I was talking earlier this week with my friend Keith Silva about the book Black Kiss II and how it made little sense to me. After some discussion and back story, I looked up Black Kiss 1, and read some of the history of the book. This interaction got me thinking; how much about the creators of a book should we as readers research before we read it?
In the literature world there is the idea of The New Criticism which essentially is that a work should be judged solely by its self, leaving the intention of the author, the history, the context of the works all behind. How much does this apply to the medium of comics? Not only do we have a writer, but often the artist’s interpretation of the writer’s script or the way a colorist does a book can affect the story and how a piece is received as well. Should we, as readers, spend the time for each book we read learning the background, the motivation of the creators to better understand the comic we are reading?
I’ll admit I am thinking of this subject from a bit of a comic book snob’s point of view. I'm not sure for a lot of mainstream titles understanding the creators even make a difference. Most “Big Two” super hero books have as much editorial input as the creators do, so the freedom for creation and storytelling is hindered in that regard. I'm talking more about creator owned books, graphic novels or zines where the creators are free to write whatever story they want to present.
I have thought a lot about how much I want to know about a creator and their motivations for producing a particular piece. My conclusion is this: It is the responsibility of the reader to do the research. Literature; be it novels or comics, that are creator owned and produced, are highly personal. In that regard knowing where a creative team is in their life, what works they have made in the past that have led them to this point, and what possible commentaries the creators are making about society, will often make a work more enjoyable and far more fulfilling to an informed reader. With access to a plethora of podcasts, web sites, reviews and interviews, most of the time it’s not hard to find out about a book and a creative team before you read their work. So New Critics out there, you are only eating half the cake. Do your research and enjoy the full richness of a comic.