In my secret identity as a real person, I’m a secretary for a non-profit medical research organization. I answer the phone about a hundred times a day, I work with doctors on submitting proposals for grant funding, I’m the “go to” guy when the office equipment breaks down, I make sure the office, coffee, computer and printer supplies are up to speed, I help maintain the company website, and on and on. I’m an administrative floor manager.
At the end of the work day (and sometimes during) I change into my real identity, a comics enthusiast. I read comics, I read about comics, I thumb through comics, I reorganize stacks of comics, I study comics, I research comics, I write about comics, and on and on. Every comic I read winks at me at the end, as if to say, “Hey, we know you love us,” and I wink right back and nod, “You are so right. I’ve loved you most of my life.”
Of my secret identity and my real identity, I am absolutely certain. But today I find myself asking, “Am I a comics critic?” Am I, through this column or some other project I’ve taken on, steering towards a role where I’ll be evaluating the comics I read, comparing one to the other, or to other forms of media, conjuring an opinion, passing some form of judgment? And on and on. I am questioning aspects of my own established identities.
Why this sudden inner analytical turmoil?
I just read the current Crack Shots column, Marc Sobel, Comic Book Critic over at The “New” Comic Book Galaxy website. Excellent writing by Mr. Sobel, by the way, and it got me started along the critical lines of the preceding paragraph. It got me thinking about being a comics critic.
I truly value the opinions of comics critics (who are also, of course, comics enthusiasts), and their analyses, their differing points of view, their individual styles, and I respect what they have to say. Some of their columns influence me, some inspire me, some make me jot down an individual comic or graphic novel on my weekly “to buy” list, some, heaven forbid, help me avoid a particular product. But this isn’t about other comics critics. I have no issues with them. It’s about me. Am I, in some way, in any way, a comics critic?
My girlfriend would say no. She would say I love comics too much to be critical of them. She would say I’m often too generous in my appraisal of any given comic, that even in the bad and/or the boring I would find something good to say, something that would emphasize the fun in the simple joys of reading any and all comics. And there’s a lot of truth in that.
For me, it’s all about enthusiasm. In fact, at this moment in time it’s all about enthusiasm driven by anticipation. As I write this, it’s my lunch hour at work. It’s been a fairly busy morning, with a few exhausting projects scheduled for this afternoon. Nothing too mentally challenging (which is probably why I’m writing this), but enough to make it a full work day. What am I looking forward to? Reading comics tonight. Well, dinner, too, of course, and seeing my girlfriend, definitely. But that’s part of my secret identity as a real person.
The comics enthusiast in me? It wants to read Karate Kid. And I have no idea why. I just feel like reading an issue of Karate Kid, a title published in the mid-1970s well after the kung fu craze had come and gone, but was popular enough to last for two and a half years. But now my mind has started thinking along other lines. Why read an issue of Karate Kid when I could read a chapter of Palomar? A comics critic would applaud this new reasoning. But wait, says I, the comics enthusiast, why not read an issue of Karate Kid, a chapter of Palomar, a chapter of David Hine’s Strange Embrace, and the first appearance of Black Orchid in Adventure Comics? Right there, there is nothing but enthusiasm. The comics critic reading this would go, “But still, why even bother with an issue of Karate Kid?” And you know, the critic would have a point. I could probably even extrapolate from his point, and then elaborate with my own two cents worth of criticism.
But that should be part of my secret identity as a real person. That’s not my other identity, the comics enthusiast. Yet, I’m finding myself suddenly being a little critical of Karate Kid. It shouldn’t be this way. Am I somehow?changing?
Marc Sobel has written a fascinating column that addresses many aspects of comics criticism that Daniel Clowes tackles in his new graphic novel, Ice Haven (which is what inspired Sobel’s column and is now at the top of my list of must-buy books). Sobel also looks inward at where he stands as a writer, a comics critic, and an aspiring creator. His column clarifies the role of a comics critic to me in a way that has me nodding, “That’s it! That’s what being a comics critic is all about, and in a constructive way.” And in doing so Sobel has made me realize that I’m not much of a comics critic at all. I’m a genuine comics enthusiast. My issues are only comic book issues.
Some criticism will fall where it may, of course, because the secret identity can’t help from time to time overlapping with the real identity. That can be expected, even, at times, encouraged. As far as my overall enthusiasm of comics goes, criticism remains a minor detail, never harsh, only an embellishment where warranted, but never deviating from the overall positive picture.
So don’t think about it anymore, Jim. Go back to doing what you enjoy most, reading funny books, and generously acknowledging how grateful you are for them.
Still, I am going to bat a grateful wink to the comics critics, no matter how many times I find myself disagreeing with them. I appreciate their reviews, and I appreciate their opinions, and I appreciate it when they make me think. Keep ’em coming. Tomorrow, I’ll read as many as I can.
Tonight, though, it’s Karate Kid #8, Palomar, Strange Embrace, and Black Orchid, with relish.