism on creation?
- I don’t think Akira Yoshida reads The Comics Journal, not that TCJ even bothers to address mainstream comics anymore…
- What are we really wishing for? That bad comics stop getting bought? Okay, I’m for that, generally speaking. It’s not going to happen in the mainstream world – there seems to be a silent majority that will buy X-Men (or, more appropriately and in Paul O’Brien’s excellent line, I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Finite Crisis) no matter what – but bad reviews can sink an indie comic as surely as good ones can boost it. But can criticism actually affect the form that comics take, either individually or as a medium? Is there evidence that creators have made bad comics, had this fact pointed out to them, and then made better comics? Probably.
- What we really want, actually, is more good comics. Let there be crap, but let it be ignorable and let there be plenty of brilliant work to focus on instead. I’m enough of a fanboy – I have enough of an attachment to the properties – to wish that there could be a good Shatterstar series, say, or to feel that X-Men shouldn’t suck. But that seems to be fading, and I’m becoming more content with just letting that go and simply turning my attention elsewhere – like I do with people, nowadays, distancing myself from tedious or annoying people rather than being upset by them. I just wish there were more good comics to turn my attention to.
- Partly I’m wondering about format. Why are comics serial at all? Not that it doesn’t work for certain stories (interpersonal soap operas like Love & Rockets or Strangers in Paradise, or flagship superheroes like Spider-Man or Justice League), but there is such a strength in a single-volume, massive book. Blankets, Watchmen and Maus are books, dammit, and that automatically lends them a maturity and gravitas that feels worlds away from Spider-Man. Some of them originally appeared serially, but they cannot be read except as units. There’s a different kind of strength in a lengthy serialized story that is still a single story – i.e., one that ENDS. Cerebus. The Vertigo trifecta of Sandman, Preacher, and Transmetropolitan (also include Shade?). God, I love it when a story ends. It shows responsibility on the part of the writer (and publisher). It allows your story to be a story, complete, whole. It allows it to be analyzed, for God’s sake. Tell us everything, and then we’ll see what it is you said. None of this “maybe you’ll find out next time” crap. It’s so ephemeral. None of that will matter in ten years. I want art that stands as a coherent unit, that can be evaluated as such. Bone is more of the first category: it appeared over a long timespan, but it was collected in a single volume for a reason: it always behaves as a single story, moving in a single direction. Transmet, come to think of it, could almost be the same, with minor flaws. Cerebus too. Aw, hell, it’s all a spectrum anyway.
- And yet there’s something to be said for serialization. Would The Lord of the Rings have been better or worse if it had been serialized for worldwide monthly publication? Can you imagine the fanboys? Analyzing every chapter, putting the pieces together about this complex fantasy world, drawing homemade maps, making predictions, taking sides, personally involving themselves in the story. As it is, people still immerse themselves in the world, but the story itself is right there on the shelf. It’s all happened. At the end of chapter thirteen, chapter fourteen is right there waiting. And fifteen, and sixteen, and so on until it’s all over. But then, that’s exactly what serial fiction becomes once it’s finished. Should creators ignore the ephemeral experience, then, either preventing it (by withholding publication until the work is complete, as Frank Miller did with the latest Sin City novel) or seeing it as only a byproduct of practical considerations?
- It depends on the work, of course. Some concepts should be serial – concepts that feel timeless, where the overall story doesn’t move very much but maintains the status quo, or where an ending isn’t implied. Invincible, I think, despite its dramatic movement, feels like it could go on forever – the concept is “he’s a young superhero; he fights bad guys,” which is pretty open-ended. Y: The Last Man, in comparison, is definitely moving toward a climax. I look forward to the next issue of both, but I know that Y will eventually be a completed story. Fables is somewhere in between: its motion isn’t as obvious, but the series begins with “trouble brewing,” things suddenly being different than the way they’ve always been, and when the trouble is dealt with, the story will be over.
- So here’s to Karen Berger for buying stories and not series. To Will Eisner, who just started doing it the right way and waited for everyone else to catch up (we’re still waiting). To Frank Miller, Craig Thompson, and everybody else telling the Direct Market to take a flying leap and writing books, like any decent author.
Well, that went somewhere surprising.