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  1. #1
    Administrator Jonah Weiland's Avatar
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    Default FLYING THE STANDARD Discussion Thread

    We've had a number of requests for a discussion thread on the forums for Scott O' Brown's recent FLYING THE STANDARD series at CBR, which concluded today. Here are links to each part of the series and feel free to add your own thoughts to Scott's series below.

    Part 5 - Flying The Standard
    Part 4 - Raising The Standard
    Part 3 - Surpassing The Standard
    Part 2 - Achieving The Standard
    Part 1 - Defining The Standard
    -- Jonah Weiland
    Executive Producer, CBR
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  2. #2
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    Default Standard Bearing

    That's it! The first five parts of the series.

    I'd like to know what everyone thought of the assessments. Agree? Disagree?

    Let me know if there are others works you'd like to see analyzed in the future. Lately I've had my eyes on Jimmy Corrigan, Black Hole, the new Popeye collection, and Sandman.

    Thanks for reading!

    And if you'd like to see more, just send Jonah an email. ;)

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    I just read the series and have one stumbling block with your standards for the canon:

    In the first part, talking about artistic merit, is art subservient to the narrative or a part of it? Can art elevate a story into the canon even if the narrative is somewhat lacking? Or is it possible for the art to be the defining part of a work and the story has to support the art?

    I think we need to talk about story and art as parts of the greater narrative. Saying art needs to be "competent" is like saying that a story only needs to be "competent" to be part of the canon. McCloud talks about sequential art as being the combination of images and words to create the final product. In Understanding Comics, the two individual parts form the greater whole.

    You say the story must work but mustn't the art "work" as well, easily as tantamount as the story? I'm thinking about the work of Bill Sienkewicz on Elektra Assassin or JH Williams on Promethea. Isn't there contributions as important as Miller or Moore's?

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    I think Scott allows for artistic merit over writing merit in the example of Dark Knight Returns.

    I believe creating a canon is essential for comics to gain a wider audience and for readers to better understand what they are reading.

    Thanks for starting the discussion. I hope others chime in.

    I'd like to throw my support to Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr's Y the Last Man. It's not the first of its kind but it is more important than others, having been recognized by many "non-comic" groups.

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    I'm glad there's finally a discussion thread for this. Excellent column! I'd love to see more!

    (Although, your editor let a few typos slip through. Tsk, tsk. ;) )

    I posted on my blog my only issues with the Standard you've established.

    In short, I thought you didn't back up Reinventing Comics enough to justify it for inclusion. From your column, it sounds too much like a sequel, and not as revolutionary, historically. I'm not saying it shouldn't be included (I need to give my copy a good read with this topic in mind), but I don't feel like you stated your case solidly enough.

    But the bigger issue I have is that I think the Standard should be more demanding of the Artistic Merit of the material. Writing and art are equally important, and both elements should be equally as lofty and impressive to make the Standard.

    Read more at my link.

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    Frugal fanboy Cei-U!'s Avatar
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    It's an excellent series of columns, very much in the spirit of Kid Omega's 25 Greatest Comics thread.

    I might argue that, in light of your criticisms of DKR (and my own feelings about such derivative works), it should be excluded from the canon but that's a minor quibble.

    Also, if you haven't read them already, you should check out R. C. Harvey's The Art of the Funnies and The Art of the Comic Book. Though not comics themselves, they do an outstanding job of articulating the storytelling mechanisms of the medium. in my opinion, they are superior to the two Eisner texts cited.

    I look forward to reading more.

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    Forgive Friedrich's Debt Aaron Kashtan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cei-U! View Post
    Also, if you haven't read them already, you should check out R. C. Harvey's The Art of the Funnies and The Art of the Comic Book. Though not comics themselves, they do an outstanding job of articulating the storytelling mechanisms of the medium. in my opinion, they are superior to the two Eisner texts cited.
    Perhaps even better are David Carrier's The Aesthetics of Comics and Thierry Groensteen's The System of Comics.
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    Default Literary Merit

    I find your standards for Literary Merit rather retrograde in their inherent preference for realism. This does point to the general state of comics narrative as stuck in a mostly pre-modernist narrative paradigm. This is the 21st century and your literary values are mostly taken from the 19th century and early 20th.

    The first question we ask in the case of narrative is: is there a moral or intellectual argument? Without a moral argument, there is no literary merit.

    Must all stories be moral? (or have a "moral argument"). That alone is a very narrow way to consider literature of any form. Why must there be a moral argument? Or an intellectual argument? Cannot great art exist without these things?

    Is the story about something we can relate to? The reader doesn't necessarily have to relate to the specifics, but the emotions and learning experiences of the main character(s) must reflect true human emotions.

    Here is a fine argument for a canon of psychological realism, but that does not exhaust the range of types of literature.

