Relatively awesome

I’ve mentioned this before, but the Komikusu roundtable over at The Hooded Utilitarian makes for really interesting reading. Noah Berlatsky offers a conclusion of sorts that explores the potentially touchy nature of promoting awesome comics and the fact that encouraging people to read awesome manga is less of a minefield than other kinds of awesome comics advocacy:

“Nobody in the roundtable says that the problem is that readers’ tastes suck. Nobody says the problem is that bloggers aren’t doing enough to promote the right kind of manga. Both Shaenon [Gaerrity] and Deb [Aoki] mention Naruto in a ‘yep, the manga we’re talking about aren’t going to sell like that’ kind of way — but they don’t seem resentful of Naruto’s success, the way Sean Collins seems resentful of superheroes (despite the fact that he reads them himself). In fact, unless I’m missing something, nobody in the roundtable says anything mean about mainstream, successful genre manga at all.”

I think he nails it when he makes the point that there can be a crusader component when people try and convince fans of super-hero comics to read what might be considered more literary material, that there’s a moral imperative involved. It has the strange effect of turning the act of reading comics into something like eating five servings of vegetables or flossing twice a day or something equally virtuous but not intrinsically pleasurable.

It’s sent me off on a mental tangent, and I wonder how people would define their comics reading tastes if circumstances forced them to do so? I would categorize mine as eclectic, though I would be extremely reluctant to do so precisely because that adjective, neutral as it should read, feels somehow like I’m congratulating myself for liking more than one kind of thing. So I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on categorizing their tastes and the potential pitfalls and moral implications of doing so.

Updated to add this very entertaining rant from Emil Petrinic‘s Twitter feed:

@MangaCur Eclectic really is a terrible word because in people’s minds it doesn’t mean “varied” it means “snobby, out of mainstream”.

@MangaCur It reminds of “Best American Comics” collections, which of course are in fact “Comics by my friends that you aren’t reading…”

@MangaCur “…because you have no taste you stupid peasants.”

@MangaCur I also hate the very notion of “literary comics” like the plague. It’s something asshole New York literati concocted…

@MangaCur …so they could easily tar all else as complete shit. All else being pretty much all comics. Rant concluded🙂

Updated again, as Noah Berlatsky has taken a moment to characterize his own tastes and give me the vague sense that I’m being ridiculed for reasons I don’t fully understand.

28 Responses to Relatively awesome

  1. DerikB says:

    I’d go with eclectic too. My shelves have everything from abstract comics to Archie comics; superheroes (a few), manga, bande dessinee, minicomics, literary, autobio, sci-fi, fantasy, non-narrative, non-fiction, baseball, humor, comic strips, comic books, etc. etc.

  2. Eclectic works for me, too, but I wonder if it isn’t too vague. I think “eclectic” because I follow both shounen series like Samurai Deeper Kyo and shoujo series like Kimi ni Todoke. On the other hand, I’m usually most drawn to characters – Sanada Yukimura (and various others) in Kyo, the main friends in Kimi ni. Once Itachi and Kakashi were killed (though Kakashi was brought back) and Gaara was depowered and moved aside, I basically dropped Naruto.

    A better way to put it might be that my reading habits fall into various genres, but I look for strong characters, usually tortured in some way, who we learn more and more about as the series goes on. If disclosures about those characters lag, or the characters are removed from the series, I usually drop the series. Oh, and I don’t go in for autobiographies.

    Aside from that, I like pretty art with good line work which prety much sums it all up.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      I like this notion of limited or provisional eclecticism. For instance, I like comics from a lot of different places created for a lot of different audiences, but I like them to have proper stories and characters. I have no patience for exercises in illustrated narrative for its own sake, much as I admire people willing to take those kinds of risks.

  3. vitamingc says:

    I’d like to think that I’m an eclectic reader but really I’m not. As a reviewer, one thing that I’ve discovered is that I’m far more narrowly focused in my tastes and preferences than I had previously thought. I’ll review anything – it’s my job – and I read a lot, but there’s very little in terms of comics or manga, which I want to keep on my shelf.

    What I like is rather typical: Vampire Knight, High School Debut, GANTZ, SlamDunk! and what I look for in comics is not something “literary” or “sophisticated.” To be honest, what I love about manga is its unapologetic commercial approach to entertainment. (This is probably why I can’t stand American comics which appear to me as often times trying too hard to be popular, or good. A broad generalization but one I’m finding difficult to challenge.)

    It’s tough to argue taste. I like burnt toast; my son does not. I like egg whites; my son, the yolk. It works out in our house, but I’m wary of prescribing my tastes to others – simply because I’m easily frustrated. I believe in vitamins and nutrition and consuming something because it’s “good for you”. We all need a challenge. But I also know that this is hard to do when it comes to entertainment and guiding the free time of others. If it were up to me, I’d prescribe reading Dostoevsky.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      “To be honest, what I love about manga is its unapologetic commercial approach to entertainment.”

