By Mike Pascale
I’ve noticed that when people write or speak of Past Masters, they tend to use various modifiers and descriptors. After awhile, the same bunch of words show up again and again. These include: Good, bad, best, worst, overrated, underrated, hot, cold, favorite, least favorite, love, hate, talented, untalented, genius, and hack?any one of which can itself be modified with a word rhyming with “shuckin’.”
Two other common modifiers include one that usually applies to music (“That story rocks!“) and another with vacuum cleaners (“That art sucks!“). How a script or artwork is able to make people dance or help clean carpets escapes me, but it’s a popular term, one which I confess to using myself on various occasions. (Internet message boards are always fertile ground for these seeds of critical wisdom.)
While it is both human nature and God-bless-American to express one’s opinion freely and openly regarding such subjective things as comics, it is equally anathema to both to actually turn on one’s mind to discern the differences in terminologies used in such expression. Discarding the ten-dollar woids, I’m saying we comic folks don’t often think ’bout what’s we like vs. what’s we think is good. But we oughta.
For the average person, there’s really no difference between something they like and what they perceive as good. (I’m using “they” instead of “he/she” simply because it’s easier to type.) They like Simonson art, Simonson’s “great”. They hate Byrne art, Byrne “sucks.” They’re from Boston, the Sox are “great” and the Yankees “suck.”. Plain and simple. But if you think about it, they’re not always the same thing. Especially with what we call Masters.
Can you think of an artist or writer whom fans, critics and/or other pros praise but whose work you don’t care for? Or one that you really like but most others disdain? I sure can. And I’m here to tell you it’s perfectly normal, just like masturbation (everyone does it but no one talks about it).
Let me pick four Past Masters that span a stylistic spectrum: Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. All four of them are “great.” I “like” two of them.
(Think of an onion dish prepared by the greatest chef in history with the world’s best onions; if you absolutely hate onions, you just won’t like it, no matter how good it is. Same with art.)
I’m always interested in what makes certain art “great” even if I’m not into it; in fact, I sometimes study such work to appreciate what the artist has accomplished. But I still don’t care for it?and I try to know why. Doesn’t have anything to do with the artists themselves, mind you, just the art and my tastes.
So the next time you get stuck in one of those vacuum cleaner debates about who “sucks” and who doesn’t, see if you can separate your tastes and preferences from your knowledge and reason. See if you can pick out what those fans and critics are seeing that you aren’t, and figure out why you’re not noticing. It may not make you dislike it any less, but it may help you tolerate it?and in the process, tell you something about yourself that’ll help you articulate what you like to someone else. Which will help make all of us “great.” (Even those who aren’t Yankee fans?)
© 2004 Mike Pascale
[Artwork by Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo copyright by their respective copyright holders. Bru-Hed by Pascale/Armstrong, ©1994 Schism Comics.]
Note: Clifford Meth will return next week.
Mike Pascale is the creator/artist/writer of Bru-Hed?, “America’s Favorite Blockhead” and Nasti: Monster Hunter?. He’s currently working on projects for Aardwolf Publishing when he’s not being a storyboard artist or fill-in columnist. He hates baseball but loves the Yankess.