A Ben Cohen Ink Comic


By Ben Cohen a “legendary master of the left field.” -BRP!

“Unintentionally misunderstood since 1975.” –Anonymous

“A big f@#k you, to the audience.” -B. Pendarvis

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

You want to live in 1950's Iconic America...you need to tax the rich at 91%

When gold was discovered at Sutter Creek in 1849 an emerging trend in immigration to the US and western migration spurred by the success of this relatively new democracy had a significant uptick. This trend initially peaked in 1890 only dipping slightly during the Civil War.  However, unprecedented immigration was invigorated in at the dawn of the 20th Century.  The freedom of African-American's, the emergence of immigrant ingenuity, western expansion and the stability of our Democracy, paved a way over revolutionary sacrifice, the genius of our founding fathers, the blood, sweet and tears of slaves, immigrants, natives and citizens, through an aptly named American Century.

In 1917 in the middle of WWI the Top Marginal Tax Rate skyrocketed from 15% for people making $2 Million to 67%.  Through 1921, after the war, the rates fluctuated between that and 77%  and $1 Million to $2 Million.  During this period the stock market remained relatively steady as did the average income after a modest gain.  Housing costs continued a decade long sharp decline.

Between 1922 and 24 the Top Marginal Tax Rate dipped a bit to around 50%, and more significantly the rates effect increased among more people, because the rate effected people making above between $200,000 and $500,000.  A steady uptick in the Dow occurred during this time, and average income remained steady as home value increased.

The roaring 20's were synonymous with a rising Dow, Prohibition encouraged speakeasies, bank robbing folk heroes, relaxed economic regulations, and between 1925 and 1931 the Top Marginal Tax Rate plummeted to around 25% for people making $100,000 (a bigger piece of the population pie).  As we all know it literally all came crashing down in 1929, resulting in a significant dip in average income, an unprecedented increase in unemployment, a steady decline in home value and our nations first (and hopefully only) Depression.

Migration virtually stopped, between 1932-1935, as the Top Marginal Tax Rate shot back up to 63%.  While the number it effected plummeted, because it only effected people making over $1 Million again.  In '36-'41, as Hitler and Japan plotted and then executed war plans, it bumped up to around 80%, but only for people making above $5 Million.  During this time the Dow went up and then down modestly.  Average income had a virtually steady increase, as did the housing values.  With the promise of social security and the New Deal a plan was in place to improve the quality of the American life.

In 1942-1947 WWII and the aftermath demanded more sacrifice from a people who had helped engineer a steady modest recovery.  The Top Marginal Tax Rate increased to 88%, but more significantly, it applied to people making $200,000 or more.  The national debt increases by 70% of GDP. A Military Industrial Complex was born and our nations place in the world skyrocketed because of it.  The rest of the world was decimated, and we stepped into a vacuum.  The Dow had a steady sustainable climb.  A modest decrease in average income was experienced and unemployment skyrocketed, because employees were fighting a war, but people rallied making unprecedented sacrifice and unity.  Home values skyrocketed and immigration was again on the rise.

Between 1948 and 1963 a picture of an idealistic environment for middle class white Christian American's emerged.  Despite the Cold War, the Korean War, the CIA laying down ground work that would lead to inspiring terrorists in the middle east, and McCarthyism inspired oppressions of freedoms of thought and expression granted by the constitution, the iconic picture of America emerged.  The Kennedy dynasty has its pinnacle and transitional moment. In part due to newly found American ingenuity, the GI Bill and stabilizing forces of Union Membership.  In contemporary political terms it reflects the impression we have of what the Right envisions as the America they want to live in.  During this time The National Debt declines by 70% paid by the Top Marginal Tax Rate remained between 82% and 92%, with it maintaining at 91% for more then a decade.  This also effected people making just $400,000 and above.  Modest fluctuation in housing values occurred, while the Dow continued its steady trend up along with the income of average American's.  Unemployment did fluctuate between 2% and 7% while immigration continued a modest trend upwards.

Between 1964 and 1981 the  Top Marginal Tax Rate dipped a bit to around 70%, but for a wider range of people at the $200,000 and above level.  This period marked a painful cultural change that obliterated our picturesque post WWII reality.  So called Dixiecrat transitioned over to the Republican party, spurned by a truly grassroots civil rights movement, as well as, socialized medicine for elderly and the poor.  Nostalgic for war and with growing mistrust for Communism in the wake of the Cuban Missal Crisis and the emergence of a "Red"China we entered unwisely into the Vietnam Conflict.  Resulting in a lost generation of youth, but a new peace and youth movement that redefined the left in America.  The recovery from the Vietnam and the same of the Nixon era gave birth to a new radical extreme in the punk rock movement and black power on the left and a more fearful extreme sentiment in the "silent majority"of Christian Middle Class Whites.  During this period the Gross Domestic Product went from $500 Billion to over $2 Trillion while the Dow seemed to plateau. Average incomes moved up and down, while Paradoxically going no ware.  Housing stagnated, but remained affordable.  In fact this period would mark the last time average families could pay there bills and save for their future without significant home, health care, credit card of educational debt.  Despite a higher fluctuating unemployment rate, immigration continued to rise.  Carter as President warned of our excesses of consumption, moral and ethical erosion, all values that helped us achieve glory during WWII and were crucial in our three decades of economic success and stability.  But for these 15 years, we seemed to not realize we had it so good.

The result; Regan, the ending Cold War, but also decline of an affordable sustainable living in America.  '82-'86 the Top Marginal Tax Rate dipped to 50% for the first time effecting people making $85,000 (although most of the time it was around $160,000).  GDP reached 4.7 Trillion, the Dow past 1000, while Average incomes dipped and then went back up to the previous level, housing value had the inverse pattern.  Unemployment was above 10% during this period, but then had a steady decline, which coincided with an unprecedented decline in Union jobs.  Immigration spiked, almost reaching that centuries first decade.  Regan was a skilled communicator that was able to make you feel proud of a progress that other then Nuclear disarmament, was simply a illusion.  The Plutonamy was afoot, and the same people that pined for the America they remembered, "the silent majority, were voting and protesting against policy that would insure their own interests and vision of America.

