Remember yesterday, when I said I liked the third part of the CBR interview because I came across like a dick and started offending people by saying if they didn't understand the deeper meaning of comics then they couldn't read?
Well, the guys on the Comic Geek Speak message board agree with me! They think I'm a dick, too!
I registered over there as soon as I saw the response, but I need their approval before I can post, and I want to jump into the fray now, man! This is my honor I'm defending. Plus, I wanna stir things up! I'm a dick! Let's keep that debate going!
So, since I can't post over there, I'll excerpt some of the relevant comments and reply right here, right now. Take that, you 24-hour waiting period, or whatever it is they have that won't let me post yet.
Steve Bryant writes: "I don't care what the author intended." So this guy [meaning me, Timothy Callahan] is the arbiter of what all stories are about, regardless of the intent of the creator. Like I said, I'm just an artist. I draw comics. This guy gives credence to the phrase "Those who cannot do, teach."
My Response: Ouch, Steve. Wait, because I don't care about authorial intent, I must not be able to draw? I'm not sure I see the connection, plus, you must not have seen my freakin' awesome picture of NINJAWOLF FIGHTING ALIENS! Damn, look at that masterpiece. Still think I can't do, Steve? And even if that drawing kind of sucks, so what? Authorial intent has been invalidated since the days of the New Critics 80 years ago. And what the author intends clearly does not matter to reader interpretation at all. Example: What did Shakespeare intend Hamlet to mean? We have no way of knowing, so does that mean that we can't interpret Hamlet or that Hamlet has no meaning? Of course not. We base our interpretation on the EFFECT of the text, not on the INTENT. That's how it works, man.
Choanata writes: I just read that interview there, and from the subtext, I'm able to determine he's a dick. That may not be what he was going for, but all the signs point to it, regardless of his intent. It's funny how someone I've never even heard of can do one interview and make me think his opinion is utter crap.
My Response: Now that's what I'm talking about! See. I didn't intend to be a dick. I knew I sounded like one afterwards, but I didn't start that part of the interview by thinking, now's when I get all dicky! So, his interpretation is based on the effect of the words, rather than the intent. Exactly. (And p.s., is my opinion crap BECAUSE I'm a dick, one wonders? Or for some other reason? Because I think it's possible to be both a dick and have a useful opinion, isn't it? What say the readers?)
Citizen Dave writes: I don't think that's what he means. It's perfectly valid to search for ideas and meanings that the author may never have intended. Literature classes have been based on this for centuries. It's up to the reader to find the meaning in what he/she reads. I understand his frustration. It's one thing to state that you cannot see the secondary, underlying meanings, it's another thing to simply refuse they exist and accuse others of "reading too much into it". And, teachers are an invaluable resource who are underappreciated and underpaid.
My Response: I love you, Citizen Dave. You make the rest of us citizens very proud.
My Pal and Yours, Steve Bryant comes back with: I agree with your statement, Dave. However, his dismissal of the author's intent based on what he reads into subjective work (ie. art) is idiotic. Before stating something inflammatory, he should consider his words more carefully.
My Response: Dismissal of authorial intent is idiotic? Tell that to John Crowe Ransom! (Look it up, it's the internet.) And what did I say that was inflammatory again? That part about authorial intent not mattering in interpretation. It doesn't. It matters in creation--I certainly hope the author has some sort of intent, and it's not all just random words. But not in interpretation. Although, wait. What about William Burroughs's "cut-up" technique? He clearly had no authorial intent (in terms of the meaning of the sentences and paragraphs), but the sentences and paragraphs end up with meaning anyway--a meaning determined by the reader. So, scratch that. Authorial intent doesn't even necessarily matter in creation.
Bryan, the guy I ACTUALLY offended because he's the one I was saying was a bad reader, writes: I certainly won't deny saying all of those things. I'm a pretty firm believer in them. However, I think he should go on to quote Matt Fraction as saying "it's okay if you don't get it, not everyone will." If he's such an expert he should know how to take things in context. That's all I'm saying.
My Response: Oh, Bryan. I really, really want to go on the show and debate this over the magical internet airwaves. Please invite me on. But I don't think Matt's response really helps your case all that much. I mean, it is okay if you don't get it. I don't care if you don't get it. But to say there is no meaning is ridiculous. There's always a meaning. Even a Michael Bay movie has a subtext! (And, Steve, it's probably not the one Michael Bay intends.)
The esteemed PurpleBelly writes: Read what you what, read into it what you want. Comics are great because they can reach different people on different levels, they don't have to reach everyone on every level. Is it just me or die it sound like Grant maybe be a little annoyed his hard work/deep sub-text/meta text isn't appreciated by everyone?
My Response: PurpleBelly, you, my friend, are clearly a bad reader if you thought Grant Morrison was the one answering the questions. Um, it was me. Did you even read the thing you're commenting about?
The magically delicious Fnord Serious writes: I can see where Callahan is coming from, as he is a professional reader, in a way. I think it would have been more politic to say that Bryan is a "non-academic reader" rather than a "bad reader". Bryan is reading for enjoyment. Callahan may be reading for enjoyment, but he is reading with a whole arsenal of tools that enable him to read a book in a different way, and most likely analyzing it out of habit. Neither way of reading is objectively "good" or "bad", just different.
