Thursday, August 04, 2005

Talking or Listening

This was a column posted on the Comic's based site, a site that I read a lot. The article is written by Alex Groff, whom I don't know, but just thought I'd mention it to make sure you know I didn't write it. However, I found it quite interesting. It's kind of what I've been thinking a lot about over the last year - instead of always just talking about other works, be it films, music, books, etc (and quite enjoying it), wouldn't it be a lot more satisfying to actually create something myself and put that out there for others to start talking about? Risky, yes, but ultimately rewarding...

I had dabbled in writing different things just for myself for a while, but when I read the first Sin City book, the Hard Goodbye, then saw the film and listened to the comments of Frank Miller of how it all came to be, it really made me want to create something like that myself. After a lot of thinking and some talking with friends, I'm going to try and am now trying to shuffle some things around in my life to make that possible. Worst case scenario is that everything is rejected and I can't get anything published, which means I'm no worse off than I am now. And like it states in this column, those who have created have never stated they were bored. The adventure is in the trying, I suppose.

Who knows where it will lead, but due to other factors, I'm one of those with a possible short window of opportunity. I'd like to be able to look back on it and be proud of what I've accomplished - and more importantly, win or lose, know I tried and gave it the effort...

X-World Comics presents... ComiX-Fan, the #1 online comics resource!

by Alex Groff
Apparently, low sales have led to the cancellation of this column. We talked about taking it to another comic websites, but right now with the contracts being the way they are, it looks like the story ends here. We did our best to tie up loose ends and hopefully the story will read well. We had such plans! There’s talk of a miniseries next year, and the editors said that from there they would reconsider the column based on how it’s received. We want it to be clear that we have no problems with the publisher (after all, they are putting out our miniseries!) and they have no problems with us! We’d love to talk about our next column but Raul said wants to keep it quiet for a little while longer—needless to say, we’re not going anywhere. It’s been a great run. So long and thanks for the fish!

I recently discovered LiveJournal. Its been around forever, I know, but in the past month I’ve met eight people who all do LiveJournal, and I decided to read what these people had to say. It reminded me a lot of message boards. I spent a few days just traveling from account to account—using the judicious logic of clicking random links—and the result was a bit depressing, to be honest.

Now, there has been a lot of enthusiasm in promoting the internet as a forum for discussion. What I have noticed is that discussions do not actually happen, or rather if they happen, they happen in hidden corners where no one is paying any attention. Discussions require at least two people interacting, sometimes even more. Instead, we have a great number of people talking about themselves, to themselves. LiveJournal responses are almost always brief, nonsensical things that you wouldn’t say to a person’s face if you were sober, but have no problem typing. I fail to see how this is a discussion.

Similarly, read most discussions after reviews, columns, and interviews. Doesn’t really matter what site; its pretty consistent. Some get little or no attention. Others have a few praising comments, a few damning comments, a few people who didn’t actually read the book or article they’re commenting on, a bit of trolling or troll-baiting… but no actual interaction—no discussion. The shame is, there are some great reviews , great interviews, and great columns out there-- but they rarely inspire discussion.

And isn’t that kind of the point?

There was a play by Sam Shepherd where each member of the cast was talking, but no one was listening to anyone else. The young man talked about a moment in his childhood that left him feeling despondent and alone; the woman talked about the failures of her love life and how she had become complacent; the young girl talked about her dreams for the future. No one heard what the others had to say. No one responded. It was as if they were talking to no one. It was billed as a comedy, and there were more than a few bawdy scenes to keep our interest, but I still feel it was one of the most tragic plays I’ve ever seen.

The most common theme that I’ve seen on LiveJournal is loneliness.

You’re probably asking, “so, wait, how does this relate to comics?” It doesn’t actually. It relates to comics discussions, to columns and to the internet in general. This really is the last Typographical Errors. Not because of the site’s unwieldy hand, but because I feel as if I’ve been talking too much, and not listening enough.

That’s a strange thing to admit to. Sure, there is more I could say. There was supposed to be a series of columns comparing comic books to film, tv shows, novels, comic strips-- showing the differences. There was a series of columns dealing with panel layouts, the use of blank space, the relationship between words and pictures… but in the end, I sat here wondering if there was anything I could say that couldn’t be better explained by handing you the comic. That’s why I write reviews: it’s a chance to jump up and down excitedly and say “look, look what they’re doing, look!” With this column, I’ve put myself on a sort of pedestal, undeservedly, and talked about ideas. Now it’s time for someone to make those ideas reality.

Last month, I was having coffee with a friend who just had her first book of poetry published—leatherbound and beautiful—and she commented, “its important to remember that the poem’s the thing. A lot of professors talk theory and form, but when you get down to it, writing is about writing, not the rest of it.” Comics are no different.

Neil Gaiman was talking about Dave McKean’s work, and laughed at the fact that styles being taught in art colleges were never intended to be styles. McKean was simply trying to figure out the best solution to the artistic problem he was working with. The difference between ideas and action.

Brian Hibbs has a great column entitled "Tilting at Windmills." If half the ideas in that column were put into action, comics would sell like Hollywood blockbusters. Sadly, he's published a book, written two volumes of columns, and things are still pretty much the same as they ever were. Sadly. Someone take Hibbs' ideas and put them into action. That man is a genius.

The second most common theme I’ve seen on LiveJournal, in my students, and with my friends, is boredom.

I keep buying minicomics, and even though I laugh at some of the truly bad ones, it says something that the creator put forth the effort to make it. We have become a world of spectators and preachers: quick to watch, quick to criticize, quick to offer advice to others. But as Oscar Wilde pointed out, the only thing you can do with good advice is pass it on, as its really not all that useful.

What the world needs is a community of creators, of people who take action. Doing is hard. As Hesse pointed out, “It [is] one thing to indulge in daydreaming and intoxicating hours and another to wrestle strenuously and resolutely with the form as with demons.”

After all the artists and writers I've interviewed or met at expos, I cannot remember hearing the word "bored" once.

I can picture someone at this point commenting how art is just like LiveJournal, that it is one person’s monologue, not a discussion. Plays like "The Vagina Monologues" and the recent glut of hyperrealist pseudo-memoirs don't dissuade the argument. I spent most of 2004 and this first half of 2005 thinking about this. (Joel, Dayna and Jordan may remember the discussions: thank you all.) But the answer was actually quite obvious. Why would we be on a comics message board if art didn’t inspire us to want to say something?

The art is the thing. Emo is a two-edged sword. For all of the mocking that it has faced, there is a genuine creative spirit alive today in the faces of my students, my friends. My students knit scarves and sew skirts and purses; they draw comics and write poetry; they paint and take photographs; they dance, act, play instruments and sing. The danger is that, if they-- if we-- get too obsessed with ourselves and our own voices-- with ideas and theories-- we lose a hold of the art and the conversation ends.

Yes, I see the irony in not talking in order to have a conversation, but there it is. "Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me." That is how D.H. Lawrence described art. It is time for me to listen, to let the wind blow.

My coffee has finished brewing, and the sky is looking slightly cloudy, but there is still time for a walk before the rains come. I hope you’ve enjoyed these columns. Al, Raul, Ahmed, you have my thanks. Ta.
Alex groff used to write this column. He thanks you for having read it.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and are not reflective of Comixfan or its other staff in general.

Comments on "Talking or Listening"


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (August 05, 2005 4:05 PM) : 

< Inserts brief, nonsensical comment that he wouldn’t say to a person’s face if he were sober >


Let me at least add a word of encouragement for writing your own works. I'm eager to read them as soon as they roll off press!


post a comment