Monday, July 09, 2007

The Finale of the CBR Interview!

The third part of the unbelievably extensive Comic Book Resources interview is now live. I can't believe Andy Khouri gave me a THREE-PART SERIES (!!!), but I certainly appreciate it. I enjoyed our conversation and I hope everyone enjoys reading all the stuff I talk about, especially when I become more of a dick at the end of the interview and start insulting people who don't like Morrison by saying they can't read.

Here's the relevant part, with labels added by me to identify who's talking:

CBR: As popular as Morrison is, there are a lot of comics readers who simply just don't “get it.” As your book details, Morrison's work tends to be deeply layered and in some cases difficult if you're not familiar with the literature or philosophy that he's weaving into his work.

Me: I always get really frustrated with people who say “I don't get it” or “it just doesn't make any sense.” I just think that people who say that are just bad readers. They just don't know how to read. To be a reader, it's not just figuring out the obvious stuff, it's seeing the underlining patterns, seeing beneath the surface, seeing the symbols and themes, even if you don't have the background to analyze all those things. There's no way as a teenager that I knew anything about metafiction or Dadaism or Jungian symbolism, but I understood “Animal Man” and “Arkham Asylum” and “Doom Patrol” at least on some level, and I appreciated them then. As I learned more and received my degree and studied literature, I began to appreciate those things on a deeper level.

It's funny because I was just listening to some comic book podcasts – I'd never listened to any and wanted to see what I might expect when I was going to be interviewed for this book-- and I listened to an interview on Comic Geek Speak with Matt Fraction. It was about how “Casanova” has all this subtext going on but it's also just a really cool spy story, but one of the Comic Geek Speak guys was just talking about how he couldn't read “Casanova;” that he just didn't understand it. He gave it four issues and it was just over his head. And there was this whole debate about whether or not comics have a deeper meaning; whether something like “Casanova” has a deeper meaning, and this guy who hosted the Comic Geek Speak show really believes that there is no deeper meaning. He just says “no.”

CBR: “No” to “Casanova” in particular?

Me: To any comic books. His defense was, “Well, whenever you guys play up the deeper meaning of anything, I just don't think that stuff's there. I think you're reading too much into it.” That's a criticism I hear a lot. “You're reading too much into it. Those meanings aren't there.” As a teacher, I face that with students studying literature as well. First of all, I don't understand that philosophy. But my counter argument is, it is there, because I've just shown you it being there. And then their retort is always, “That's not what the author intended.” I don't' care what the author intended, that's what the effect of the writing is. It doesn't matter if the author intended it if that's what's there.

CBR: It's there whether the author meant it to be or not.

Me: Exactly. In Grant's case, a lot of it is intended. And the same thing with Matt Fraction; a lot of his allusions and fancy comic book geek stuff he's doing in “Casanova” are intended, but it doesn't matter if it's intended or not. A good example is in my book, when I analyze “Doom Patrol” and I talk about how the three main characters are like “Wizard of Oz” characters. Dorothy Spinner comes into the Doom Patrol. Robotman is totally the Tin Man. You have Rebis, who is a hollow character who's totally the Scarecrow. Then you have Crazy Jane, who's afraid of contact with humanity, which is why she created her multiple personalities, and she's the Cowardly Lion. Grant gives you those character archetypes pretty clearly and when I brought that up to Grant he said, “I never thought about that, but it's totally there.” So he agrees that the meaning is there, but he didn't intend it, yet it doesn't make the meaning any less significant.

So, I just don't understand this thing of things being too complicated or not having any deeper meaning. You just have to be willing to do a little bit of work as a reader. It should have meaning. Going back to T.S. Elliot and the whole “Waste Land” thing, T.S. Eliot's belief in poetry was that life is challenging and unpredictable and chaotic and ambiguous, and if poetry is some kind of reflection of life, poetry should be challenging and chaotic and ambiguous, too. I don't think we should necessarily expect anything less from comic books. If we read a comic book and it means something to us, I think it does have meaning, whether or not it's the exactly the meaning that somebody else gets out of it. That's my take on this whole thing.

READ THE ENTIRE THIRD PART OF THE INTERVIEW HERE: Me making fun of people who can't understand comic books and offending everyone who disagrees with me.

I go on to insult John Byrne (a little) and Paul Kupperberg (a lot, but with some sugarcoating). Maybe I should post a link to my piece on the Byrne message board and watch the fur fly.


andy khouri said...

//Maybe I should post a link to my piece on the Byrne message board and watch the fur fly.//

I wish you would. As you may know, I'm a chronicler of the Madness of Byrne, over on The V. Maybe I'll write a not-so-scholarly book about him one day.

Thanks, Tim. These pieces have done very well, and it's been a pleasure for me work on this. Let us know when you've got the next Morrison book coming out and we can do another 3 parter!

Matthew E said...

To be a reader, it's not just figuring out the obvious stuff, it's seeing the underlining patterns, seeing beneath the surface, seeing the symbols and themes, even if you don't have the background to analyze all those things.


It's true.

I know I'm guilty of this. There have been a couple of things like that I've posted on Legion Abstract - cases where some comic book writer pulls off a nice piece of symbolism, or some hidden theme, and I don't pick up on it until weeks or even decades later.

Or something I just noticed tonight! My son was watching The Incredibles, and I recalled that the name of the island is 'Nomanisan Island'. Which I knew was a pun all along. But not until tonight did I clue into the fact that it's a very important pun: it's one of the major themes of the movie.

I have to get better at that stuff, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Jumaan said...

Invisibles is such a great example of "reading too much into something" because since people have pointed out that viewing the film through an Objectivist lens illuminates an underlying philosophy to the film. Thanks, assholes, now I can't watch a great movie without thinking about Ayn friggin' Rand.

Julian Darius said...

Forget Rand. Though it's hard to read Martha Washington without this in mind, as it was apparently running through Miller's brain around this time (and reportedly influenced DK Returns). But you don't have to know that to get the whole radical individual against an unjust world thing.

I thought the comment on Comic Geek Speak someone left about "The Fountain" was illuminating. That was a case of a movie wherein, yes, I could see the whole World Tree thing, the utopia thing, the Fountain of Youth, the Tree of Life, etc. But my girlfriend at the time didn't get any of that, and we both set crying together at the end long after the credits were over. So I'd argue that the best works -- usually, but not always -- can be appreciated, at least on an emotional level, even if some of the themes and symbolism go over your head.

I mean, if you know The Odyssey enough to follow the space people in 52, it's there. If you don't, it doesn't make that much of a difference -- except perhaps to justify some otherwise slightly weird story choices.