'87-'92  Regan exited and Bush I enters.  Like the Kennedy's the Bush's have been part of the elite in controlling our nation for over 100 years.  So in order to improve the bank accounts of his friends and family the Top Marginal Tax Rate dips to 28% for the first time since events like this lead to a great depression.  To maintain revenue, that is of course ends up paying for the first gulf war, the people that pay this this tax rate is lowered to unprecedented levels of $30,000 dollars or above.  All the suddenly middle America is paying the  Top Marginal Tax Rate for the first time.  A steady decline in average income continues as unemployment spikes again.  But no bother, GDP is at 6 Trillion.

So then Bubba brought us "it's the economy stupid." And Moderate/Liberal Democrats shed their label and played the role of economic conservative.  The Top Marginal Rate bumped modestly up to almost 40% in 1993 and in 1994 the people who paid this jumped up to $250,000 or above.  By the end of his term it steadily grew to just below people who $300,000 or above.  The national debt decreased over 10% of GDP, which rose to 9 million.  Unemployment dropped below 4% for the first time since 1970. The Dow also reached 10,000 during this period and average personal income reached record levels.  Immigrants and their descendants since 1970 now equaled the population of people born in the US and their descendants since 1970. Home value did drop and then stabilized, but despite the value of an average paycheck could not get you even close to basic necessities when compared with the 50's-70's. 

As scandal broke out in the Clinton White House, people in the white house, who are key players in the Plutonamy relaxed regularity reform, creating an environment that created credit derivatives ect..., setting up the possibility for the economic rescission, orchestrated during the Bush II years, after an untransportable, and possibly unconstitutional election, that was decided by the supreme court, despite a clear majority of American's having voted for the other candidate.  From 2000 to 2008 the downward debt trend left Bush II with an inherited federal budgetary surplus.  Yes the tec bubble crashed and 9/11 occurred, but an opportunity for unity was squandered in favor of the Plutonamy.  The Top Marginal Rate dropped to 35%, and the income level continued its steady upward trend above $300,000.  While a 25% rate remained for $85,000 and a 33% for $200,000.  In part because of a convincing argument to fight a war in Afghanistan, and even more so because of a misleading argument to fight a war in Iraq the national debt grew by 20% of GDP which grew to over 14 Trillion.  The Iraq war cost us 3 Trillion dollars so far. After the tec bubble crashed the Dow made steady gains spurred by mortgage back securities and credit default swaps that where the product of a housing bubble.  This occurred because of continual efforts after the Clinton by Bush II to continue loosening regulation.  In 2008 it all came to a head (as we all know) with both an end to the unprecedented home values, crashing and Wall Street collapsing worse then in the 80's and almost as bad as 1929.  Bush II began taking unprecedented actions that were contrary to his political beliefs and the beliefs of his appointees in charge of over seeing our economy in the government, all members of the Plutonamy elite.  He had already created an unprecedented big government through his military policy and government debt, but now he was taking unprecedented bailouts and government take overs of banking and wall street.  Unemployment began to rise as average incomes fell. The Dow drops from 13,000 to 7,000.

In steps Obama.  He takes the Bush II solution mid stream and continues the policy, while making it more efficient, but not pushing it as far, or executing it as effectively as some thought necessary.  Unemployment, a lagging indicator, rises above 10%, it now is at 9.7% (and most economist see it staying here for a while, although there has been a resent trend of job growth).  As I write this the national debt is 12.7 Trillion  When Bush II entered office the national debt was in decline at $5,727,776,738,304.64.  When he left office it was $10,626,877,048,913.08. The Obama/Bush II bailout has increased the debt rate Bush II had already made increased the Bush rate by 2 and a half times.  The effort to stabilize the economy cost 2.8 Trillion dollars. The housing market has stopped plummeting.  The Dow is above 11,000 now.  GDP has begun growing again.  Obama and Bush's efforts have done what it set out to do.  Stabilizes the economy.  Newsweek just wrote an article on how America's Back (now they did also have a cover claiming Victory at last in Iraq...and we are still there), but this is a queasy proclamation.  My skepticism remains because the same people that created this environment during the Clinton years and the ones that failed to recognize the problem during the Bush II years are with two exceptions the ones advising the President on economic policy.  Fredrik Zakaria wrote a few years ago about America's ability to rise to the occasion in a crisis, but that we lack the will to plan well for the future, even if it is known.  This is one of those moments.  We are making it through our unique set of skills as a country, leading the way for the world.  But it is not perfect and we may miss on opportunities to fix things now, that would benefit our stability in the future.  A future that will include a dwarfing immigration effect, that requires a path to citizenship, so we can collect their taxes.  I wanted to like Ron Paul's view of no IRS...but I just can't find secondary evidence of the IRS's unconstitutionality, and I don't see it as something that has harmed the average American, accept when some rich Plutonamy member gets in power and bails out his buddies.

Obama insists he plans on moving toward a sustainable budget (I would push for a balanced budget...a pay-go) and reducing the deficit (a must).  I would suggest politically Obama must make concrete steps to reducing the budget and the deficit by the summer of 2011.  I would end the policy of keeping the military budget off the table.  With what we budget for the military every year, we could feed every child in the world for 5 years.  That alone could be our defense.  But I still think a smaller, smarter military is needed.  One that improves the quality of our intelligence and cyber security, but decreases our role in manipulating foreign governments.  One that changes the good offense is a good defense to a good defense is a good defense, with smart intelligence and diplomacy, as well as, reduces our budget.  We are projected to spend $100 billion on education this year (the key to equality in opportunity, freedom in a democracy, American ingenuity, social, cultural, values, health, ethical and moral efforts and our economic future), $500 Billion on the treasury (including interest on our debt), over $700 billion on our military, and almost $800 billion on Health and Human Services (which is why we implemented a new health care policy that will reduce the deficit, increase efficiency...but the law does not address changes in provider compensation, it does not cover everyone, it does not provide a strong alternative insurance while it creates a health care insurance mandate and it does not adequately address social security, medicaid and medicare budgetary issues...despite all that it is better and less expensive then before, in part because it is a Republican plan...even though they don't remember that).  If these issues are not addressed then eliminating all ear marks, and cutting all other government budgets in half will only add up to $400 billion in savings.  But taking action before the summer of 2011 could jeopardize new found economic stability.

