SPURGEON: I found Robert Warshow’s essay really fascinating for what it revealed about this profound ambivalence — or almost impulses competing to exhaustion — regarding the lurid underbelly of comics, particularly EC. Why is this kind of engagement with the act of reading comics, even secondhand, so rare among even those who are writing about them?
HEER: So much of popular culture is prefabricated — i.e., follows strict genre rules — that the response to it, whether positive or negative, tends to be also rote and predictable. Thus people look at a horror comic and think: this is so gory, I hate this. Or conversely, ah this is exactly the type of gory stuff I love. It takes a rare individual to actually look at a piece of popular art and analyze it, looking at what it can do or can’t do. Warshow had that ability — and so did a young film critic who learned a lot from Warshow: Pauline Kael. As Warshow once wrote, a man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man. That is to say, the critic must analyze not just the movie, but also his response: step outside of himself and see what his response says about the work of art. — sorry for the sexist language: Warshow was writing in the 1950s. Also, pop art is rarely just good or bad, it is always mixed, adulterated. So a critic needs to be able to respond to both what is good while acknowledging the bad.