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.

peter Fraterdeus_1
1/15/2008 11:05:55 PM

Hey, you can't say that!? Are you saying that MY ennui is a reflection of my self-important self-indulgent attitude? :-) Hmm. The Cartoon Emperor's New Clothes. Thank goodness for Ted Rail, and his ilk. What really worries me is that this behavior seems to be related to mate selection... As if the most sullen becomes the most attractive. Ah, well, the hazards of being a primate mammal in an unforgiving world. P.S. Mueller, I've always loved your work. I can't believe that they dropped your cartoons. Cheers PF

P.S. Mueller
1/9/2008 6:09:05 PM

Hi, I drew cartoons and stuff for Utne for 20 years until someone finally figured out I wasn't new-agey enough or something. Anyway, I thought I should drop a line in defense of Ted Rall. I am far too cowardly to savage another cartoonist's work. Plus, I'm afraid of bombs and guns. Ted, on the other hand, is fearless, like Clint Eastwood with a case of the coffee yips, and I respect that. If I were a cartoonist given to lumbering, self-analytical obscurantism, I would be a crazy man instead of just a silly one. Plus, I don't really want to bore anyone with my fixation of metal roofing. Fond regards, P.s. Mueller

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