Friday, August 06, 2004

Tales of Terror, Rutland Edition

I had an interesting conversation with my wife on the way home from the comic book shop today.

It had been a while since I had had any scratch for comics so I was actually catching up on a few things that have been out for a while - stuff like Eightball #23, TCJ #261, and the enormous Savage Dragon #115. I forgot that Seaguy #3 was out or I would have grabbed that as well.

Man, is it me or has Gilbert Hernandez been eating his wheaties? I also bought Love & Rockets #11 and Luba #8 today. Seems like L&R #10 was only a couple months ago, and the last Luba's Comics & Stories was just about a month ago. And the ad on the inside cover says that the next issue of Luba C&S is coming out in September - which is next freakin' month! Like, I'm used to Fantagraphics artists just sort of not doing anything, and now he's putting out about as much as Erik Larsen currently is (of course, Larsen also got hampered by suddenly becoming a publisher, but still, he's supposed to be the fastest pencil this side of Sergio Aragones). Gilbert's also got another freakin' graphic novel (or limited series? don't remember) coming out from Vertigo. I don't know what he's smoking but God-damn I wish he'd ship some over to Chris Ware and Dan Clowes and Joe Matt (especially Joe Matt, come to think of it).

Anyway, back to the conversation.

I was flipping through the new issue of the Journal in the car and showed the cover - the Phoebe Gloeckner photo cover - to my wife. She looked at it and had a - shall we say - extremely negative reaction. I shall attempt to boil down the main thrusts of her argument:

Why is it that no male cartoonists have photo covers? Why is it that regardless of whether or not a female cartoonist's work is acclaimed or respected, there's still a premium on her being attractive that wouldn't be there for a male cartoonist?

I explained to her that Gloeckner, as with every cover-featured Journal interviewee, designed and crafted her own cover. In other words, she chose to have the photo cover, she took the photo herself, and she even chose the silly captions on said photo cover. I also explained that, even though I'm not as well-versed in Gloeckner's work as I could be, I knew that her comics specialized in multi-media experimentation and cross-contextual narrative - in addition to a hearty dose of veiled autobiography. So, in other words, a photo cover was definitely appropriate (or at least more appropriate than it would have been for, say, Kurt Busiek or Peter Kuper).

But still - she maintained - why did she do it? I don't think being a "feminist" means that you have to deny your femininity, but there are so many mixed messages sent by our culture on so many different levels. The question remains: if she were a handsome man, would she have had any desire to expose her face on a photo cover? The Journal always prints a nice photo with their interviews, its not as if people wouldn't get to see her. Furthermore, it seems an odd choice whenever a comics magazine does a photo cover.

I explained the Journal's torrid history with photo covers - the horrible Marv Wolfman cover and the just not very good (albeit not horrible, just not spectacular) Victor Moscoso photo cover. These were the only two I could remember off the top of my head, but there are probably a few I'm forgetting.

I hate sounding like Dave Sim on this point - (Dave Sim is something of a generic bugbear in our household - "be good or Dave will come and tell you about how YHWH controls the feminist/homsexualist axis from the center of the Earth!") - but I don't see how you can be a "feminist" - wanting to be treated totally equal to a man in terms of the way you're worth is preceived by the world - if such a big part of your artistic presentation revolves around your picture on the cover of a magazine. If you're a guy, no-one cares what you look like. But if you're a woman, it is naturally accepted that the way you look will be an integral part of your "persona". Furthemore, that comic strip on the back cover seemed silly - like she was trying to "excuse" her vanity by being self-consciously weird and "artistic".

When she saw that I was writing up this conversation for my blog, she wanted to assure my gentle readers that she's not a man-hating diesel dyke or anything like that.

I also think - she adds - that it sucks that feminism has to focus so much on appearances, either in the positive or the negative. Why does is matter what she looks like, either way? Why should I care? Does the fact that I'm even wrestling with this problem mean that Dave Sim has won?

I think her point has some validity, although because of the fact that I am not a Gloeckner expert - I haven't even read the interview yet - I don't have enough context to judge the cover in the framework of her career as a whole.

But there's one thing of which I am sure:


Adendum: I was just flipping through the Journal on the john: um, how come no one ever mentioned the fact that Sleeper is a Gen-13 spinoff? I mean, come on, people. The most critically acclaimed mainstream comic of the last year is a Gen-13 spinoff? Oh, I'm laughing. I'm soooo glad I never picked it up.

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