    Does it stand on its own over time? Is it unique? Well-executed?

    All very good qualities for a canon.

    Does it play by the rules of story? Telling a story has very specific rules. They may be applied directly and consciously or by instinct, but they are there and cannot be challenged.

    I would like to hear more about these "rules" you gloss over them as if they were obvious and known to all, but I'm not sure that is the case.

    The rules for literary merit are pretty simple--the story must contain depth of plot, character, and theme and there must be a moral argument. What is the protagonist's moral need? Is it reflected in his actions and interwoven within the plot and theme? Does he or she learn? Or do we as readers learn through his or her ability or inability to?

    Again, fine for psychological realism, but not necessary for many other styles. Depth of character is an often discuseed necessity for literature, but a cursory glance at the literary canon (that is novels, short stories, etc) shows a great number of characters that are not "deep" in the sense that most people mean it.

    The story should, but isn't required to, offer a unique point of view. In conjunction with the above, using comics as a lens to another culture or perspective, and doing it well, is a great way to rise above the average and meet the Standard.

    Ah, "another culture or perspective" is a good combo with the "moral", but is not necessarily any more meritorous than "tell a good yarn".

    The story must work. That is tantamount. A writer can put their own unique spin on anything, juxtaposing sets of images with one another in any sort of fancy derivation, but it doesn't mean jack if they can't string two words together in a coherent story structure.

    This is going fine until you get to "coherent story structure". What does that mean? Is it old Freytag's method of rising action, climax, denouement? Or is there more to it than that?

    It seems a closer attention should be paid to modern narrative traditions from modernism (Joyce, Woolf, Queneau, etc) through various shades of postmodernism (Robbe-Grillet, Pynchon, Barth, etc). Literary merit changes over time and thus the canon changes.

    Suggestions: One could go on for quite a while but: Krazy Kat, Peanuts, something by Tezuka (many things), Love and Rockets (I'm preferential to Jaime's work), Cerebus, a good start.

    p.s. I'd second Tim's recommendation of the Groensteen book. You can read my review of it here: http://madinkbeard.com/blog/archives...bande-dessinee
    An English translation is forthcoming in February.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Eumenides's Avatar
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    Default I'd have expected more dettachment

    Quote Originally Posted by derikb View Post
    It seems a closer attention should be paid to modern narrative traditions from modernism (Joyce, Woolf, Queneau, etc) through various shades of postmodernism (Robbe-Grillet, Pynchon, Barth, etc). Literary merit changes over time and thus the canon changes.
    It'd be helpful if comics had produced a considerable body work influenced by Joyce, Woolf, Robbe-Grillet, etc., in the first place. Unfortunately it hasn't. Even the medium's great achievements - Watchmen, Love & Rockets, Maus, Corto Maltese, Mort Cinder, From Hell - are straightforward, traditional narratives at the end of the day. You can shake off superheroes, but you can't shake off the pulp foundations of the medium.

    Scott, I've enjoyed reading your columns, even though I found The Dark Knight Returns's inclusion predictable. I don't see how you can exclude Kindgom Come (rightly so) and include Miller's comic. So far you've stuck close to what everyone thinks the comics canon should be. Traditionally it's the opposite: literature's canon is usually composed by novels no one has ever read, no one likes to read, no one wants to read, no one even knew about! The cinema canon includes obscure movies made in mysterious places like Sweden and Russia. Not comics though: apparently the best comics are also the most popular.

    Comics are truly blessed :D

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    It'd be helpful if comics had produced a considerable body work influenced by Joyce, Woolf, Robbe-Grillet, etc., in the first place. Unfortunately it hasn't. Even the medium's great achievements - Watchmen, Love & Rockets, Maus, Corto Maltese, Mort Cinder, From Hell - are straightforward, traditional narratives at the end of the day. You can shake off superheroes, but you can't shake off the pulp foundations of the medium.

    Just because there hasn't been a "considerable" body of work, does not negate my criticism of the "standards" applied. Canons should be inclusive and evolving not retrograde and static.

    Traditionally it's the opposite: literature's canon is usually composed by novels no one has ever read, no one likes to read, no one wants to read, no one even knew about! The cinema canon includes obscure movies made in mysterious places like Sweden and Russia. Not comics though: apparently the best comics are also the most popular.

    That sounds like sarcasm, but in cause my sarcasm meter is off... that's a really misguided view of the canon. As an example, Harold Bloom's Western Canon includes a great number of popular, widely read books from the Odyssey to Shakespeare to John Crowley's Little, Big.

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    Joyce's Ulysses is considered English lit canon and many people consider it the highest achievement of English letters, and yet without knowing the symbolic references of the text (The Odyssey primarily, but many others as well) the book makes little sense (though most would argue that the book makes no sense even knowing the symbols). The fact that the audience may be ignorant does not keep Ulysses out of the canon.

