Experimentation and Pretension

I’ve not read Blurred Vision 4, though that anthology has been on my list (of comics to check out) since I first saw copies of the series at MoCCA last year. Caleb Mozzocco at Every Day is Like Wednesday reviewed the book last week and he hit a lot of my pet peeves.

He started off with the uncertain aspect of anthologies, which is something I totally agree with. Anthologies are rarely great or utter failures, they always seem to hover somewhere in the “ehhh, interesting, but…” area thanks to a mixing of the good and the bad (with a few rare exceptions). But then…

If the 22 stories in Blurred Vision 4 share anything in common, it’s that they tend toward the sharper bit of the cutting edge (which can be a good thing), and that they tend toward the pretentious (which can be a bad thing), as evidenced not only be the how far the proverbial envelope gets pushed in many of these stories, but by the contributor’s bios that precede each story—occasionally they take longer to read than the stories themselves.

This equating of pretension with experimentation (“cutting edge”, “envelope pushing”) is an often touted opinion that sets me off. The idea that experimenting with form is some kind of chicanery is, generally, attributing a kind of faker character to the artists that I don’t see to be the case (most of the time, admittedly there are always exceptions). Just because an artist is attempting something different or new does not automatically indicate that their interest is solely fake ego-inflating self-promotion.

I haven’t seen the bios so I won’t comment on that, though often those are not written by the artists themselves and thus not attributable to their particular attitudes.

Discussing individual stories/artists:

For example, Andrei Molotiu and Quintin Gonalez tell “stories” so abstract that they are essentially just juxtaposed panels, and one could perhaps get in an argument over whether they’re comics or not. Ditto the contribution of D. Dominick Lombardi, entitled “Heads,” which is a series of four shapes (presumably highly abstracted heads); it that’s sequential art, it is so only technically.

Both of these judgments rely on an unsaid value definition of comics/sequential art (I think used interchangeable here) as telling stories, that real comics (ones that aren’t just “technically” comics) tell stories, adds a content definition to the term that is ridiculous. I happen to be a fan of Molotiu’s work, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say it is comics, albeit abstract and non-narrative (or far from any conventional narrative). They may not be “stories” but they are “comics.”

He ends with an metaphor:

Personally, spending time with these stories felt a bit like be at a party where you don’t really know anyone, but everyone seems really cool and interesting, although they really get on your nerves and you’re sure they’re all making fun of you on some level and you think that maybe you could be friends with them if you met them under different circumstance but something’s just really off.

That “making fun of you” part is another classic anti-experimental pose used against art for decades (or more than a century now, I’d imagine) which harks back to similar statements like “my kid could do this”, that attributes to artists some kind of superior condescension and falsity which is more about the reader/viewer than the artist.

Now, Caleb doesn’t come off as bashing the anthology. It’s more certain attitudes shown that bother me. This kind of projection of inauthentic intentions on artists who experiment/try something different just bugs me.