Monday, April 25, 2005

New York Times' Comics Forum: Keeping the "Mess" in "Message Board"

As Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter rightly notes, the New York Times Book Review's April 24 piece on comics does read like something out of the past - why the Review devoted so much space to this type of superhero-influenced review is a bit puzzling, especially given its recent coverage of Spiegelman and Satrapi and David B., among others. (Note: Registration required to view any Times links. Don't want to register? No problem!)

What's also puzzling - no, more like extremely disappointing - is the Times' new Readers Forum on Comics. I spent an hour or so making my way through the posts there, and oh my Lord - if you think (as I do) that the "wheat/chaff" and "thoughtful poster/moron" ratios are usually pretty low on comics-related message boards, try slogging through this one. I had naively assumed that the Times On-Line would attract a more contemplative, erudite, and open-minded audience. Stupid, stupid Gene...

The Forum opened April 16, to coincide with the Times' preview of Will Eisner's The Plot; unfortunately, it also coincided with a revamp of the Forums as a whole. So a large part of the first week's postings are written by Forum regulars who are angry that the previous Forums on Shakespeare and Nabokov, for example, were "replaced" by the Comics Forum. From what I can tell, it's not a "replacement" so much as a "restructuring" and an unfortunate bit of timing; but these folks in general can't seem to tell their post hoc from their propter hoc.

What we do get, however, are the predictable laments about the end of civilization. And also some fairly ignorant comments about Eisner's The Plot, from considering it a joke to questioning the need for any such book in the first place to - I'm being serious here - calling Eisner a Spiegelman clone. And of course, the ever-popular "expert opinion":
Look at that guy at the top of the page, pretending this is about "literary" comics like Maus, as if there were more than about five of them.
To be fair, there are some knowledgeable defenders of the forum. For the most part, though, even those who do know something about comics rarely get past recommending Sandman or "more sophisticated" superhero books. I like Sandman and Watchmen, but I wouldn't consider either of them to be good "gateway drugs" for the curious but clueless would-be comics reader.

I realize that a message board can only be as good as the people who post in it, and I suppose I have no real right to complain about the Times forum, since I haven't contributed anything myself. But seeing the small-mindedness and petty carping there only reinforces my opionion of message boards as places generally to avoid. I've occasionally found useful info at places like the Comics Journal boards, but then we're back to the whole "wheat/chaff" thing...

If anyone knows of any good comics-related discussion boards - forums where people actually pay attention to other's ideas, and where, come to think of it, people actually have ideas - I'd love to hear about them.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Can't Wait for this New "Graphic Novel"

cover, Eco's 'Loana'In general, I really dislike the term "graphic novel" -- it's an empty concept, one I'll ramble on about soon. But one upcoming book really seems like it actually will be a "graphic novel" that does justice to the term: Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, due out in June. I heard about it from the friendly Harcourt rep at last December's Modern Language Association convention, and I immediately knew I had to have this book. Besides being, well, a novel by Eco (I re-read Foucault's Pendulum nearly every year while I was in my twenties), it also apparently contains a visual orgy of images -- a concept which the cover gets across pretty clearly. Anyone got a review copy to spare?

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