Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ted Rall: spiegelman still "sucks"...and Ware too

I didn't know Ted Rall was still alive, but apparently he was still kicking (and kicking) as recently as January of this year. I was looking for a good hyperlink for Blutch and lo and behold a freshly vitriolic Rall utterance.

"…who can blame Spiegelman for publishing art that he likes? You’ve done the same thing in the Attitude books…"

"No, I haven’t.

Several of the artists who participated in the “Attitude” anthologies create comic strips I don’t particularly like. Some were even people with whom I had had personal disagreements. But their work was too important, and too right, and too deserving of broader exposure to ignore. Like any decent editor, I set aside my personal biases as much as I could to pick the right artists for the book. I didn’t reserve the books for my best friends, some of whom were not included because their work wouldn’t have been appropriate.

Art Spiegelman doesn’t do that. It’s a big part of the reason he sucks. He has power, and he abuses it. Consider the Little Lit books–he never reached beyond his personal comfort zone.

Ditto for Chris Ware–when you’re asked to edit a book called “Best American Comics 2007,” you’re supposed to choose the Best Comics Made by Americans During 2007, not Comics By My Friends And Artists Who Share My Aesthetic Sensibilities."

So that's how you get on Fox News? ( I say I say I say, Fox News) click and watch both of these links if you like fun!) I mean here I am cruelly poking sticks at teeny tiny artists, while Rall is hurling grenades at Mt. Rushmore.

Odd I should come across this now, because not only did I just check out the "Best American..." anthology from the local biblioteca, but it was casually mentioned by a very wise and evenhanded critic in an email discussion last week and he dismissed the anthologies for the very things that Ware completely answers and deflects in his introduction to the volume he edited.
And while I was less impressed with the previous volume edited by Harvey Pekar, so far it's somewhat difficult to find much fault with the '07 edition. I'll hopefully go into more detail soon (at a more sane time, as we're approaching dawn here in the TCI ivory tower).

As for Ted Rall's fell swoop swipe at the book: Rall's an intelligent guy and I find his opinions entertaining and a little shit-stirring is actually refreshing in these days when Gary Groth has been neutered by the desire to coddle every remotely credible cartoonist that can provide he and his hypocritical co-publisher a pension fund; and Team Comics is pretty much united under a mutual love backwashing banner (and the last irascibles like Toth and Harlan Ellison are either dead or near-dead). BUT...

Suggesting the anthology sucks because Ware has only gathered artists who are either his friends or share his sensibilities is way off the mark. For one thing one must assume that when making as subjective a judgment as who should be included in any "Best of..." compilation, you can do no more than apply your own values to discern the work you deem worthy. It's the omnipotent power of editorship. Granted you can certainly bring others into the fray and ask their advice, but aren't you still asking people you know and/or whose work you respect and thus applying a value judgment to the value judgment in the process? Rall's argument that he included people he dislikes but whose work he finds too "important" to ignore may be valid (be nice if he named some names since he's rarely shy on that front), but frankly I've always found collections that focus more on historical importance as opposed to overall quality and contextual and contemporary relevance to be uneven and often disappointing.

And while you may find modest fault in longer longer pieces being excerpted and/or truncated (little different really than a novel being excerpted in The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly), Ware has assembled not just cartooning stalwarts and those in everyone's canon (everyone's but Ted's), but mostly superlative pieces as well. And it's pretty hard to argue with this lineup:
The Crumb's (R., and Aline collaborating, and Sophie in her own one-pager), Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry, Vanessa Davis, Ivan Brunetti, Ron Rege. Jr., John Porcellino, Huizenga, Tomine, Anders Nilsen, Gilbert Hernandez, Deitch, Burns, Panter, Seth, spiegelman, and a few others. Perhaps I'll muster something of a more comprehensive overview of the book soon (or more likely not), but while it may be easy to argue that the names are relatively obvious even to indy comics laymen, it's hard to argue find any names that are either undeserving or unimportant. This is after all, the "Best..." not simply the "Freshest Faces of 2007" which would be an interesting collection as well but not the sort of thing Houghton Mifflin would likely gamble on, and thus not the sort of thing that if it were published or (self-published) by a far smaller concern, would therefore not register on Rall's radar.

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