Comics: An Imaginary Pursuit

September 11th, 2013

The Comics Journal Website is composed of a number of phantasmagorical pages, some of them ordered as blog posts, others as columns or interviews or features, all of them dedicated to an art of uncertain value.

Wars have been fought over the best way to define this paper-thin phenomenon, many of them on previous incarnation of the Comics Journal site.  On quiet Sunday afternoons in the early 2000s gangs of rabid comics scholars could often be found tossing verbal molotovs back and forth: are comics sequential art, made compelling by the gaps between images, or is any attempt to define a medium based on what it *doesn’t* contain doomed to folly?  Does this alleged art form have its roots in ancient tapestry or arcane graffiti?  Are stories that strain to make childhood fantasies relevant for adult consumers really that much worse than stories that are at pains to distance themselves from the same fantasies?

Which is to say: Do you prefer Dan Clowes or the Sex-Men?

Mickey Maus or Krazy Kat?

You could catch many notions while trawling the endlessly, depthless sea of these online arguments, but no matter how long and hard you toiled you would be hard pressed to find a convincing definition of comics that didn’t fall back on the tautological – no one knows what comics are, but everyone trusts that they will know them when they see them.

On 30/08/2013 a comment was posted on The Comics Journal website that came close to explaining the joke:

First off, the word “muslim” is never implied. Second, the terrorists aren’t real. They are cartoons based loosely on the fact that there are people on this planet who will kill you because you don’t believe in their imaginary god. Again, they are CARTOONS. It’s complete fantasy. So, your last line about “justification for the depiction of terrorists” really makes no sense. Are you a censor? Depiction of what exactly? They aren’t real to begin with. The key phrase in your ridiculously reactionary statement is “having not read it”.

Indie cartoonist Jason Karns there, responding to a question about whether or not his small press comic Fukitor was as “insanely racist” as it looked.  Here we see Karns displaying a sort of thinking that transcends Keats’ “negative capability”, tending instead towards a sort of unfathomable emptiness – the ability to hold a jumble of seemingly contradictory ideas in one’s head without grasping the implications of any of them.

And what sort of work does such an ability lead to?

Work that looks a little bit like this, apparently:

If you break Karns’ argument down to its basic elements, the nature of the great comics scam starts to become clear


Sorry, what’s that? You were waiting for the second part of my Tygers and Lambs series? Well hey, thanks for checking in mum, glad you still read the site -  that post should go up over the weekend! [1]

The rest of you are probably looking for more SILENCE! or more League of Extraordinary Gentlemen annocommentations or something [2], and who can blame you, but you’ll have to wait a while for all of that because right now we’re doing Dirty Thoughts From Other People’s Comments Section!


Okay, so over on The Comics Journal’s website, Sean Rogers wrote a review of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo that posited the aforementioned comic as a prime example of the “strenuous vapidity” of Morrison’s writing.  I think it’s safe enough to say that most of Team Mindless [3] are pretty into Flex Mentallo – the manifesto like “Candyfloss horizons” posts that graced the site during its early days are definitely written in the key of Flex Mentallo, with its “candy-striped skies” [4] – and I wrote about the book again when the freshly recoloured “deluxe” edition was released in April of this year.  As such, bearing in mind that FEELINGS ABOUT COMICS ARE THE ONLY TRUE FEELINGS [5], I decided to have a go at taking Sean’s review apart.

Sean seems to think that Flex Mentallo is a guide to better living through superheroes, whereas I think it’s more like a Dennis Potter drama in two-dimensions [6], a strange story in which a grown man cracks and finds himself trying to make sense out of everything with reference to a lifetime’s worth of ruddy superhero comics.

My comment is up on The Comics Journal site if you want to check it out and see what you think.

Click hero for footnotes!