The Week in Review (a.k.a. the feature formerly known as Picks of the Week).

Over at Hooded Utilitarian this week, there’s been an interesting discussion of Orientalism in comics, prompted by the publication of Craig Thompson’s mammoth graphic novel Habibi. It’s an interesting issue and one that warrants attention like Nadim Damluji gave it here, but several HU writers’ sensitivity to offensive material — mostly racist or xenophobic in nature, but to an extent also sexism — is turning a bit predictable. There’s a tendency there to conflate ethics and aesthetics, which is threatening to make a contentious and thought-provoking site something it never was: boring.

One of the sad consequences of this is that the good tends to get more attention than the better. Ng Suat Tong wrote an intelligent, but rather strongly-worded piece on Habibi, which irked cartoonist Eddie Campbell so that he raised the issue of decency in criticism on his blog. I understand and sympathize with this reaction, but don’t really agree with it — sometimes harsh language is the right way to go for a critic, although I’m not sure it was in this case. Anyway, this is my very long-winded way of calling attention to Suat’s other, and far superior recent piece at HU, an essay on Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions — one of the most interesting comics releases this year. So far it has netted all of four comments, and presumably far fewer readers, than the one on Habibi. I wish people would pay more attention to this kind of writing, even if it doesn’t push the hot buttons in the same way.

All right, with that out of the way, here’s some other interesting stuff I came across this week:

  • Alex Pappademas on DC’s New 52. The best piece I seen so far on DC’s succesful new bottling of their old, stale wine. Hilarious and informative, even — I think — to readers unfamiliar with the minutiae of mainstream American comics publishing.
  • Jeffrey Kurtzman on the crisis of the humanities. A professor of musicology and recent visiting professor at Aarhus University, Kurtzman writes passionately and cogently the rise of theory and the devaluation of high culture in contemporary Western society. Highly recommended. (Via).

    1. Ach, would that whatever I have to offer didn’t only exacerbate the problem.

      But regardless, I *do hope to write more at HU in the near future. Soon come.

    2. In terms of the problem of what gets paid attention to and what doesn’t…it’s something I try not to worry about, because you can’t do anything about it, really. It’s the same problem on a smaller scale as with any aesthetic endeavor; the best things aren’t always the most popular, and vice versa. The thing I was proudest of that I wrote recently was my piece on black humor, and if anybody read it, they sure kept quiet about it. On the other hand, my offhand piece about how DC sucks got lots of hits and comments and general chatter. I’d rather it were the other way about, but what can you do?

      I do try to keep more ambitious pieces alive in the featured section of the website so folks can stumble upon them for longer periods. I don’t know how effective that is, but at least it’s something. (Suat’s Anders Nilsen piece is still visible on the home page at the moment, for example, though it’s three weeks old at this point.)

    3. I understand that and I’m not really blaming anybody specifically, just lamenting the general state of affairs. I guess the one thing one might try to avoid is too much sensationalism, but although HU has occasionally been guilty of that, it’s also the contentiousness and refusal to accept received wisdom that has made it such a lively and interesting place in the comicsverse, so… I don’t know.

      The one issue I am starting to have, as mentioned, is that ideological criticism seems to have taken center stage to an extent where other approaches suffer somewhat. Not so much because there isn’t room for them — HU is very accommodating! — but rather because it is making things a little predictable.

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