Totally Obvious

While travelling one weekend, I got the chance to read Totally Obvious: The Complete Master of the Obvious Collection in its handy, laptop-friendly PDF format. It’s all of Steven Grant’s essays published online under that title from 1999-2001, almost 300 pages of good writing and great insight.

Most of what I’ve learned about comics — the medium, the industry, the artform, the business — has come in bits and pieces over more than a decade now. There are very few commentators who I find worth reading consistently over months and years. Brian Hibbs with his Tilting at Windmills is one of them; Steven Grant (now writing Permanent Damage) is the other.

In this online book, you will learn the secret superhero story formula, follow how the development of the superhero genre has handcuffed itself, trace the format movement from issues to collections, and understand the importance of attitude. And that’s all in the first ten pages. (Yes, I read the rest of it, but this isn’t a book report, and there’s way too much wisdom to effectively summarize.)

When I saw the dates, I was concerned that the material was going to be outdated. Although the specific titles discussed aren’t the most current (although many are still being published, although not in the same form), the lessons drawn from them are still fresh and enlightening. Even when material’s been overtaken by events — the discussion of why comics aren’t getting new readers was pre-manga and pre-bookstore boom — it’s still a valuable moment of historical perspective. You won’t know where we’re going until you understand where we’ve been. And you can see how right or wrong his predictions were.

I leave you with this paragraph from the book’s introduction (also by Grant):

“Why did I do it? For the challenge. Because there were all kinds of cherished surreal myths about what I do for a living and the medium I work in that I wanted to poke big nasty pins in. Because I thought I had something to say that should be said, and no one else was saying it. Because I was asked to. Because I could. Someone or other once said ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’ and there’s an element of that as well…. So chalk it up to an extended, occasionally irritating learning experience.”

(That quoted quote is my new favorite motto.)

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