What can and should be extracted here, is the 1950's America that the Republican's, Christian Conservatives and Fiscal Conservatives want (all on the Right), requires a substantial sacrifice in Taxes from people making over $400,000.  A tax rate of 91% will do it.  I am in full agreement that large businesses should have a lower rate then this, but it should be conditional on keeping American jobs and utilizing American small businesses, which are the backbone of our nation.  Businesses should not maintain monopolies and banks should not be to big to fail. Banks must raise thetr capital %.  Wall Street, Banking, The Treasury, the Fed and Real-estate need independent regulatory commissions that cannot share personnel with these industries and provide competitive wadges with these industries.  There should be clear transparent reforms in place, and the reforms that existed pre 1997 should be reinstated.  The first area that Republicans should work on reducing budgetary is our military.

The Democrats, Liberals, progressives should consed that a balanced budget (pay go) is necessary and they should work to accomplish this by reducing health and human resources experiences.  I think they basically agree with this.  I would suggest keeping housing and energy stipends and food stamps.  Raising taxes to meet social security benefits.  Continuing reform on heal care as I suggested above.  But eliminating completely unemployment pay.  If we improve the efficiency, quality and access of medical care along with education we will be able to address all the basic needs and reduce the budget.  Most of all they need to stop playing the Republicans slim-ball games, but take from the Republican's what they do best, grow a pare and get 'er done.  Who cares if you get reelected, as long as you did the job while you were there.

You may take issues with my version of history (and yes some of this has been inflammatory...I am still mad as a Tea Party'er), but trust me, there are some good ideas here. I think there are people in all camps who see these as reasonable options...or at least good hard choices.  But if you aren't looking at the big picture, you are not going to get things done.  We have bigger issues to deal with, like global warming, our energy policy ect...but these too play a role in all of this.  There should be a comprehensive approach.  One that is politically viable, but if Democrats can't be strong and ethical and Republican's cannot get over themselves and be honest brokers of good ideas...well we will remain remarkably successful in maintaining a level of fear that clouds our progress in all areas, but the ones that will save values, ethics, morals and the planet.

Post Script:  I was listening to two stories today, one from a source I find reliable...NPR and one I don't Howie Car.  On both I was introduced to Tea Party activist: One who has lost his contracting business and been severely effected by the housing bubble crash...I totally get this...it almost killed my mom's architecture business.  The second is a former representative of NH, who set term limits on himself.  I totally get where these two men are coming from.  I am just as angry, at just about the same things.  I think the media across the political spectrum has failed.  The fact that there is a political spectrum is a failure.  One characterizes Tea Parties as the extremely crazy right.  The other takes credit for inspiring...it is just as bad as Washington's take on them.  Republican's thinking they created this movement, Democrats seeing them as the Republican base on steroids.  It doesn't help having Sarah Pailin at your rally, but if you are to trust the polls (I don't)...Tea Partiers think she is unfit to run for office.  But these two men believe as I do, that the system is broken.  And I for one support an effort to improve the tax code, we should reduce entitlements, we need to have a pay-go system, we need to end the new bubble before it pops (our national debt), and most importantly we NEED term limits.  The difference between me and the first guy is he was not paying attention till it effected him.  And the difference between me and the second guy is I don't blame Obama...he is trying to make a smarter, smaller government...but he has sucky tools and people to work with.  I don't see the health care bill as the problem (despite that I am sure both these men see it as the icon of the issue).  Again my problem with it is that Washington failed to fully inform itself and remove special interests.  Republican's failed to be honest partners in the process and we ended up with a surprisingly good bill, that leaves everyone feeling pissed off, but not at the right things, like the fact that the bill doesn't fix all the problem more correctly...their just mad at the process and the price tag...despite is reducing our debt.  But if we want a better future, we need to decide to both reduce spending and raise taxes for those who can afford it.  Otherwise we are doomed to fail, despite our American resilience.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mean while over at TCJ's The Hooded Ultilitarian

I commented on a post, Dyspeptic Ouroboros... the conversation continued (as did I) at Duspectic Ouroboros cont...

You can read the original articles, other comments and resonances to my comments at the links above.

My Take...take one:

"While I do not question Ware’s authorship of both the letter and the cover, I do question how we should way the value of the message. I feel most of what Caro argues here, is answered and for the most part supported in the Cover. I see Ware as a cartoonist first and foremost, so I value his message in text on its own less. If there is a conflict in the two communications it is clear which one I believe.
As a person, a cartoonist and someone who uses words (poorly) to shorthand a point. I am well aware of how my own intent can be presented in apparent conflict through multiple mediums of communication.
In addition I am basically in agreement with Seth’s quote. But I find it unreasonable for us to not realize that progress continues to be made. And find it knee jerk to keep pushing cartoonist to fit a critiques ideal. Particularly when it comes off as snarky. Caro’s attempts to be accurate and balanced, but still at times I find it unnecessarily mean. Why is not alright for Ware to possibly be more like Jimmy then his success would suggest? Are we all not more like Jimmy? Or are cartoonist more prone to felling like him? (Sometimes, the wight of male depression in our best comics and the level of Utopian male fantasy in our most accessible comics are to much…we need more perspective). I hope we all are paradoxically experienced in what it is like to be paralyzed by second-guessing as much as I hope we are all experienced in forging our own path through positive actions. What is still of value, but not anymore so is the process of assessing and editing our work. But lets not sit here and be judgmental, for the sake of evolution to an top place in our cultures art and sacrifice good will towards our artist and others to get there. That seems unproductive no matter how clever."

