Chris Mautner’s New Year’s roundtable as usual brings together commentary from a panoply of comics critics, including yours truly. This time, the subject is the year in comics criticism.
Here’s my contribution:
Comics criticism seems to me to have received an almost unprecedented attention over the last few years. To me, it seems evident that this is because the medium is in a state evolutionary flux, resulting in a battle of redefinition amongst artists and pundits. To me, the two major critical works of 2007 are emblematic, but also sovereign manifestations of this development. One is Jean-Christophe Menu and L’Assocation’s third Ã‰prouvette volume, the other is Bart Beaty’s authoritative overview of the new European comics of the 1990s, Unpopular Culture â€” Transforming the European Comics Book in the 1990s.
Ã‰prouvette 3 is the last and largest installment in an effort to revitalize comics criticism; to bring it up to speed with the remarkable artistic developments the medium has experienced over the last 10-15 years, and to suggest new directions for the discourse on comics. Central to its efforts is the positioning of the new comics as a kind of latter-day modernist avant-garde â€” an experiment I think ultimately fails, but along the way expands the field of comics criticism considerably. It identifies comics within the greater cultural context in ways that are immensely stimulating.
All the while, Beaty’s book provides an erudite analysis of the changes in comics that form the basis of the critical stances adopted by the critics of Ã‰prouvette. While focusing on European â€” primarily Francophone â€” comics, much of what is said in the book can be applied to developments in other Western countries, not the least North America. While I may not agree with some of Beaty’s central assumptions, I still regard the book as an important work of comics criticism that will surely remain a standard work. Essential reading.