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July 31, 2008

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Simon Herbert

Craig

re: your review of Blurred Vision #4, I would like to to clarify something about an assumption you made (partially my fault for not being clearer): I am not an editor of Blurred Vision. Much as I would like to take credit for such an anthology, I am simply the guy who sends out the review copies.

Best wishes,

Simon Herbert

Andrei

This may be a silly question but, if you don't like introductions to tell you how to think about art, why don't you just look at the art first and read the intro later? I honestly would have found it hard to believe that anybody would bother reading my turgid prose before flipping through eight pages of wordless art. But I guess it happens...

K. Thor Jensen

what did you think of bolus, dood? aside from problems cloud-hunting which if that bothered you the new book is going to perplex you to heck and back.

Kevin Mutch

This is pretty reactionary criticism. Claiming "...that isn't half as good as what I scribbled in the margins of my notebooks in sixth grade..." sounds a lot like "my five year old kid could do that!" and is about as empty. Some artists use "style" as tools, others still believe style is something personal and intrinsic (if not magical). In the art world, where Doug Harvey works, this has been a non-issue for decades. Somehow in comics it's still a raging (and boring) battle.

Also, harping on about the layout of the introductions is just bizarre - would you get that worked up about liner notes? The intros are there to serve a function (including alerting "alt-comix" readers that a lot of this stuff comes from outside that cosy world) - not to decorate the book.

best wishes,
Guy Debord
(just kidding - actually it's Kevin Mutch, one of the editors)

Craig Fischer

Thanks for your comments, everybody.

Simon, I appreciate your correction, and sorry for my misunderstanding of your role. Still, though, thanks for sending me the review copy!

Andrei and K. Thor: I liked both of your contributions. The reason why I didn't write in more detail about them is because I consider you both somewhat "established" cartoonists, and I thought readers might already be familiar with your work. For the record: Andrei, I like your abstract comics and I eagerly await the anthology you're editing for Fantagraphics, and K. Thor, I liked the too-short excerpt from BOLUS and will buy (and likely enjoy) the book when it's available.

Kevin, point taken about the "sixth grade" class remark--I certainly don't want to dredge up that age-old argument about modern art. But "Captain Eel-Begone" struck me as a comic that didn't need to exist. I don't know why Harvey drew in such a primitive style and, more damning, I couldn't figure out what kind of message or aesthetic experience Harvey wanted to communicate to me. Hence my negative response. If my response is "reactionary," so be it.

And yeah, I typically do hate liner notes--though if an album is going to have them, I'd rather they were well-designed rather than poorly designed. I do always listen to the music first, though, and as Andrei notes, I should've read the stories before the introductions in BLURRED VISION. But why put the text before the stories, then?

CharlesWHatfield

Hey, I LIKE liner notes! What gives?

Of course, I often have the experience of getting "into" music long after the acts in question have died, retired, or scattered to the winds, and so a lot of what I buy includes ex post facto liner notes with a historical bent. And I like being informed that way.

(Most recent example: In My Own Time, by Karen Dalton.)

Kevin Mutch

Craig - I like your point about not being able to "figure out what kind of message or aesthetic experience Harvey wanted to communicate" better than what you said in the review itself, although I think there's plenty of clues to that in his (quite deliberately) "rambling" introduction.

Harvey operates in a long continuum of "anti-art" work that seeks, as he says about his own work, to find "deep psychological material that emerges when you constrain rational filtering in artworks". Whether he succeeds or fails in doing so is obviously open to debate, but what I object to in your review is the offhand dismissal of the work on "craft" grounds. In your response to my comment you still betray this prejudice: the fact that you don't know why he drew in a "primitive" style is "damning".

But why should his choice of a primitive style need explanation? Haven't thousands of artists been making similar choices for decades? Why is this still an issue?

I suspect it's because comics are so deeply rooted in illustration. In the art world, you'd be lucky to get two artists to agree on the definition of drawing, let alone what constitutes a good one. This is why people who write criticism for art magazines are so careful to establish context for a piece before they hazard any sort of value judgement. In the comics world, there seems to be much more of a consensus - this work is good because the artist can "draw well" according to set of agreed-upon conventions. Commercial illustration is like that too - plenty of consensus about what's good and bad. So is the field of "graphic design", which leads me back your complaints about our intros.

We started Blurred Vision in some ways as a response to what seemed to us to be the fetishization of "alt-comix" - too much attention to elaborate packaging and design, too much emphasis on luxuriousness and fine papers. We deliberately laid the books out so that the art itself would be the focus. We want the intro pages to hang back, call no attention to themselves, be "deadpan". To you that "plainness" is "poorly designed", but to me design should respect its function.

Blurred Vision is a venue for experimental "narrative art". The function of the introductory texts is to provide context for the work - much of which is difficult, dense, and (we're well aware) less than endearing. In the art world strategies like appropriation and recontexualization, photo/digital imaging manipulation, and conceptualist rejections (or deployments) of craft are taken for granted. What's surprised me in reading reviews like yours is how much resistance work like that engenders in the so-called "alt-comix" world - which leads me ask: alternative to what? Something even more conservative?


Best,
Kevin Mutch

Andrei

Oooh, look, Frank Santoro agrees with Kevin on this one:

http://comicscomicsmag.blogspot.com/2008/08/drawing-is-fun_10.html

I knew he'd come around!

(And thanks for the clarification, Craig!)

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