Monday, September 13, 2004

New Adventures in Hi-Fi

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Serious Party Dude

Well, I’ll be damned. Seems that being a comics blogger means that every now and again I get some really cool advance information.

It seems that CGC (Comics Guarantee Corporation), the company famous for bringing legitimate third party grading to comics collectibles, is branching out. In a few months, expect to see an announcement that the massively successful company is going to be leading the way into a new era of comics criticism. Thankfully, someone has forwarded me the employee manual dedicated to this new endeavor, which I am more than happy to share with you!

The CGC Guide to Comprehensive Aesthetic Judgement


Welcome to this exciting new phase in the development of the American comic book. CGC is proud to be taking this bold step into the realm of criticism. It is our deepest hope that the trusted professionals here at CGC will be able to bring order to the proverbial chaos by delivering a standard, consistent and unbiased critical standard by which to judge comic books.

As with our condition grading, CGC will grade comic book aesthetics on a scale of 1-10, with fractional increments ranging from 0.5 (the absolute worst) to 10.0 (the theoretical best). Many have traditionally regarded aesthetic criticism as a deeply subjective field, but we here at CGC have spent many long hours devising a foolproof numerical formula to aid in the process of aesthetic judgements. Naturally, these mathematical formulae are the property of CGC, LLC, and should be regarded as among our most jealously guarded corporate resources.

So You Want To Be A Critic

Not just anyone can be a comic-book critic. In order to be a fair and impartial judge of a comic’s aesthetic qualities, the critic has to put aside his or her personal prejudices.

For instance: If you are a Superman fan, and believe that Superman could beat Batman in a fair fight, would you be able to honestly judge a comic which featured Batman beating Superman? Think long and hard on this question.

In order to account for interpretive differences among competitive schools of literary theory, CGC has established a list of critical approaches. Read through the list and find the group of thought you most identify with, and then follow the accompanying rules in order to handicap your scoring.

1. Formalism

This specialty focuses on the techniques used in art, to the exclusion of any historical, biographical or societal factors which may be considered in other fields of criticism. A Formalist of the Russian school will appreciate the text as a discrete and independent body of work to be analyzed on its own terms. This focus on the inherent artiface of art brings the critic into a close consideration of the work’s style as it relates to the text’s meaning.

A Formalist will seek to regard comics independent of their origins. There must be no consideration of the economic, societal, biographic or other factors involved in the production of a comic book. For instance, if you have prior knowledge based on having read an interview in Wizard that John Byrne was actually asleep for the entire duration of his work on West Coast Avengers, you must be able to parcel this information off to a separate and sleepy part of your mind. A Formalist must be able to judge Byrne’s work on West Coast Avengers purely on the basis of the technique involved as it relates to narrative construction.

2. Structuralism

Based originally on the work of Saussure, Structuralism can be confused with Formalism, but usually only by stupid people. Structuralism can be seen as a natural outgrowth of linguistic and philological studies, where language is considered as a functioning system separate from content.

Seeing as how comics consist of a vocabulary of words and pictures, and Structuralist interpretation of a comic must take into account the specific properties of visual narrative. The accepted method for examining the Structural quality of a narrative is to take your comic book and cut all the panels out separately. Then, using a bulletin board, try to pin the panels back together in a way that creates a brand new narrative on the subject of French colonialism.

3. Marxism

Marxism isn’t just for Communists anymore! Marxist literary theory occurs when a text is judged on its relation to the social theories of Karl Marx. If you often complain of The Man keeping you down, you might be a Marxist.

If you read The Avengers as a veiled metaphor for American economic capitalism, you are probably a Marxist. If you see Fascism everywhere, and especially in your escapist superhero fantasies, are seeing the world through the blinkered eyes of a committed Marxist.

4. Feminism

Feminist literary theory revolves around one central tenet: Boys are icky. Some commentators have drawn parallels between Feminist theory and Marxism, based upon both systems’ reliance on social progressivism as a litmus test for critical worth. But Marx had a penis.

5. Hegelian

Hegelian theory, which contains many striking similarities to Marxism (as Marx was a follower of Hegel), focuses on the study of history as a progression of appositive forces in constant point and counterpoint. The constant conflict of ideas throughout history creates a dialectic which can be read as a definite qualitative progression.

A Hegelian theorist might regard the history of comics within the framework of Fichte’s previously established classification of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For instance: if you establish the 1996 Avengers crossover “The Crossing” as your thesis, and introduce “Heroes Reborn” as your antithesis, and regard the Busiek/Perez “Heroes Return” run as the synthesis, then you are a Hegelian.

Note: Most who claim to have read Hegel are lying. Comics graded by supposed Hegelians will be regarded with the suspicion traditionally reserved for professionally restored comics, with a “conditional” grade.

6. Traditionalist

If you think that 1-4 are full of shit and 5 is too reactionary, please report to your Office Manager for your dunce cap and a copy of Harold Bloom’s Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. Please masturbate to pictures of Dead White Men on your own time, We’re Not Racists, You Are.

A traditionalist thinks that Hal Jordan is a far superior Green Lantern to Kyle Rayner, and regards the Jim Shooter-era Valiant Comics as a literary achievement of greater value than Krazy Kat.

7. Objectivism
Objectivists believe, in a rejection of traditional post-Enlightenment values, that reality is based on consistent and unchanging values, which remain the same regardless of individual perception or opinion.

