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.
What if that knowledge conflicts with your appreciation? What if further research sours your appreciation of the work? For example, should one's knowledge of Alan Moore's disdain for DC influence their opinion of "Before Watchmen"? Should the knowledge of Frank Miller's political beliefs sway my appreciation for "Sin City" or "Holy Terror"?ReplyDelete
I believe as critics you should be conscientious and know about the creators, in order to gain a sense of perspective, but don't believe it's necessary to enjoy or dislike a piece of work.
Well necessary maybe no, but I think in terms of understanding a work you have to. Its the difference between reading a comic for pleasure and reading it for critique. I think it does help fill out the Watchmen mythos to understand Alan Moore's stance on the before watchmen books. It might not make you like or dislike them more, but it will help when looking at the original work as a seminal tome of comics history and what it is now becoming. On the same token, knowing more about Miller's political beliefs reveals deeper, maybe darker motivations in how he wrote Sin City that you didn't see before.Delete
True, and I agree with those statements, but should I let outside information negatively affect my opinion of the comic work? That's my ultimate, devil's advocate, question.ReplyDelete
Well I think thats the core of what im asking. Should a work stand on its own and who wrote it, why and when should never come into play? Or the opposite? Thats the debate of the new criticism. I personally feel that the more I know about a creator or creative team behind a work I feel is more than just entertainment gives me deeper understanding to make up my mind about the work. It may not make me like it more, it may make me hate it but I feel ultimately richer in having this knowledge than not.Delete
First, thanks for the tip of the cap. I am humbled to be called your friend. The feeling is mutual. To view a work through the lens of New Criticism is to reduce it to the thing it is i.e what is this poem, novel, comic book, pamphlet trying to say ON ITS OWN. I think that kind of approach is a good starting point to approach any work of art. A new critic wouldn't care who Allen Moore is/was or to what degree he is influential, Watchmen is all that matters. Context is always a good thing. New Criticism doesn't want/need context or historical importance or anything ... there is only Watchmen. One does not need to 'know' a creator to appreciate or understand a work of art, but it (usually) doesn't hurt. Moore and Miller's histories and personal lives don't change the 'work' once it is out in the world, at that point it belongs to all of us. Here's why I like the questions you are asking: it raises the discourse, gets people talking about comics -- what they mean, say, or ways to approach understanding the work itself. A discussion academic or otherwise that is more than plot summary or pure opinion without backing-up that opinion doesn't work for me. I need more. I need a 'because' a 'so what.' Keep up the discourse Aaron. Keep pushing and figuring out 'why' and the rest will follow.
Exactly Keith! I think for many readers the work is all that they care about or care to learn about. But with any literature the why the how and the who are just as important as the what.Delete
Definitely great stuff being discussed. My point is what happens when the additional information detracts you from your enjoyment.Delete
Some creators prefer to be judged by their work and not by anything else. As fans, what should we allow into our critique and how much of that should/would affect our opinion. It's great when additional information edifies your current enjoyment of a book, but when it conflicts with your enjoyment, should we allow it to change our opinion?
I hate to evoke Godwin's law here but I cant help but see that as like saying "Hey Mein Kampf is a great book and id rather not know what this Hitler guy was up to outside of the studio". But in all seriousness, we need to decide if comics are literature to be discussed, dissected and learned from or if they are pure entertainment. I think they can be both, and important works need to be expounded on and learned from, even if that means learning things that may make you dislike the story.Delete
I understand that, and I'm purely playing Devil's advocate like I said. In essence, should Hitler's reputation make me avoid reading Mein Kampf?Delete
Reading it doesn't make me a nazi, but what if Mein Kampf was written by Winston Churchill? (Wow, I went there)
well not avoid, but his history, either one, is part of the work. You cant understand the book fully without knowing the author too.Delete