      I’m totally with you on that, and what I love about the filter of licensing and translation is that we often get the cream of the commercial crop. Sure, there’s lots of junk that attains commercial success, but there’s also stuff like One Piece and Fruits Basket that’s popular because it’s brilliant.

      You’ve helped me crystallize my thinking on why I blog, and it’s for the totally selfish reason that I want to read more of the kinds of comics that I like. And my evil plan is to promote the kind of books that I like in hopes that they’ll become successful enough that people will publish more like them. I don’t think I have any actual commercial impact, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right?

      (Also, I like your toast analogy. I like cold toast. My partner likes hot toast. I view it as a vehicle for spreads I like. It is the shingle, not the roof.)

  4. Noah’s post got me pondering things as well… you know, I think we can describe our tastes as “eclectic” without it being necessarily self-congratulatory. Especially if we don’t stop with just that description on its own.

    For instance, I could say my taste in manga is eclectic, because I really do enjoy pretty much everything, genre-wise (a quick glance at the front page of my website makes this pretty clear). What this really means, though, is that I may like anything, including stuff that many would classify as trash. Sure, I read quite a bit of artsy/literary fare, but I also really enjoy a lot of popular series that conform completely to established corporate formulas, and quite a few that are just a complete mess. I have really specific requirements as a reader, which can potentially be fulfilled by nearly any type of manga. So I can’t pretend my tastes are high-brow, just because a lot of manga that might fall into that category also happens to satisfy my needs.

    Perhaps “omnivorous” would be a better word, since it suggests a sort of indiscriminate, rabid consumption that I think characterizes my tastes pretty well. This is not to say that I’m not critical of what I read. I’m happy to point out flaws and weaknesses in the manga I like, and I do so in my reviews. I see that as my job. But I love a lot of deeply flawed manga.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      Oh, I like “omnivorous” for exactly the reasons you put forward. It’s kind of like “indiscriminate” without what I would think of as an implicit value judgment. Because I do love me some trash, or love-hate some trash.

      It’s interesting to see how many different spectra there are — quality, authorial ambition, category, genre, demographic, and so on — that all could suggest the kind of eclecticism that’s circling around in my brain.

      • Yes, there are so many reasons why one might like something (or not), and it’s not necessarily consistent, title-to-title. For instance, I kind of loved Heaven’s Will, though it really is a complete mess that barely holds together as a coherent narrative, let alone being coherent in any other way. But there is some kind of spark behind the author’s totally unrealistic ambitions for the story that really grab me in exactly the right way. So when I wrote my review of it, I tried to get to the heart of that, while also being up front about its status as a complete mess. And really, that’s why I blog. I like talking about series that force me to dissect them in that way. It really enhances my own enjoyment of the work. As a result, I’ll occasionally love something that is very flawed *more* than something perfect, because it allows me this particular pleasure. It’s completely self-serving, but when I think about it, I can’t deny it.

        Obviously I review a lot of things, including things I don’t like and things I know are amazing but don’t click with me emotionally, and I try to present as balanced a view as possible of everything I review. But it’s those unlikely titles that really keep me blogging, because writing about them offers me so much pleasure.

  5. DanielBT says:

    I’m pretty eclectic and omnivourous too, though all of my personal favorites have humour at their core. I’m more likely to read a comic if it’s funny. As long as the story is interesting and drawn well (or one of the two). If it’s got words & pictures in an unique combination, I’ll read it. This includes children’s books as well. (There was an interesting forum on the Comics Journal forum talking about whether children’s books counted as comics.)

    I’ve read stuff ranging from American comics to European comics, to French comics (just “reading” the pictures), to Japanese comics, and enjoy them all. But my first love will always be Sunday comics, since that’s what I grew up reading. I would’ve KILLED to have the amount of comics today’s audience is exposed to now. I was so practically starved for ANY comics material (especially when Calvin & Hobbes ended) that I kept exploring new realms to make up for the exhiliration I had lost. As a result, I started collecting old Doonesbury comics, and older Viz Manga titles, such as Adolf, Nausicca and Grey, even if I didn’t entirely like them. Then the Manga explosion happened, and I was able to become more selective in my purchases, only buying what I WANTED to buy.

    My imperiative for buying any book falls into one moral quandry: “Is this something I want to read more than once?” If it’s something I’ll only read once and then throw away, I won’t buy it. But if the story’s worth reading multiple times (especially if what’s happened earlier takes on new meaning in the later volumes) then I’ll purchase it without question.