My take take two...

Caro, Noah and Matthias (plus everyone),

I made the mistake of reading both threads…now I am not sure where to leave this…so I am at both. (Which is probably a mistake).

This may come off as schizophrenic. While I see this train of thought I am on moving away from Ware and to me (how ego centric) it does relate back to my point about multiple communications and communication forms from an individual, as well as address broader points.

The “can’t we all get along,” comes to me both naturally (this is my role and perspective in life, not sure why) and it is heightened, by discussions pertaining to our current political clement…it is in the air.
I ware so many hats myself that, as I inferred, it becomes more difficult to coalesce an argument, or even defend one that was just made. I pride myself on my ability to banter…but feeling like I have been dropped in the deep end, despite my own credentials (BFA, MFA in Sequential Art) and experience (cartoonist and occasional Comics professor). This “deep end” feeling comes mostly from my own intellect, but also from the history of comics and comics education. This is despite the noble efforts of TCJ as comic critics.
As someone who has studied comics in an academic setting, I must admit, that the training as far as criticism is only half of the puzzle. An MFA in Sequential Art get you a solid foundation in Visual Arts criticism, but not in literature. A BFA or an MFA in Sequential Art gets you a solid understanding of comic’s history from a variety of perspectives, but this is a young educational field, that is training cartoonist, not critics and historians. My understanding of CCS and SVA is that they are in the same boat as us SCAD grads. We are better trained then previous generations, which had to go it alone (or in small communities, or large sweat shops), but we are not even close the expectations that are presented by TCJ. Only through genius at this point do we get close. We are deficient, as Caro said “academic readers” training as cartoonists.

We are still developing a perception, a lexicon, a clarity, which fully considers that you can’t separate comics unique complexity of elements in order to conveniently change the context of your perceptions of its value. I strongly believe, we cannot and should not separate the words, narrative, design, illustrations…art and literature. Why should we try and separate form and function for comics? Just because we are behind, does not mean we can’t catch up. Yes, the separate elements are edited and considered separately in the artistic process and should be considered in the critique stage. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to not note that each time we do this it changes the context and the intent of the artist message. Ware may have a unique defense to those who attempt to analyze separate elements. He has said he works in a way that is savant like; starting in one corner and ending in the other. This would imply he considers virtually everything continuously. If he is not separating elements, how can we? I don’t know if I am defending this, just posing the question. However, it is true that if you “tease” the elements they can come apart. But this is true of any house of cards… is it not still a house of cards before you pull one away?

None of this is easy…so my hats off to the critics for even attempting. The medium is the better for it and perhaps someday we will have cartoonist, academics, historians, critiques and an audience that can all rap their minds around this, without picking at the bones. I would suggest that it has less to do with laziness, but more education…because we simply are still inventing as we go along, and how do you set rules to something that is still evolving beyond the speed of the critique.

So yes, Caro: “…we have not forged a critical analysis structure that balances the narrative and visual elements at a sophisticated level.” Nevertheless, how can we, when we don’t even agree on the conversations, point. I cry fowl to Caro’s statement, “Art, to me, demands the possibility of that conversation (between audience and artist). And conversation is about ideas, not emotions.” I would suggest that if you ask the average person about arts purpose, emotion would come up more then ideas. While I am sympathetic to the idea side, it is false to caricatureise it as the necessity to expand the mind through a deictic or communal conversation about a piece of art with the artist. This would be an illogical distinction (yeah that’s right…I pulled a Spock). I would suggest that separating these two is like separating elements of a comic…you cannot and you should not.

Yes, any cartoonist, comic’s teacher, and the comic’s audience who wish for progress in quality of comics and the perception of comics must concede the necessity for quality criticism. In fact what else is the point of comics then to broaden our minds. It can’t just be for nostalgic emotions. And perhaps this is how criticism is done in literature, and yes this is how it is often done in visual arts. However, when you consider the limited education most cartoonist have had throughout our history, it is remarkable (or perhaps a great illustration of the potential for a world without formal education) that so many cartoonist express at the level they do. Yes, I include Ware in this.

That said, he IS totally passive aggressive. And it would annoy me to no end, if it didn’t seem to be so natural for him and if it wasn’t so darn pretty. Which is kind of why I come to his defense. This is who he is. What critique would be able to change that? He has virtually mastered presenting himself. Why would we ask more from him? I would hope he would not compromise. There are other forms of engagement then pressure to change. Much of what I have read here has engaged in an exploratory manner with wonderful insight. That seems more productive.

We agree strongly that this passive aggression (often mistakenly substituted for intellectualism) permeates to many comics pages, and is mean and is like anything when it is to much…bad for us. Just as there are to many objectified unrealistic female depictions and to many male ego fantasy heroics. But I don’t blame Ware for this. I blame it on a lack of diverse participation, which can be blamed on a number of factors. But not, Chris Ware, if this is simply who he is.

I do see that by putting it out there, and particularly because he reaps benefits monetarily and egotistically, that he is fare game. And you shouldn’t have to worry about how closely he identifies with his art. In his case I would gage it is very personal. This is the reason he lashed out, but this is short of his cheat (because he tells you strait up through his art…careful, kid gloves here…I’m sensitive). You have a right to defend yourself, let alone do your job (or simply just be an audience member and have an honest reaction equal to the artist honest message…we still have post-modernism to thank for that).

