Chris Butcher on Best of 2005 Lists

Christopher Butcher responds (link no longer available) to Time.comix’s Best of 2005 list, a list that I found completely predictable. If you had a computer analyze what are considered art comics and then scan press and message boards for which titles were being positioned as important books of the year, this is what it would come up with. Chris says

Adam Arnold’s list at Time is usually criticised for being too “arty” or maybe even irrelevant to the majority of direct market comics retailers, but considering the financial success and legitimate acclaim greeting many of these titles in 2005, I’d wonder if the retailers not stocking these books are the ones that need to worry about relevance.

But I think he’s wrong. For most direct market retailers, this list is completely irrelevant, because that’s not the audience they aim at or even want. This is a bookstore list, a list that plays best in “cultural capitals” like New York or Butcher’s Toronto or San Francisco. The books listed fail the criteria that I’m finding more and more relevant: are these titles entertaining?

Chris also points out that Arnold overlooked manga altogether, saying this was “a year where a clear manga candidate wasn’t available”. I wonder how much the received wisdom rates with Arnold. Is he considering what people won’t argue with when he makes his list? It’s a seductive temptation to critics, to want to put out bulletproof pieces to avoid catching flak.

Anyway, in the bigger picture Chris wraps up with a resolution:

There’s so much fracturing in comics right now, with the only things that we can all agree on being sort of horrible. I’m going to try very hard this year to open a dialogue about comics that engages the medium as a whole, rather than being ‘about manga’ or ‘about superheroes’.

That’s an excellent wish, and I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes it.


7 Responses to “Chris Butcher on Best of 2005 Lists”

  1. Michael Denton Says:

    There are several scales to evaluate comics on – just as with any media. You hit upon an important one (and one that, yes, oddly, seems to be often pushed to the side), which is “does this work entertain?”

    But I do find it important to ask “how does this work contribute…” to society, the medium in general, to some vein of discourse, to the elevation of the human condition (which I’m using as a pretentious way of trying to say “is it art”), etc..

    Something can be entertaining and be vapid – and that’s okay, but some of us (you included, I believe) look morso for works that are meaningful, say something meaningful, or at least say something in a different or clever way (and thus contributing to either the medium or that work’s specific genre).

    That said, yes, Time Comix’s list is awfully predictable, but I just finished reading Black Hole and it IS wonderful. It’s probably the best thing I’ve read in a while – so good I literally couldn’t put it down and now that I’m finished, it bears a second reading. Very rare in comics.

    I also enjoyed Mome, although some of its entries were misses for me, the vast majority of it was excellent work.

    I would add some more standard super-hero fare, notably almost any of Grant Morrision’s work this year.

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s a better, more in-depth analysis than my off-the-cuff comments deserve. :)

    The “will I read this again?” is a great test to use, especially with so much material out there, always with the lure of the new.

  3. Barry Says:

    I think another question that deserves some discussion is, does all art need to entertain to be relevant? I’m sure there are many who would say, without question, that the answer is ‘no’.

  4. Barney Says:

    Am I the only one who liked Walt & Skeezix? I feel sad now.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Barney, I liked the idea of it better than the execution. I think later volumes would likely be closer to what I was looking for.

    Barry, art doesn’t have to be entertaining to be relevant or important or many other things. But by this point, I’ve read plenty of art that left me cold, so that’s not what I’m looking for.

    And I sometimes wonder if it isn’t harder to entertain than to be “artistic”.

  6. Barry Says:

    Considering how many movies, books, comics and tv shows entertain but are nowhere near ‘artistic’, I would say, not too difficult. To do both, however, takes quite a bit more skill.

  7. Michael Denton Says:

    Uh – oh, here we go with defining things as art or artful – always a potential pitfall.:)

    Seriously, though, to me, entertainment and artistic merit are independent. I can appreciate the artistry of a work, but not find it entertaining and be entertained by things most people wouldn’t consider art.

    I don’t know if one is easier than the other – my gut says that entertainment _seems_ to be easier (judging by the masses of people who claim to be entertained by television shows that I would consider boring or even dreck) but then there’s a lot of stuff that’s called art and shown in modern art museums that I question the artistry of – sometimes modern art tends to be a question of what bizarre thing can I convince people of as being high-brow.

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