Progressive Panels: Too Educated? Too Bad!
By Andy Frisk
Some might think that the reviews here at The Bin, especially mine, are too “educated, progressive, or left leaning.” Well, too bad! We’re here to make you think!
A friend of mine, who also happens to be the owner of the local comic shop I frequent, recently suggested, pretty firmly tongue in cheek, that my reviews, and others of those here at The Bin, are “too educated.” Basically, he ends up disliking some of the books that we review, ones that he’s already read and liked, after he reads our reviews of them. We often end up pointing out problems, such as the overly sexualized nature of The New 52’s Catwoman #1 and the glaring banality of some of the Marvel Comics’ formulaic books. Pointing out these flaws in turn points out to him that the books that leave a favorable impression on him, after a topical read over, often lose much of their luster after we have examined their flaws and suggested where the particular artist or writer has gone irrevocably wrong in their portrayals of our beloved characters and mythologies. I totally get what he is saying. Comics can be, and in many instances should be, a simple and fun form of escapism that doesn’t need to be broken down and analyzed as one would a Shakespearian sonnet or political diatribe. Sometimes Superman’s sun powered super powers are just a sci-fi convention used to tell some action packed stories about a man who is super strong, instead of a mythological and shamanistic reference to the power of the sun-god archetype that resides in the collective human unconscious. I too enjoy a simple, rock ‘em sock ‘em, throwaway and fun Superman adventure now and again, but…
..writers like Grant Morrison actively craft stories that focus on defining Superman as an archetypal sun-god metaphor and endorse this type of reading of the character. Some entire comic book institutions, like The X-Men, are steeped in social commentary and allegory, and were intended to be as such from inception. Other sequential art works exist solely to address an injustice or warn of potential future injustices such as Ted Rall’s brilliant 2024 and Joshua Dysart’s equally brilliant and important Unknown Soldier. Going even further, there are scholarly works that focus solely upon the powerful and uniquely artistic qualities of sequential art such as This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics as Literature by Rocco Versaci. While there are plenty of sequential art stories out there that exist to provide simple (and sometimes simplistic) escapism, there are just as many that are intended to be perceived as works of art, and at times high art, that are packed with intelligence and importance. It is this type of artistic sequential art that stands the test of time, are most widely read and revered, and in the long run sell…
…I like to think that the opposite of my friend’s experience is also true. When I, with this column, and my colleagues, with their reviews and equally brilliant insights, discuss the problems and aspects that detract from the artistic value of a certain work, we are showing the writers, artists, and industry heads what we really want from our comic books: intelligence, importance, and relevance. When we get all giddy and gushy over a work, or point out a theme in a work, that might not be as well known, widely read, or easily recognized, and then intelligently analyze it and, to borrow a phrase from the world of literary criticism, “advance the critical conversation” about it, we bring to light a work or insight that you might not have heard of, but now, to borrow Mr. Mark Twain’s phrase, are in “a sweat” to read about, then I, and all of us here, have achieved our goal. Writers, including sequential art writers, have something that they want to say, expound upon, or reveal. Otherwise, why would one even write? The same goes for literary and “progressive” types like myself. I want you to read what I read and see what I see in a work, but more importantly I want to inspire you to challenge my interpretation. That is the essence of intelligent dialogue. That is my goal. I want to get you talking, but perhaps more importantly, get you reading.
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