Archive for the 'high/low art' Category

Traduttore, traditore

Dan Walsh, who runs the Garfield Minus Garfield site, has chipped in to my previous entry to correct some misconceptions about the new GMG book. On August 2 he created a FAQ for the site, including:

Q. How did you come up with the idea for Garfield Minus Garfield?
A. I wasn’t the first person to come up with the premise for Garfield Minus Garfield but I think it’s fair to say I did champion and popularise it. The idea had been floating around on message boards for a couple years before I started posting them.
As far I know, I was the first person to create a site devoted to it.
I’ve said this to every interviewer who has asked me but it’s rarely published. And it’s pretty much impossible to find who did it first, believe me, I’ve tried.

“I didn’t invent this” doesn’t make for good copy, it’s true. For a publicist trying to sell a new Garfield book to suburban housewives, it makes sense to play down that angle. But exploring the issue does lead to a fascinating debate about the future of content creation and the growing pains as traditional business practices clash with new ways of interacting with art. Some of which I tried to address in the original post.

In any case, I did unfairly tar Walsh with the same brush that I attacked the endlessly-irritating Cheezburger guys with, which I gladly retract.

On some level I really get where he’s coming from. I’ve daydreamed from time to time about writing a serious analysis of /b/ and why it’s important in far more ways than anyone’s articulated so far. It’s interesting — in the process of recommending John Darnielle’s brilliant book Master of Reality to a friend, I said:

Given the nature of metal’s core demographic appeal (young, working class, outsider, etc), it’s frustratingly rare to find articulate writers who genuinely “get” the genre. I identify closely with Darnielle; I think we both discovered that appeal despite being outside that demographic, which leads to a delicate balancing act between wanting to serve as ambassadors to the outside world, encouraging the sophistication of a relatively infantile artform, and trying not to patronize the existing fanbase. As somebody who has repeatedly found myself fascinated with various forms of “low” culture, I think about this kind of thing a lot.

There’s always that dance when you discover something cool and edgy and feel like it deserves more exposure. There’s a temptation to serve as curator or even translator, sanding off the rough edges or repackaging it in a way that helps new people understand it — without taking credit for something that isn’t yours or destroying what made it great in the first place. Like any task, it can be done well or poorly. It’s something that every publisher does, but it seems especially central to Top Shelf’s mission: treading that boundary between artsy and populist.

For instance, though I had no role whatsoever in its creation, I’m pleased to say that Cave Adventure is the most “mainstream” thing I’ve ever seen Michael Deforge do, and for that reason my favorite. I’m happy that he’s able to use his insane imagination to tell a coherent and hilarious story, and I think it actually fits in really well with Top Shelf’s aesthetic. I’m looking forward to more involved editorial relationships in the future (when I find the time — ha); when it’s done right, everybody wins.

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Exploitation now!


Eddie Campbell is pondering Lichtenstein, particularly the recent mini-furor over Lichtenstein’s use of comic book art without crediting or consulting the original creators, which is the entire source of his fame. Johnny Walker in the comments links to this piece, on general trends of plagiarism in fine art and how the situation is treated differently than in, say, pop music.

I respond:

This Lawrence Alloway comment from Johnny’s link is revealing: “Future research will no doubt come up with the names of the people who drew some of Lichtenstein’s originals, but so what? He was not engaged in mutual collaboration but acts of annexation.”

There was a time when a respected entity was considered perfectly within its rights to commandeer a foreign, “primitive” entity and either seize its assets or remake that entity in its own image, in the name of “ennobling” the “savage.” The White Man’s Burden and all that. Nowadays such imperialism is condemned, and we emphasize indigenous sovereignty. I’m not surprised that people are seeing elitism and exploitation in Lichtenstein’s work; I’m sort of surprised that it took this long.

Another metaphor: Lichtenstein as P.T. Barnum, putting the freaks and primitives on display for the amusement of the good white folks? Hmmm.

I’m writing a thesis this year on the translation of Greek poetry, so I’m quite interested in this topic of art, appropriation, and imperialism. In many respects I think a concern for faithfulness and authenticity has crippled classical translation for the last fifty years, and it’s time for the pendulum to swing back…

Obviously I’m still kind of ambivalent about all this.

so THAT’s what I’ve been trying to figure out

Tom Spurgeon interviews the editors of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium

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.


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.