Doing art, particularly in the public sphere and being paid for it is brings up many responsibilities and positions. It is one of the stranger occupations. He is engaging the audience, who must not be passive. It is about his ego as much as his victimization. And he does get paid (unlike a lot of us…yes, he sacrificed I am sure, yes, he deserves the recognition, and yes, he works harder then many other professions that get paid more). Moreover, we pay him. However, there is a paradox to working in an isolating medium, that has been kicked around and lived in recesses (this all fits him and many cartoonist…it is again a natural relationship), but he also seeks the light and takes it on (per his ego). Therefore, no tears should be shed, but a modest caution should be acceptable. Make no mistake, making art is personal. People’s reaction to it is personal. Yours, Seth’s and many others point is, taking a punch is how you make it to that top shelf (the art shelf). As I said, it’s a strange way to work.

Part 3:

Sorry about the formatting on my last post…anyway.

Caro-I think I am supportive of the need for “the insights of literary fiction and criticism deserve some thoughtful attention.” It is this perspective that is both lacking in the academic side of cartoonist schooling and in the mediums vocabulary as a whole. That is where the deep end is for most of us. Despite its clearly consistent place from the beginning and its nature as an integrated element of comics.

Johnathan-I think you are illustrating, or what I am taking from your last segment is…Ware’s and his critics false choice. Since post modernism, our perspectives which influence our reaction and expectations of the work are diverse. How we value and how we asses this value of the work is up for grabs. This does not mean that we should ignore the discussion, but it does mean the result is not a clear correct perspective. It is a messy tapestry of reactions, intellectual and emotional. And yes by simply writing about comics we perverse our communication of it. It is impossible to capture all it communicates and in turn translate every intent and every perception.

Noah-This is where I get a little Utopian. Ware’s influence has become comics version of “to big to fail.” James Sturm, who I know well, once suggested it is our job as new cartoonists (somehow still new at 35…a result of some dillydallying…the economic realities in comics, but also the competitive realities in comics as they pertain to stifling new talent) to knock off the old guard. In the way you describe it, Ware’s influence is a helping hand. My positions is…both options suck. Why is there simply not enough room for us all? We sit here and complain about to much of one perspective, but we let the “old guard” chose who gets in the club and or we force them out…but some are “to big to fail.” This does nothing to encourage diversity…not that I am…I am another Jewish white male making comics…a symptom of the overall issue. And in this effort, I see less support from critics. But all of this may just be sour grapes. I suppose we are coming to the same conclusion, but on different paths (seems to be going on a lot around here).
In your response to Caro…this is a great example of the conversation being vaguely familiar, but I lack context…because of what Caro is suggesting is missing and what I am confirming is missing from a comics education and a cartoonist perspective…and an understanding of the literary perspective you mentioned…and I took Psychological Realism in Literature (of course I got a C…as predicted by the professor). I did of course get the part about Contemporary Art…but prior to that I am already a bit lost.
So Noah and Caro- I guess I am admitting that comics lack of understanding of this perspective has resulted in the “knee jerk” reaction. This reaction stems from lack of clarity…and yes unwillingness to find time to read something other then comics. But I would suggest a more painstaking understanding of this from a critics perspective is still necessary if what you are critiquing is comics.

I suppose this a bit of a concession on my part, for comics (not sure why I am in this position, or even qualified…I can’t be the only person here who has lived and breathed comics since age 4). But the “anxiety” is not necessarily toward criticism itself. I think it comes from the form (text) that criticism takes (which by its very nature pulls it out of context) and/or that is comes outside an academic (in terms of studding how to MAKE comics) or as part of the editorial process (of course its not like Ware is changing to soot his critics…and again why should he, if he is being true to himself).

But what else are critics supposed to do…words are how they communicate their critique…and words in an academic setting are also at least in part the from they take. But all artist are (or should be) use to critique, as it pertains to improving the piece (before it is presented in its final form) or as a means to improve future work…or future additions (which happens) of the same work.

But Ware has crafted so carefully that the use of criticism is undermined…and Ware’s response (in illustrative comics form…in the letter less so) leaves criticize at a loss because of it. His intent maybe without merit, but his “to big to fail” status and the quality of his work as it pertains to presenting himself leaves the criticism in a precarious position of being a waste of breath. Which I do empathize with from a critical perspective, when you clearly see this position playing to both Ware’s ego and anxiety. But in the end this is bigger then Ware, a scary thought.

Part 4:

To all who posted in between my last comment and this one…Some thoughts while reading your takes here…also I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my grammar and spelling…despite writing comics…I have lifelong struggle with the written word…which may also be a common source of the problem in comics (I am not alone)…thanks for ignoring my issues…I hope these are clear enough in context.

Matthias-Ware’s mockery of criticism and comics potential to become art is an external consistency with the internal mockery he inflects on his characters (perhaps himself). He is at least consistent.

To underline your point on cartoonists as intellectuals. The highest praise we hold is for the old guard in comics. In part due to the influence it has on contemporary cartoonist (who can appear to be intellectuals…I would put Ware there…its all relative). Perhaps Schultz and Herrimon were intellectuals…but I don’t see their cartoonist genius as necessarily evidence of that. Are Kirby and Lee’s work evidence that they are intellectuals. Well no. But they are clever and worked hard. And at times they were good if not great cartoonists. We must keep in mind that we admire their work as readers, cartoonists and critics. As much as we look back and see them to be silly. Comics are born from propaganda that made old men laugh, and are perpetuated by marketing to kids. So this new expectation must be balanced, as it pushes the medium forward. Even the greatest cartoonist (even the greatest artists) are not as a rule, intellectual. But they are subject to an intellectual critique…as long as this reality is taken into consideration.

Narrative is predominant in assessing comics, and it is visual narrative that is the primary source of information for this narrative (a picture is worth 1000 words). The skill we live or die with in cartooning school is the ability to manipulate the story through the juxtaposition of pictures in a narrative. These are the unique skills we train in (something you learn no where else…unless you are old school…and just do it). We are taught to keep our text pithy. This underscores the intent of erring on the visual. I prefer to read comics pictures over words…to many words can be distracting from the narrative and to many words become to big a challenge from a graphic design sense that works with the panel layout and narrative intent of pacing. That said, these pithy text should and are improving in their expectations of the readers literary education. Still I do prefer the poetry of a compelling visual silent story.

