The most recent edition of The Comics Journal is an absolute monstrosity – 624 pages long, packed with all sorts of discussion, review and contemplation of comics. It’s frustratingly pig-headed, has its head stuck firmly up its own arse and compulsively readable, which means that while it might be a bit more infrequent, the Journal is as good as it ever was.
I’ve had it for about a week now, and have barely made a dent in it, (although, to be fair, I’ve had a deluge of terrific reading material in recent weeks.). But I have read Tim Krieder’s surprisingly fresh article on Cerebus, a dense interview with Joe Sacco that happily focuses on one particular work and the vaguely dull Decade In Review by Marc Sobel.
Sobel’s article is the most frustrating – far too short to really get to grips with some of the most monumental changes the comic industry has seen since 2000, while settling for stating the blindingly obvious instead of bringing any new perspective. (Didja know that there have been lots of webcomics in the past ten years, or that there are a lot more collections than there used to be?) It also has that classic Journal disdain for anything resembling superhero comics that is evident in its grudging acknowledgement that these things exist, but that’s to be expected – this is The Comics Journal.
The Cerebus article is also a bit wobbly at parts. Despite Mr Krieder’s bafflement, the metaphors for the comic industry – like the ever-evolving Roach - that Sim sprinkled throughout his series are not a vital part of the narrative and can be easily ignored, and your first exposure to Cerebus does not necessarily automatically become your favourite period of the series. (I should know - #186 was, regrettably, my first exposure to the character.)
But the Cerebus article does a nice job of handling the inevitable criticisms of Sim’s work by simply acknowledging them as stated facts – over the years, the Journal has done a thorough job of pointing out the painfully sexist hole Sim dug for himself, so there isn’t any need to go over all that again.
Instead, the article take more interesting turns, by pointing out Sim’s own revision of his personal history, retelling things in ways that just don’t stack up against the facts, (Sim might claim that his female characters are all vapid, but that isn’t evident in the narrative), or pointing out that getting through pages and pages of deeply theological small text is hard work, (although there is some delightful shadowing of this in the Journal itself, with 122 pages of deeply theological small text about Robert Crumb’s Genesis.)
It’s also an article that confronts the large reputation that overshadows any other of Sim’s achievements - no new reader can come to Cerebus without the dreadful knowledge of how it all works out - while still finding room for a few nice words about Sim’s beautiful comic timing and his evolution as an artist.
Part of the article can be found online, but it’s a great read in its entirety, and this kind of thinking and writing about a comic that is often deliberately overlooked is always welcome.
In fact, this is something the Journal does better than anybody else – focus on one work and really attempt to get to grips with it. The internet is full of terrific writing, but it can often feel that anything that came out last week is already old and past it, and genuinely quirky and wonderful comics can be greeted by a brief and intense burst of interest, followed by an aching silence.
The Journal is playing a long game, and is only too happy to drill into a significant new work. There are dense reviews, interviews and analysis for comics like Eddie Campbell’s brilliant Alec omnibus, or Joe Sacco’s terrifically detailed Footnotes in Gaza, or Crumb’s Genesis comic.
That discussion of Genesis is the biggest focus in this beautifully bloated magazine, and is just as intimidating as Crumb’s actual comic. There is a long interview with the artist himself, and then dozens and dozens of pages that examine the work.
I’ll get to it in time, but there is so much else in the new Journal to look at first. The next thing I’m digging into is the conversation between Al Jaffe and Michael Kupperman, because that can’t possibly fail.
There is so much in this publication, but that just means there is something interesting for anybody who loves the medium. As ever, the Comics Journal is full of things I don’t agree with, but I can never argue with its passion.