Setting the Bar
Scott O. Brown began an interesting week long five-part column at Comic Book Resources today, called “Flying the Standard”, where he is presenting the criteria for and selecting the comic book artform’s very best, or as he calls it, the “canon”. The first installment “Defining the Standard” gives his basic rules for the standard to select the medium’s greatest works. What’s great is he’s not talking about the 10 coolest super-hero battles; he’s talking about analyzing comics within a literary, artistic and historic context and selecting works on a more objective level. Of course, it’s impossible to be entirely objective with works of art, a fact I don’t think he addresses (or maybe realizes) enough. But, I’m intrigued. (However, if X-Force #1 makes his list, I’m out.)
Only two points of contention come out while reading his column. The first is that he seems to undervalue the importance of artistic merit. By that, I mean his standard’s requirements for the level and quality of art seem only… average. All the comic needs to meet the consideration for artistic measure is a level of competent storytelling and appropriate style and tone. If we’re looking for the industry’s very best, should we maybe aim a little higher? He does mention innovation, but not nearly enough. Instead he goes on to explain that the rules of Fine Art do not apply. I would disagree strongly. Comics are communicating through words and pictures. One is just as equally important as the other. Artists that challenge the artform and bend the rules and master their craft are tremendously important to the artform’s growth. And sometimes playing against expectations helps expand a genre’s capabilities. So a horror comic that isn’t dark and moody, or a gag strip that isn’t cartoony and simple shouldn’t instantly be disqualified, as he infers. The literary expectations are appropriatly lofty and demanding. The artistic side should be equally challenging.
The second point of contention is less of a problem for me. To demonstrate the standard he establishes, he makes his first two picks: Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, both by Scott McCloud. The first, I agree with whole-heartedly. While not a narrative, the importance of Understanding Comics as an effort to seriously examine and establish the medium as a true artform is unquestionable. But his argument for Reinventing Comics is less solid. I’m not saying that Reinventing Comics shouldn’t be on this list. But I am saying I’m not convinced based on his argument. All he’s saying is it’s a continuation of Understanding, and admits it doesn’t meet the historical requirements of his standard. He then seems to back-peddle on his own standard by saying the “historical importance is not a requisite, merely a bonus”. At times it starts to feel like a subjective McCloud love-fest instead of the objective analysis he’s aiming for, and one starts to wonder if his standard was constructed to fit in the books he’s already selected in his mind. I don’t think that’s the case. I think it just comes down to Reinventing not getting the full treatment that Understanding did in why it’s worthy to be considered a part of the artform’s canon.
What do you think?