So if the visual is more important, I take major issue with the poor drawing or at least drawing that is without purpose we so often see in comics. Craft is important and should be considered, no matter who wonderful the juxtapositions of imagery, the narrative and the words. If the drawing, inking and perhaps color is not well executed in a way that contributes to the story it becomes an unnecessary exercise for the reader. Ware almost never puts you in this position. I would say Jeffrey Brown is an exception, because of narrative intent.

Caro-It is clear from our discussion that critics need to spend more time making comics, and cartoonist need more exposure to literature.

If Ware is not an intellectual…well he is just about as close to that as we get in cartoonists. I think his intellectualism maybe stymied by the lens he seems to place on everything…see above.

As for the McSweeney’s 13 quote: I agree that basically Ware is wrong. There is nothing inherently more or less accessible about comics and blame for clarity is not inherently pointed in either direction based on the medium. From my point of view, when we are confronted with art we come with what we know, we believe, what we feel, what we think. We then react based on this. Sometimes that results in, “I don’t get it.” But that usually is because they have not been authorized by the cultural intellectual hierarchy in their educational experiences. The fact is their perception is of value. Their interpretation is of value. I guess I am very anti-elitist, because of a history I see of oppression that stems from it in many artistic and cultural context. Perhaps paradoxically I see the significant need for improved intellectual criticism in comics, which should coincide with improved understanding and intent on the part of cartoonists. That said, as an art teacher, my most fundamental goal is to improve the quality of my students visual lexicon, so they can decipher visual meaning that is being communicating to them and which perhaps is manipulating their thoughts and actions. So I am doing my part in bridging the gap to the intellectualism…and the bridge can only improve with enlightenment from people like yourself.

Anyway, I agree that if Ware is perhaps mistaken in seeing comics consumption in a vacuum (without communication with other people on the content).

The relations between film/animation and comics are sometimes strained. So again Ware is reactionary…I get like that too. The dominant place film plays in our culture makes cartoonist jealous. However, there is a unique narrative artistic experience comics provide and there will always be a place for it. And it does have to do with comics unique use of time and space, as well as the ability to look back, reinterpret and create your own imagery in the gutter.

Caro, Kevin: I am not much help here…like Ware I need to take Kevin’s advice (I know a number of names have been stated…)…which is the point that Caro and I have arrived at I think?…It is like I am listening to the teacher in Peanuts…

I would say that the contrast between “professional” literary criticism and visual art criticism may have as much to do with the work the literary community has put in, and the fact that you are using words to discus words. While on the other side, there is this post-modernist accessibility in visual arts which has resulted in art going from an elitist decree, to an artist decree, to anyone can decree. This maybe antithesis to the literary realities. And you throw in comics, which entangle both worlds, but come from a propaganda newspaper and lowbrow merchandising world…well it is a strained odd fit…that falls apart when pulled apart.

Caro- Sure there are people who spend more time focused on comics criticism…but there is no reason why you and I can’t play along. This is still a young field, no one has laid claim to the definitive criteria. I respect and read the TCJ, I don’t feel the web version is any less or more valuable. I also read Comic Book Resource (which yes, is designed to be more accessible and more about “mainstream.”…but they have some insightful and valid opinions over there too…take for example the important role my pal Kelley Thompson has had. Over this past year in improving criticism of comics from a female perspective). We need more, not less voices.


Rob- You are likely correct, outside of his love for Blues, I would say comics influence Ware most. Most cartoonist are nostalgic and thus focused on comics as their primary reference outside of their own experiences…it is at least the lens we use. This relates to issues Caro and I have been discussing on education.
Matthias (evening post)- I think you are more insightful in presenting my feelings on this. But I do feel that Ware can fall short under some lime light. But at the end of the day…its art and should remain open to interpretation. As I have stated, I think he is basically non-responsible to criticism, because of his persona, the level of excellence he already brings and because he is on his path…not anyone else’s.

Mathias and Caro- Suddenly we are in a nice little boxing match…I hesitate to interject.
Nevertheless, I interpreted Caro’s take on “passive aggression” to be much like mine…its not passive aggression per say that is the problem…it is the amount of passive aggression the permeates Ware’s and others comics.

On Asian comics being improved by the use of characters vs. letters in their language. I have heard this before, but it strikes me as merely a bonus, not a fundamental rule.

I have to commend Caro on presenting insightful visual analysis.

But Caro in responce to this statment…

“I’m never going to get where you are with Ware, because I simply don’t find him to successfully evoke the ‘feeling of disappointment, failure, and heartbreak with such precision and nuance.”

…how depressing does it have be for you to feel this?

I have no doubt more has been said as I write this.

Part 5:

Caro- Again, it is not necessarily Ware’s responsibility to expand his emotions in order to improve his comics. I see it as others in comics responsibility to provide more diversity. His gravitas and the gravitas of his friends, have created a misunderstanding for my generation…that the more depressing the more likely you are to be respected. But that’s not Ware’s fault.

Noah-I am with you on the inherent value of intellectualism. I am always struck by the lack of appreciation in intellectual circles, wealthy circles or progressive circles of the wisdom, resourcefulness, innovation and practicality that is commonly found in other parts of our broader community. Yes, there are dangers in lack of education and/or tradition in these more common circles…but if we spend time and listen there, our judgments fall and our progress increases.

As a cartoonist I see Ware’s erring on the side of the formal is less an illustration of his shortcomings, as much as, an illustration of the unique challenges in making comics. I come to this conclusion through the idea that I excuse him on the basis of his own nature. I think it is honest communication on his part. Which is what I want in a conversation.