Objectivist criticism follows different rules than conventional literary technique. A=A: assign every letter of the alphabet the value of its number in the traditional alphabet (i.e., A=1, B=2, C=3 and so on). Count every letter in the captions and word balloons of your comic book according to this point scale. Divide this score by 100 and you have established your comic’s objective quality.

Have you identified your field? Good! Its time to grade your comic the CGC way!

1. Does your comic have pirates? (If yes, add 1 point; if no, subtract 1 point)

2. Does your comic feature a cameo from a real-life political figure? (If yes, add 1 point; if no, subtract 0 points)

3. Does your comic feature a member of the Super Friends, or a variant thereof (i.e. Supergirl or Aqualad)? (If yes, add 2 two points; if no,. subtract two points)

4. Does your comic feature a dated cultural reference? (Subtract 1/8 point for every dated cultural reference. Add 1/8 point for every ironic cultural reference [eg: “This guy makes John McCain look like Spiro Agnew])

5. Does your comic feature a post-Marxist critique of Cold War politics? (If yes, add 5 points; if no, subtract 5)

6. Does your comic make you sexually excited? (If yes, add 2 points; if no, subtract 1 point)

7. Does your comic make you sexually confused? (If yes, subtract 2 points; if no, subtract 2 points)

8. Does your comic feature an ad for Amazing Sea Monkeys? (If yes, add 2 points; if not, subtract 1 point)

9. Does your comic feature a monkey? (If yes, add 3 points; if no, subtract 2 points)

10. Does your comic feature a monkey holding up a librarian with a gun for a copy of Moby Dick? (If yes, add 10 points; if no, subtract 5 points)

If you identified yourself as a Formalist, please answer questions 11-15. If not, advance to the next section.

11. Does your comic feature any post-modernist meta-fictional devices? (Add 1 point per device; if no, subtract 4 points)

12. Does your comic feature the Author as a participant in the narrative? (Add 2 points if yes; subtract 2 points if no)

13. Does your comic feature a hologram cover? (Add 1 point if yes; subtract 1/2 points if no)

14. Does your comic contain an easily misconstrued plot point which can be interpreted ambiguously? (Add 3 points if yes; subtract 2 if no)

15. Is your comic actually enjoyable? (If yes, subtract 5 points; if no, add 3 points)

If you identified yourself as a Structuralist, please answer questions 16-17. If not, please advance to the next section.

16. Are you a semiotics professor? (If yes, add 5 points; if not, subtract 5 points)

17. Make a graph analyzing every panel transition used in your comic, according McCloud’s definitions as established in Understanding Comics. Feel free to make up sub-categories. Present at your next academic conference. (Add 5 points if your comic was published by Image between the years 1993-1995; subtract 3 points if your favorite cartoonist is Bil Keane)

If you identified yourself as a Marxist, please answer questions 18-20. If not, please advance to the next section.

18. Does your comic feature the boot of the economic imperialist crushing the faces of the noble proletariat? (If yes, add 5 points; if not, subtract 5 points)

19. Does your comic feature reactionary elements of the parasitic bourgeoisie getting their comeuppance? (If yes, add 3 points; if no, subtract 2 points)

20. How much is your comic worth? If your comic is actually worth any money, you might want to consider getting it slabbed and becoming a Hegelist.

If you identified yourself as a Feminist, please answer questions 21-24. If not, please advance to the next section.

21.Does your comic feature a man? (If yes, subtract 5
points; if no, add 5 points)

22. Does your comic feature women in bikinis? (If yes, subtract 7 points; if no, add 2 points)

23. Does your comic feature violence against women? (If yes, subtract 5 points; if no, add 2 points)

24. Does your comic feature people sitting around drinking coffee? (If yes, add 2 points; if no, subtract 1 point)

If you identified yourself as a Hegelian, please answer questions 25-27. If not, please advance to the next section.

25. Does your comic feature the modern incarnation of a Golden Age character? (If yes, please add 5 points; if no, please subtract 3)

26. Does your comic contain footnotes or endpapers? (If yes, please add 3 points; if no, please subtract 5 points)

27. Does your comic make you feel like a special butterfly? (If yes, please add 6 points; if no, please subtract 3 points)

If you identified yourself as a Traditionalist, please answer questions 28-30. If not, please advance to the next section.

28. Does your comic contain a checklist, of any kind? (If yes, please add 3 points; if not, subtract 1)

29. Does your comic help you to understand why you are, in fact, a racist? (If yes, add 3 points; if no, subtract 2 points)

30. Are you still fantasizing about that Jane Paulie lady you saw on Letterman? She was so totally speaking to you through the cathode tube, wasn't she? Just at you? (If yes, add 2 points; if no, subtract 3)

You’re almost done! Tally up your numbers, and then process them according to this formula (Calculus may be required if you receive a positive infinitude):

Your comic’s score

Divided by

The number of members of the Legion of Superheroes inside the book

Is multiplied by

The number of X-Men inside the book

This total is finally subtracted from your age when you first read The Dark Knight Returns.

And Voila! You have graded your comic aesthetically!

Please test your own results against these examples. If your results vary, please see your Office Manager for clarification.

Batman #617 – 9.8

Muggy-Doo, Boy Cat #2 – 7.6

Underwater #6 – 4.6

Force Works #5 – 10.0

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