    I agree that Kingdom Come requires from its readers quite a lot of knowledge of superheroes and the DC universe and that without this knowledge, the relationships between characters makes less sense.

    However, the Biblical symbols are not necessary for understanding the basic story or major themes of the book, so I'm not sure why you feel this detracts from the book's merit. Certainly, knowing the symbols could deepen a reader's understanding, but like the case of Ulysses, I would not want to fault a book for the ignorance of the reader.

    I'm not arguing for the inclusion of KC, but rather against your "symbolically inclusive" criterion which seems to suggest a canon's readership should be assumed ignorant and also seems intentionally designed to exclude most superhero or genre books from the canon.
    Last edited by sgt pepper; 12-05-2006 at 02:15 PM.

  12. #12
    More Donald than Charlie stealthwise's Avatar
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    It seems to me that a bit too much weight might be placed on the "historical importance" of a series to merit inclusion. I'm speaking directly to the example of The Dark Knight Returns, which was, yes, hugely recognizable and influential in its time, but has already been surpassed and imitated constantly since its creation 20 years ago. If you are going to include DKR based mostly on that merits, then there are a ton of early 60s superhero comics, most of which are by Lee and Kirby, that should get in based on the same grounds.
    - Art is whatever makes you feel human.

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    So what are some of the more abstract, less traditionally narrative comics that should be considered canon?

    I've read loads of avant garde comics, but seem to have forgotten most (probably because the narrative and relatable characters make a story memorable).

    Maybe the work of Chris Ware? Daniel Clowes? Mazzuchelli's City of Glass?

    There must be others that I'm forgetting.
    Last edited by sgt pepper; 12-05-2006 at 03:59 PM.

  14. #14

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    I'm weirded out by the statement that Pulitzer is more weighty than a Hugo. Far as I'm concerned, like the Oscar, a Pulitzer is a sure sign that the book is either a weak book by a good author, or a drably populist makeweight:

    1986 Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster)
    1987 A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor (Alfred A. Knopf)
    1988 Beloved by Toni Morrison (Alfred A. Knopf)
    1989 Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (Alfred A. Knopf)
    1990 The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
    1991 Rabbit At Rest by John Updike (Alfred A. Knopf)
    1992 A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (Alfred A. Knopf)
    1993 A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (Henry Holt)
    1994 The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (Charles Scribner's Sons)
    1995 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (Viking)
    1996 Independence Day by Richard Ford (Alfred A. Knopf)
    1997 Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser (Crown)
    1998 American Pastoral by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
    1999 The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
    2000 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin)
    2001 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Random House)
    2002 Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Alfred A. Knopf)
    2003 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
    2004 The Known World by Edward P. Jones (Amistad/ HarperCollins)
    2005 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
    2006 March by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
    By contrast, the Hugo list is about half and half:

    Spin
    by Robert Charles Wilson

    2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
    by Susanna Clarke

    2004 Paladin of Souls
    by Lois McMaster Bujold

    2003 Hominids
    by Robert J. Sawyer

    2002 American Gods
    by Neil Gaiman

    2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
    by J.K. Rowling

    2000 A Deepness in the Sky
    by Vernor Vinge

    1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog
    by Connie Willis

    1998 Forever Peace
    by Joe Haldeman

    1997 Blue Mars
    by Kim Stanley Robinson

    1996 The Diamond Age
    by Neal Stephenson

    1995 Mirror Dance
    by Lois McMaster Bujold

    1994 Green Mars
    by Kim Stanley Robinson

    1993 (tie)
    A Fire Upon the Deep
    by Vernor Vinge
    Doomsday Book
    by Connie Willis

    1992 Barrayar
    by Lois McMaster Bujold

    1991 The Vor Game
    by Lois McMaster Bujold

    1990 Hyperion
    by Dan Simmons

    1989 Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh

    1988 The Uplift War by David Brin

    1987 Speaker for the Dead
    by Orson Scott Card

    1986 Ender's Game
    by Orson Scott Card

    1985 Neuromancer
    by William Gibson
    Now sure, there's a lot of wrong choices there, and a lot of first rate nominees who didn't get it because of all the Americans and fantasy freaks who vote (Charlie Stross, Ian McDonald and Ken McLeod were all robbed; Stephenson shoulda got it for Cryptonomicon instead of Diamond Age), but there's nine more titles worth reading on the list than on the Pulitzer list.

    So the weight thing here seems to be slanted towards bourgeois (aka mainstream) values.

    Rather like the standards that are being lauded in the columns.
    one of the highest principles of America is that we're a nation of people from different backgrounds living in equal dignity and mutual loyalty - Eboo Patel.

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    loves meter maids sgt pepper's Avatar
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    Since when has bourgeois been a synonym for mainstream?

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