I prefer his work to Brown’s as well, but as I eluded to…Brown’s presentation compliments the narrative. Ware’s visual clarity creates a contrast to his view of the world that is equally (perhaps more) compelling.
Caro-As to the Shaw and Mazzucchelli discussion: I love Mazzucchelli’s work and he has been an influence on me both through his work and through his teachings. And I fully support on principle his position on considering the audience. One quote about my own approach to cartooning is that it is a “Big FU to the audience.” I have always liked this quote. In fact I display it on my website. For two reasons, one as a person, this is totally not me, its an ironic assertion in some respects. But paradoxically I defiantly don’t work the way Mazzucchelli works when it comes to thinking about the reader. Of course that could be one of a number of reasons I am not at the level Mazzucchelli is…of course I am no Shaw either.

I live and breath Jarvis Cocker’s assertion. I wounder if it has to do with the pioneering spirit and the desire to sell yourself. That said…I don’t take it as a criticism…even though that is its intent.

The duality of perception afforded the reader is particularly difficult in comics. It simply takes more time and work in a comic narrative then it does in prose or film (perhaps animations the acceptation…but even there the team is bigger) to provide the reader with tragic duplicity. Ironic since we use words and pictures to accomplish this goal. So the criticism is valid, but the realities of constraints on the part of the cartoonist deserves a tip of the hat…Ware has had his fair share. To the audience sometimes an apology is in order, since they (along with out wallets) are the victims of the challenges a cartoonist faces.

I totally agree that the three parties should be involved as readers. I think Ware has, some of us just don’t value his impute, because it is limited by the same mechanisms that limit some of our perceptions of his work.

…and once again a list of names I need to dig up and sound of the teacher from Peanuts trumpets on…thanks for pushing me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Project Runway Looses its Way

Not since Jason Jones (now of the Daily show, husband of fellow corespondent the brilliantly ballsy Samantha Bee) and Craft Corner Death Match has there been a better opportunity on television to witness the artistic process, then on Bravo and now Lifetimes Project Runway(perhaps its tied with So You Think You Can Dance?).  I use to defend this "reality" TV valiantly.  No more, I say, no more.  It will switch over to that category and growing group of shows I watch out of idiotic tradition and mindless meditation (along with Survivor, Big Brother, The Real World, RW/RR Challenge, American Idol ect...).  I watch these in guilt and/or protest.

There have always been times where I have disagreed with the panel of judges.  I have often looked at the work being made and wondered, why is that person still around, or why isn't this person still here.  But there is almost always one or two contestants and at least one judge (the Simon) who I have faith in making sense.  Then the show moved to LA (I thought it would be refreshing) and the most talented designer won (but I hated her attitude).  Two of the regular judges were not regular do to scheduling (which I guess was the over all issue) and suddenly I found myself feeling like I did about the last season of So You Think You Can Dance? (which now hangs on as the only show worth watching for artistic process...but it to is frustratingly falling apart).

So the show regrouped and returned to NYC.  All the principle players were back and the schedule was working...but somehow the show had become a hot mess and even Tim Gunn (you have seen him in Marvel Comics Milly the Model) could not "Make it Work" (I use this phrasing with my students...it works).

In fact the show became offensive to artist/art teachers and to women, their principle audience out side of some gay circles (I would say they were sportive of our offense).

The most mind blowing example of stupidity on the shows part was airing a guest judge in critiquing an Designer from Oakland say, "I don't think orange and blue are very complimentary colors.  Do you?"  The other judges (all regulars) respond, "No," in unison.  Was this a case of east coast or cultural bias.? Well, NO.  This is a case of a judge of art and design not understanding color theory and the color wheel...something we learn in grad school, middle school, high school and college.  This is a basic lesson that illustrates how dumb these people are.  BLUE and ORANGE by definition ARE COMPLIMENTARY.  On top of it this palette and design which landed the designer in the bottom two was a very contemporary, palatable in almost all areas of the design world...apparently outside of fashion.

However intellectually offensive that was, it was nothing compared to the three-time champion (in other word at least in three different episodes this propaganda was spewed), the anti-big butt argument.  It culminated in last episode, with principle offender Micheal Corse (who I normally really admire) saying, "No women on the planet would want their butt to look bigger."  On a previous episode a designer actually went home for this offense specifically.  I am here to testify, Sir Mix A Lot is not the only one who likes big butts.  But more objectively Corse's statement is factually wrong.  Many women and many cultures value the naturally attractive female forms that are pear and hourglass (30% of women have these shapes).  Ironically, They are wonderfully support of the busty forms on the show; perhaps they learned to appreciate the female form "the Marvel Way."  This aesthetic perception is not only isolated and inaccurate, it comes with an air of elitism.  That the aesthetic cultivated in a small circle of aristocracy is projected, propagandized and marketed in order to keep women (the serfs) trapped in a cycle of dieting and self criticism.  It also encourages their partners and suitors to suppress their feelings of natural attraction and go underground in pursuit of their instinctual attractions...the results are health and psychological risks for both males and females in our society.  It really illustrates who bizarrely isolated these people are and how bigoted their aesthetics are.

Parenthood a Berkeley perspective?

In Parenthood we are presented with a transformed Berkeley, CA, in which due to trade mark law I guess, Pete's coffee becomes Berkeley Coffee and Berkeley High becomes Roosevelt.  My wife and I began watching it last night, seeing the 2nd and 3rd episodes.

From the age of almost 2 to the age of 12 I was a resident of Berkeley, CA.  Every summer of my childhood there after, having left my hart there, I would work there.  I still have an aunt who lives there, one of a myriad of excuses I have to go back and visit.  So I consider myself a reasonable judge (if not up to date and fully informed) of a show about raising kids in Berkeley.  First cautionary disclaimer would be, Berkeley is possibly the most diverse place on the planet...so no one story or one opinion will fill you in.  Still I find Parenthood to be an odd duck, even for Berkeley.

