Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Decade in Comics:

So, after all the recrimination and self-flagellation, what is left?

My Decade is Comics, in hindsight, is a pretty weird place and time. Because, really, my decade in general was a weird place and time. Those who suffered through my Best Music of the Decade articles should have detected a pretty strong running theme throughout my picks for the decade: the music that stands out in my memory is in some manner cathartic, measuring an arc from disaster to redemption. Whether we're talking about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or The Woods or Kid A or Show Your Bones, these are all albums that begin in a place of despair and over the course of the following hour dig themselves out, towards the light, towards something resembling hope, or acquiescence, or maturity. Sometimes you have to be torn apart and burnt to the ground before you can rebuild.

The Hurting recently celebrated its sixth anniversary, the third week of January. Sometimes when I'm in one of my more introspective moods I ask myself what the point of this blog is - not necessarily in the fatalistic way, just in a definitional way: I've been doing this for six years - longer than my marriage, for chrissakes - and I still don't really know what it is, exactly, that I'm doing. It doesn't really look like it's been around for over half a decade - I still use the same damn orange Blogspot default template that I started with, and have no intention on shaking that up so I can look "professional" anytime soon. I don't post daily, I don't have any kind of jocular blogging persona, I've never been asked to pitch a Spider-Man story, and I'm far too scattered to ever actually get a webcomic off the ground of my own initiative. And yet this blog endures: every now and again I wonder if maybe the whole thing has run its course, but that idea never lasts too long. It is what it is, I'm not trying to make a career out of this, I'm not trying to do anything, really, except maybe try to use this platform as a means of making sense of things that don't make sense, or articulating stray thoughts, or interrogating my own worst impulses through dialogue . . . with my audience, whoever sticks around, or even just myself. I'm stick with it, just like I'm stuck with myself.

I'm spiteful, peevish, pessimistic, gleefully contrarian, phlegmatic and wrathful in equal measure. I resent the time spent researching even the most basic factual statements and, as Milo is always gleeful to point out, still am never quite sure about "its" and "it's." And yet, with all that, it's necessary, for me, to continue to do this in whatever capacity I feel like, just because I can, just because I need to.

So when I start out by trying to sum up the Decade in Comics - well, it should come as a surprise to no one that this is my decade in comics. I start out by venting my most unpleasant, antisocial tendencies, then I pull back and vivisect those same negative impulses, and in the process of doing so we end up . . . here, wherever "here" is. We grow up.

Is it wrong to expect my relationship to comics to be the same as it was when I was eight or eighteen or twenty-eight? Undoubtedly so. Is it right to conclude that my own personal misgivings about comics are due almost entirely to my own personal misgivings, period? Yes! But that's what this whole thing is about, really.

(Incidentally: coolest tattoo ever? I think yes.)

I was never judging comics, I was judging myself.

This was a good decade for comics, but a rough decade for me. it started well, it really did, bit it seemed to go off the rails very quickly. I made some bad decisions - I pushed away my family, pushed away my friends - partly out of remorse and partly out of shame - turned away from the "correct" path I was set down in my early twenties and instead went down a really weird and occasionally disastrous road. I got a divorce, I worked the night shift at a childrens' mental hospital, I suffered just about every kind of demeaning misfortune you can imagine without actually losing a limb. And then, somehow, someway, I climbed out of that really weird place - a place of alienation, depression and uncertainty - and painstakingly remade my life in a new mold. Six years ago I was living in a shack in the wilderness during the coldest Massachusetts winter in a decade, huddling around a space heater because that was the only heat I had. Now I'm waiting to hear back after sending out applications for admissions to some of the most prestigious PhD programs in the country. (And a bunch of not-so-prestigeous places too, don't worry!) Six years ago when I began the blog this was a lifeline, and now it's something else - it's about comics, yes, but it's about everything else. It's about mistakes and misapprehensions and about being wrong as often as you're being right, but it's always been about the idea that if you work hard you can think your way out of any corner.

If comics don't fill the same place in my life that they did twenty or thirty years ago, well, whose fault is that? Mine. For not having the imagination or the patience to see past my own conception of comics, my own negative connotations and constrained worldview, my own long-established acceptance of comics as a passive component of my own identity, and not an active field with its own sprawling, diverse and constantly-changing identity.

So it's time for a new beginning. A new decade, a new covenant with comics. If comics are so important to me, then shouldn't I be able to adapt, to fit myself to their new reality instead of wasting my energies in frustration that they are no longer what they were twenty or ten or even five years ago? I think a great deal of my problems stem from the fact that my own reading has been circumscribed by my own circumstances: I've been busy and I've been tired and I've been depressed in equal measures. I've been working hard, especially the last couple years - which is hardly a unique condition for anyone, but when your ability to read comics is primarily limited to your desire for escapist entertainment during long workdays, your perception of comics is warped accordingly. When you just don't have the wherewithal to read so much as a fraction of the "good" new comics released in any given week, you might get fatalistic, and you might become overly judgmental on the good comics you do read. Don't get me wrong: I'm not about to back away from my statement that many of the better-reviewed comics of this preceding decade are overrated, and that the medium's popular success has warped the critical faculties among a large percentage of longtime comics readers who are happy to see comics "accepted" by the larger world. Go Team Comics! and all that bullshit. But even if there's some truth there, it's a small truth, kind of a miserly observation based as much on sour grapes as anything else. Yeah, I've felt for a while as if comics had passed me by, but - to reiterate - that's my problem. I've missed out on a lot, but instead of throwing up my arms in frustration at my inability to master everything, and a sincere dyspepsia brought about by the profusion of popular works that can't all stand head and shoulders with Maus in the Klassic Komics Kanon, well, maybe it's time to dig in and define the next decade of the medium for myself.

And that's what this blog is about, and what it's going to continue to be about for so long as I feel like doing it. It'll be about everything else it's ever been about - the unfunny jokes, the long digressions into music and politics, the weird intimacy issues that make a 17yo Twi-hard's LJ look positively Proustian in comparison - but hopefully it'll be better, because that's all I've always wanted, was to be better, as a blogger, as a thinker and as a human being.

With that in mind - what all this was leading towards - our next feature will be a countdown of the Ten BEST Comics of the last decade - nothing but the cream of the crop, a solid foundation in the past on which to build a newer, brighter future.

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