My Response: Yes, but that's not much fun. It's more fun to stir things up and take a stand (to mix a metaphor). But, you know, I do think there are degrees of readers. Some readers are better than others. They either have more training, or have a more natural facility for seeing the meaning of a literary work. Some people can recognize symbols, allusions, rhetorical devices, etc more quickly than others, and that helps to make a more meaningful interpretation. When someone can do something well, we say that they are "good" at it. When they can't, we say they are "bad" at it. Why is reading different. And here's the thing: not because I'm some kind of super-teacher or anything, but I thnk I can teach Bryan how to understand literature (and comics) more deeply. I called him (and his ilk--you know who you are, and I probably pissed you off, didn't I?) a bad reader, true, but I think he can learn how to become a good reader. None of this, by the way, is to imply that every comic book story has some significant depth to it that only a good reader can decipher. Most comics are, basically, simple moral fables with punching (or, in the more recent comics, lots of talking about maybe punching at some point in the future). But a good reader should be able to recognize when a writer or artist is doing something with a bit more depth.
thefreakytiki comes out to add: Might I suggest the Geeks invite Mr Morrison on to the show to elaborate his point. I think when two individuals are there to "defend/explain" their P.O.V. that a greater understanding can be met.
My Response: Bryan, compared to these guys, you are looking like an amazing reader right now. Read the words, people! All of 'em.
Citizen Dave, cue awesome theme music, arrives to set things straight: Just so everybody is aware, it's not Grant Morrison making any statements here, it's Timothy Callahan, author of Grant Morrison: The Early Years.
My Response: Thanks once again, my friend.
Lobo shows up, yes!, to say: And I agree that subtext can exist outside of a creator's intent. Isn't there a whole branch of psychoanalysis that looks for subtext in what someone writes/draws, regardless of the creator's intent?
My Response: See, Steve, even the Czarnians know about the fallacy of authorial intent. And I never pegged Lobo as a college man, but he's clearly got some education hiding beneath all those chains and the Kiss make-up.
Paul joins the fun: The fact is, some people just don't like pesto. They aren't wrong. It's just not their thing. They're not a "bad eater". To say that someone who doesn't see that stuff is a bad reader is ludicrous. Many people don't want or need to read deep meaning. They just want to be entertained. One might make the converse statement that someone who writes something that is all deep meaning, with no surface entertainment value is a bad writer, if their book is being marketed to a mainstream audience. I don't happen to be one who would make that kind of statement, outside of playing devil's advocate, but there is something to be said for someone who can deftly do both. As to authorial intent, well sometimes one writes things a certain way, and these disparate influences from things they've read, seen or experienced come bubbling up to the surface (or perhaps just below the surface). It may not have been what they intended, but it's there nonetheless, due mostly to the allusions that they've made.
The reason that there are so many different kinds of comics out there is because there are so many different kinds of readers, and different things appeal to them. That's not a bad thing. It's what gives us choice.
My Response: Aww, Paul. You are so measured and logical. I can't make fun of anything. Well done, my friend. Although the pesto argument doesn't quite apply, since people do use the term "bad taste" all the time. I see your point though, but I'm not sure my argument has anything to do with convincing Bryan to like a certain type of comic. Just to recognize that there is a meaning beneath the surface, especially with Morrison.
ctowner1 replies to Steve's original post by saying: It's not that he's the arbiter - the point he's making is that his individual interpretation (just like YOUR individual interpretation) is just as valid as the author's interpretation. Once the author has created the work, it stands alone in the owlrd to be interpreted by any who experience it. No one's experience/interpretation is superior to any others. (it's just that some are more illuminating and interesting and more likely to invoke insight and discussion).
My Response: Exactly.
Jose Chung explodes with fists of fury--okay, not really: Kinda ironic that he slams Bryan while implying that everyone's interpretation is valid. Couple that with his reaction to his students and I get the feeling that a strictly textual interpretation is completely invalid with Mr. Callahan. I haven't read the whole article, and I don't really disagree with his points necessarily, but he comes off as pretty didactic and even vain to me: For example, the whole Wizard of Oz/DP parallel (so and so "is totally" this and "is totally" that--setting aside that it's not the most penetrating analysis ever, seeing as how one character is named Dorothy and the Tin Man analogue is, well, a tin man); and how he pats himself on the back (unintentionally, I'm sure) by telling how he pointed out something that Morrison says he wasn't aware of; then there's this quote: "I've just shown you it being there"; And this one: "I don't' care what the author intended". Is that a valid interpretation of the text? I'm just picking. He's probably a nice guy and just got riled up.
The excerpts I've seen have increased my appreciation of Geoff Klock, who I've heard on both the Animal Man and Matt Fraction podcasts and on both occasions came off as, first of all, a nice guy, and very knowledgeable without a whiff of condescension.
My Response: I'm vain because I use the word "totally"? See, Steve, that's an interpretation that has nothing to do with my intent. I thought the Wizard of Oz stuff was obvious too, but I have never seen anyone point it out before. But because it was obvious, I was shocked to see that Grant didn't even consider it. That's why it's a great example of interpretation vs. intent. Also, I am not a nice guy, I am a dick. See previous comments. And don't let Dr. Klockkkhammer lure you into his web of sweet, nice, pleasant, good guy stuff. It's all part of his plan to make you feel good about yourself.
Jer says: I personally love all that subtext jazz. But only a snob is gonna hold it against those who don't. This is leisure reading, for crying out loud. Get off yer high horse.
My Response: That's pretty dismissive of the entire medium. "Lesiure reading?' That's all it is? If it's just that, then why do we all care so much about it anyway? And I don't hold anything against Bryan at all. I'm bad at a lot of things. I'm really bad at baseball, for example. Does anyone hold that against me? If someone watches me play baseball, and says, "you're bad at baseball" after I strike out five times and drop every fly ball, does that make the other person a snob? Why is it different with reading?
And holy Hell, I have spent way too much time on this topic! Thanks for playing, everyone.
And seriously, I would love to go on the podcast. What do you say, guys?