condolences to Leslie Weibeler and Dane Martin, who each caught inept reviews in the LA Review of Books today. Leslie gets the old “comics are supposed to be easy to read”, and Dane’s comics get called “automatic poetry”, which, are they automatic? they seem really thought out. and why is this review in the form of a comic? comics can do a lot but they aren’t very well suited to the review format. when i saw the thumbnail for this review on the site, i was looking forward to a thoughtful review of these comics, good or bad, which is what i’ve come to expect from the LARoB. instead i got a bowl of tepid slop. oh well! i guess criticism is tough.
ps- my blurb edit for Dane Martin is: “Effective” - LA Review of Books. for Leslie: “Weibeler’s lines… buzz with energy” - LA Review of Books.
I dunno, are either of these reviews actually negative? I was turned off by the critic’s opening (distinguishing “comics” and “not comics” is one of the most useless and distructive things you can do in comic criticism), but the reviews engage both books on their own terms. The formal logic of Leslie Weibeler’s work is described more clearly than I’ve seen done before, and the critic gets at what makes the work compelling; “it’s hard to read” is stated less as a scruple than as part of the comic’s experience, albeit an offputting one. And, okay, I wouldn’t describe Dane’s comics as “automatic poetry” (which I think suggests they’re written randomly or compiled from other writing?) but I don’t think describing it as such is necessarily negative, and the critic goes on to make observations about Dane’s craft I never would have considered but find really compelling; I’ve never seen the repetition of panels compared to the droning of a guitar. So yeah, not much in the way of “opinion” but plenty of formal analysis. Which is kinda what I’d prefer comic criticism to be??
I like what Ben’s saying above. It’s encouraging to see a review focus on the formal elements of a comic. Too often book reviews seem to unintentionally recreate a commercial model of writing intended to sell books, but in this small community it just doesn’t make sense to me to frame the discussion that way. I’d prefer a comics essay or something — anything that avoids plot summary. Sara’s reviews are thoughtful and personal, and even though I don’t completely agree with each point she makes, the authentic dialogue she’s going for is a welcome relief.
It’s like, the thought I’m always left with after reading an exchange like this is that there’s an overwhelming amount of quality work being made in contemporary comics, and there’s almost no real discussion about it. To my knowledge, this is the only time Leslie’s comic has been talked about on a formal level outside a living room, or an email, or a blog post that I might have co-authored. There’s a real gap between what’s capable of being said and what actually trickles out into the world.
Proof in point, take a look at Dane’s LARB profile page and you’ll see a picture of Frank Santoro’s head in a nice, beige fedora. That’s what we’re working with. No one is going to be able to talk about these comics with as much insight and depth as us. So why wait around? Any comment at this point seems to be a positive comment. And to be fair, people are talking. I guess, for whatever reason, this whole thing stirs up a desire in me to start earnestly writing my own comics reviews. So this is more of a response to myself than anything else.