    Of course, if a book is available at the library, then that’s even better, since it means I don’t have to fill my shelves with books that I’m on the fence about, such as Sandman, Fables and other Vertigo titles. The only books I’ve actually bought for myself after reading them are V for Vendetta (after the hardcover became a softcover with the extras included) and Grease Monkey, a Space Opera comic that’s actually better than I thought it would be, given its silly premise. (The second volume’s available online at this site: http://www.greasemonkeybook.com/) Try it, you won’t regret it!

    • davidpwelsh says:

      “I would’ve KILLED to have the amount of comics today’s audience is exposed to now.”

      This is the crux of it for me… the pure joy of choice.

  6. DanielBT says:

    Hmmm. Try this link instead. The ) I left at the end is interfering with the link.
    http://www.greasemonkeybook.com/

  7. Eclectic, with a decided tendency toward strong female leads.

  8. I should point out that the irony is where other reviewers might read more widely than they otherwise might in order to write reviews, I review more narrowly than I read. Because Okazu is the oldest and most comprehensive Yuri blog in the world, I only review things that are at least tangentially on-topic there. In fact, I read far more widely than is apparent from my obsession.🙂

    So when I say “eclectic” I actually mean it. Shoujo, shounen, seinen, josei and a LOT of independent, non-category-bound stuff passes across this desk. I love independent, artist-made works. I’m a doujinshi/mini-comic hound and proud of it.🙂

    • davidpwelsh says:

      If you ever feel compelled to review non-yuri work and are looking for a spare virtual room, don’t hesitate to ask!

      I really should host a One Piece geek-out at some point.

      • Thank you! Every once in a while I want to beat Gakuen Alice senseless, or praise One Piece for it’s fabulous art (yes, really) or hell, go on a bender with Black Lagoon and drool all over Balalaika, and stare at her with my hungry eyes and base desires, but can’t because they are not Yuri. So, yes. Yes a thousand times.

        Ahem.

        Sounds like fun.

  9. […] literary comics, both in western comics and manga circles. Manga Curmudgeon David Welsh further ponders on how to define & describe one’s reading […]

  10. Emil P says:

    Truly my immortal fame is now assured.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      But of course! You will be legend among the upwards of dozens of unique visitors my blog gets each and every day!

      Seriously, dude… immortal fame is only assured when you get the top quote on Journalista.

  11. “Eclectic” for me, too. Naruto, Lovely Complex, Aya of Yop City, Monster, Sugar Sugar Rune . . . oddly enough, just about the only comics I don’t jump at the chance to read are the artsy experimental works that would, themselves, probably be described as “eclectic.” Those and goreporn.

  12. judi(togainunochi) says:

    I don’t have a one word description, but a phrase “all over the place”. It applies to all forms of entertainment, manga, books, anime, movies, music, art, etc. I can read Black Butler, Real(my current everyone has got to read this), and get the same enjoyment. I can listen to Bach and turn to Black Sabbath the next moment.
    I can’t explain it, but I just want to experience everything I possibly can. That is not to say that I don’t have favorites which leads me buy more of say shounen manga than horror. Watch more Harry Potter movies than Julia Roberts. I don’t feel eccentric or apologetic, it’s just me.:D
    My other thought is, I feel those who read manga tend to be more experimental. More willing to try something that others wouldn’t and diversity draws them together. With comics, I find that most fall into “I like what I like” category. It’s hard to get those that buy mainstream, buy Jim Woodring, Daniel Clowes or R.Crumb.

  13. LillianDP says:

    I’ve been using “omnivorous” for a while, since it covers both the consumption aspect that I feel towards manga (I’m hungry for some sparkly shojo comedy, kids!), and the diversity of my tastes.🙂

    As a side note, the most obvious unifying aspect of my taste, regardless of genre, is that I tend to prefer a story that makes me feel over a story that makes me think. Not that these things are mutually exclusive (and, in fact, I think the combination of heart and mind is something at which manga as a medium is particularly adept), but I will almost always pass over the story that is solely “thought-provoking” for the book that makes my heart go pitter-pat. This is also why, even though I really like a lot of grown-up manga, I generally don’t bother with Western art comics, which often come off to me as somewhat emotionally sterile.

  14. safetygirl0 says:

    I would like to think that it’s not so much that I have omnivorous taste, but that I have a certain core area that I’m very much drawn to and that I happily stray out of my boundaries. I love shojo, to define it more narrowly, I like fantasy, historical, or fantasy/historical, and I think this comes from the fact that while Sailor Moon was my gateway drug, Fushigi Yugi was the crack that got me *hooked*.

    I think this is why I loved and will miss GoComi and CMX so much, they both brought in good examples of those sorts of sub-genres. Sadly, shojo historicals don’t do so well here (Kaze Hikaru) while those with a touch of fantasy (Red River) do better.

    Strangely enough, outside of manga I love historical novels and history but I do not like straight fantasy.

  15. NoahB says:

    Not ridiculing you David — or no more than I was ridiculing myself!

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