There have been hundreds of stories presented on San Francisco, you know, that city across the bay.  However, Berkeley seems to be lacking in the story department.  It is in this way, unfairly, unlike an equally unique place I have lived in and love, Savannah, GA.  Savannah has often now been the subject of plots in film and comics.  It is a dynamic character and has its share of storyteller.  Especially now with a school that houses some of the brightest new stars in comics and film.  Berkeley has its share of storytellers, Al Young, Robert Hass, Ayelet Weldman and her husband Micheal Chabon are all well respected local writers.  Two of America's greatest cartoonist, Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine have spent a sizable portion of their carrier in Berkeley.  Sure I can flip through pages of Eightball or Optic Nerve and find moments where I feel homesick.  But I don't have the sense that Berkeley is explicitly a character.  It was more so, in my comic Ordinary Betty and Ted the Milkman (although I am no Clowes or Tomine).  Berkeley has been portrayed in a number of fine documentaries,  for the epicenter it was in American culture.   Iconic apearences for the city have come in the form of; driftwood art in Harold and Maude, a college scene in the Graduate, Multicultural family dynamics in Made in America, the ghetto in Spirit Link, the title and more in Berkeley (which I only heard of when researching this post), through the lives of students in Boys and Girls and a pool scene at the Claremont in Mrs. Doubtfire.

Parenthood is the first time I am aware of that a TV series (still the most accessible of mediums) specifically states it is taking place in Berkeley and attempts to present Berkeley through the eyes of a fictional family. I was surprised to find out it IS filmed in Berkeley...and Mill Valley (where I grew up after moving), and Oakland (right next door to Berkeley) and a Universal Studio lot.  So far I have not had that moment of..."oh, I know that place," but I do confess architecturally it obviously is constant.

The casting is really the most interesting part of the production to me, but the characters are perhaps the reason I am not ecstatic about it. "Six Feet Under's" Peter Krause gives the cast credibility. While Dax Shepard (from Punk'd) would seem to be the warning flag going in.  The dropping in of an ex-lover and Shepard's bi-racial 5 year old son is actually interesting and fun, although predictable.  Apparently they did not partake in the well publicized School Nurse condom campaign at Berkeley HS (We at Tam had one that made the news too...but because we had to fight for it).  In reality I find Shepard's performance and character far more palatable and believable, so far he may be the reason I am watching still.  Monica Potter from Boston Legal so far is constantly just as annoying as Krause, in their dealing with having potentially a child with Autism.  From the perspective of a teacher and a psychologists son, I just want to reach into the screen and shake some sense of reality into them and shake their self obsession out (which is the point of the character...but it falls short of me caring about them). I usually feel Erica Christensen's performances are competent, and unlike her broth and sister in law, I am pissed at what she is pissed at.  Perhaps, because I have this insane busy American life, and feel that is a reality for most competent parents.  We struggle to find time with our kids.  Her TV husband Sam Jeager on the other hand plays the nice home husband...but the character is far to naive and again I find myself reaching for the screen when he is on camera...I really do not want to see another infidelity story.  The main issue facing Jeager and Christensen is Erin Hayes's Buddhist, wealthy, white mother with Asian or half-Asian kid, super flirty, super obnoxious....just pile on the stereotypes of progressive women who annoy the crap out of you...I know this character is more accurate a stereotype then some...I also understand its association with Berkeley...but man, do I hate being hit over the head with it.  If she brakes up their marriage, I will be annoyed by the transparency. I have some close friends that fit the good part this couple dynamic, and I just don't think they would act with quite the same stupidity. Bonnie Bedelia so far plays a bland "progressive" mom.  Which is disappointing, because most mom's I know of in Berkeley are very dynamic figures.  Ironically she was in the film Berkeley. On a great note, Craig T. Nelson continues the role he played in The Family Stone (a film I love and identify as a very Berkeley type family story)...but he is not as pure of hart in Parenthood...which is a good thing.  Gone are the days of Coach.  Lauren Graham from the Gilmore Girls, seems to be predictable and is another character I could do without.  Which is shame, because she is the reason we are watching their lives at this point, she has just moved back into her parents with her two kids.  Believable is that she is a bar tender from Fresno (a lot of bars there in comparison to grocery stores).  Her daughter is struck with dilemma of being held back a year after transferring to "Roosevelt" (which is much whiter then Berkeley High)...(my sister would be the authority here having lived in Berkeley too and teaches in Fresno now)...but my sense of this student struggling at a Berkeley HS not being a stretch. Graham's job interview scene made me super frustrated with my own interview process...if I could act that lame and be as close to getting the position as her...well it just was not realistic in this market.  Her struggles with her car are authentically Berkeley (lot of old clunkers there).  But you would eventually just give up and take the abundance of public transports (buses, bikes, BART)....it is so easy to get around cheaply in Berkeley and with her family dynamics...she would be aware of this solution right off.  The plot use of a twin bed seemed really lame.  I actually looked at the screen as she and her daughter struggle over room on the mattress...I said, "get another mattress...there is space right there." These basic solutions that down on you constantly, make it hard to believe these people.  The kids seem OK, so far and I would prefer to give them time to get into the characters.  But who has time for the kids when you are so annoyed by their parents.

One very genuine and accurate feature was Krause's battle with a possum.  They are common pests or neighbors (depending on your politics) in Berkeley.  That brought back "real" childhood memories for me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Savannah & Ben at 5 Minute Marvel

Savannah and her Aba's Birdbrains, Dave from DP7 and Kitty Pryde at 5MM...plus Ross Campbell draws with Tim, Grace and Kim.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Savannah & Ben at 5 Minute Marvel

Savannah (our 2 year old) and I are now posting Comic sketchbook style classic superhero's and characters at 5 Minute Marvel's.  The site is dedicated to inspiring parents to draw and spend time with their kids.  The focus is on comics of course and there is a 5 minute rule.  Check out all the cool drawings the kids are doing...the parent/artists too.

Our first post can be found here...Savannah and Ben's 5 Minute Marvel Bat-Man

SHAME Strip No. 16