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Art Comic Smackdown

1/9/2008 4:34:37 PM

Tags: comics, art comics, graphic novel, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Funny Pages, Ted Rall, Building Stories

Funny pages by Daniel ClowesAnyone who’s cracked open a supposedly groundbreaking graphic novel in recent years and found themselves bored silly by panel after nearly identical panel depicting an endless parade of young-adult ennui: You’ve got an ally in Ted Rall. In a recent commentary, Rall hauls Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and other darlings of the art-comics world to the woodshed in an acerbic takedown. Describing how the New York Times’ foray into art comics, The Funny Pages literary supplement to the New York Times Magazine, has been a flop, Rall summarizes Ware’s serialized work “Building Stories” thusly:

“Anticipation yielded to disappointment as Ware, in his typically mannered and obtuse style, rendered the paint-drying anti-drama of a dowdy middle-aged, one-legged . . . spinster wallowing in self-inflicted depression in a hundred thousand earth-toned squares. Unless you count phony, plot-less, generalized angst, nothing happened in ‘Building Stories.’ Ever.”

Ouch. As a syndicated editorial cartoonist himself who is unabashedly topical and political, Rall is of course wide open to the charge that he just doesn’t get it, that his hit-you-over-the-head style is itself flawed and unfunny, or that he’s simply swinging back after the art-comic tastemakers at Comics Journal called him an “utterly worthless political cartoonist.” But at its core Rall’s critique must sting because there’s a bit of truth to it. “When a reader doesn’t understand a cartoon, it isn’t because he is stupid,” he writes. “It is because the cartoonist has failed.”

Now that’s something for a comic artist to be depressed about—and to turn into a novel, of course.

Keith Goetzman 

Image from the New York Times, by Daniel Clowes.

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