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Eric Reynolds's Blog
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CEF: Chief Executive Flogger
Archive >> March 2011

Take a Joke, Indexed
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under Johnny Ryan 24 Mar 2011 9:40 AM

Yesterday we got in a few advance copies of Johnny Ryan's new book, TAKE A JOKE. I had a blast putting this book together with Johnny, I think it's by far his best collection yet in just about every way: the work itself, the sequencing, the production and printing, etc. It collects the last four (and strongest) issues of Johnny's ANGRY YOUTH COMIX (issues #11-15) as well as a slew of short pieces, mostly from VICE Magazine but also HOTWIRE and elsewhere. It's an unrelentingly dense frisson of discomfit and guffaws like only Johnny seems capable of delivering anymore. 

While putting the book together, deciding what to include and what not to, we realized we had a couple of extra pages to play with. We considered this and that, not really finding the answer we were looking for until Johnny jokingly suggested to me on the phone one day, "Maybe we should do an index like you do in The Complete Peanuts." 

He wasn't even remotely serious, but I thought it was a brilliant idea, providing something akin to a word cloud for Johnny's id. I set right to work and think it's the perfect beat to end on. It highlights the absurdist side of Johnny's humor, and demonstrates what an infinite well of profane ideas he seems able to tap. He makes it look easy, but it ain't. All hail Johnny "Cock Snot" Ryan!

Give 'em a Hand!
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under Gary Groth 14 Mar 2011 10:41 AM

Things You Might Find on Gary Groth's Desk, Part 1 of a series: A hand, by Sal Buscema!

Dilbert: Let's You and Him Fight!
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under staffoffice funKim ThompsonGary Grothcomic strips 1 Mar 2011 11:25 AM

   

Last week, Amazon.com temporarily reduced the price of our $125 Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons to a ridiculously low $30. Several prominent folks, including our old pal Neil Gaiman, tweeted and/or blogged about it, and at one point on Monday night, the book had risen to #16 on Amazon's sales charts for ALL books, and to #1 in the bargain books category. Somehow, this led to the following actual, real email exchange about the comic strip Dilbert. A week later, the debate rages on. In other words: Just Another Week at Fantagraphics Books.

Kim Thompson wrote:

That Bargain Books section is pretty sweet sometimes. I just bought an $85 DILBERT supercollection for the office for twenty-two bucks. (Yes, I love DILBERT. I know most cartoonists can't get past the art, but it's funny as hell.)

Eric Reynolds wrote:

LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!

Gary Groth wrote:

Oh my fucking God.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Read [Scott Adams'] blog, which is unencumbered by his godawful art. He's the sharpest comedy writer in comic strips.

Tell me if this one doesn't make you laugh: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1996-03-27/

Eric Reynolds wrote:

Sorry.

Gary Groth wrote:

I hope yer joking. It's too late to look for a new partner.

Jacob Covey wrote:

What's weird is Kim and Eric haven't ever worked in one of those godawful Dilbert cubical jobs to my knowledge.

Gary Groth wrote:

I bet I've worked in more shitty jobs -including "cubicle" jobs- than everyone here. I hate Dilbert and don't think it's funny. It's humor that's calculated to make working in cubicles more palatable.

Kim Thompson wrote:

I think you're all going by a vision of DILBERT of like 20 years ago. (Newsflash, DOONESBURY isn't about a bunch of college students arguing any more either.) It's blossomed into a relentless examination of deception and self-delusion in the workplace and beyond, based on the premise that 90% of actions taken are taken for reasons that are selfish, idiotic, or both, and boiling them down to their most basic absurdities.

Gary Groth wrote:

That's the problem: the strip is essentially gutless, so generic and so absent specificity as to be meaningless. Selfishness, sloth, and idiocy are its constant (easy) targets -vices to which no one can object- and executed in such a cutesy, innocuous way that they prompt a reflexively knowing and self-satisfied smirk.

The strip you linked to perfectly encapsulates the strip's modus operandi of recapitulating the Peter Principle in the most banal way imaginable. It reflects, regurgitates, and therefore flatters the reader's own "insight" on the workplace and panders to his sense of superiority to the bureaucracy he serves (or is served by).

The problem with the Doonesbury analogy is that Doonesbury was good. (Plus, you're ten years off: the college stuff took place 30 years ago.)

Kim Thompson wrote:

It's true that Adams is fundamentally pro-business (in the sense that many military comedies are actually pro-Army) but the idea that he's an agent of Satan intent on narcotizing the cubicle workers is hippy-dippy talk, unless you adhere to the notion that any blowing off of steam (e.g. laughter) just delays the inevitable revolution when workers will throw off their shackles and string up the man.

Gary Groth wrote:

That's a Dilbert-ish response, which suggests that its flattening perspective is contagious. Pop entertainment doesn't have to be anti-revolutionary in a hippy-dippy Marxist 1970s kinda way in order to be nauseating, status-quo supportive crap. The fact that it's not single handedly holding back a revolution that will never come just makes it more insidious. The rank ad file would remain narcoticized if Dilbert didn't exist, but its existence sure doesn't hurt.

Eric Reynolds wrote:

Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Wait, when did Kenneth Smith start sending me emails signed "GG"?

This is the kind of apocalyptic society-is-doomed rant critics will periodically unleash on more or less harmless pop-culture successes which I genuinely can't take seriously enough to respond to. If you're going to go medieval on any work of (to stretch the definition to a breaking point in DILBERT's case, admittedly) art that rests on the foundation that in theory capitalism might be an OK system, then it's a bit like criticizing rock music from the point of view that electric guitars are pure evil.

I did get the DOONESBURY timeline wrong. Time flies!

Gary Groth wrote:

I am not asking for every comic strip to be an Adorno-esque revolutionary screed, but if the whole purpose of the strip is to comment on contemporary economic and commercial life, it's hardly asking too much to invest the work with a degree of conscience or acuity and not serve as a hypocritical feel-good bromide for a mindless status quo that it celebrates and criticizes at the same time.

Mostly, though, it's just lame - as any humor would inevitably be if it's foundation is based on social arrangements being "OK" (or, as I would put it, hunky dory). What a concept!

Anyway, I get it. Pop culture and -especially billion dollar pop culture successes- are harmless and criticizing them on political or moral grounds is going "medieval," because, y'know, they're, like, harmless and don't mean anything and why don't I chill out and sit back and take it easy for God's sake.

I consider it a success whenever I can elicit a dig at Ken Smith.

Kim Thompson wrote:

It's a hypocritical feel-good bromide that postulates that pretty much everyone in the world is a selfish idiot and all personal and professional interaction spirals inevitably into entropy? By what standards, compared to SHOAH?

Any humor that is not based on a socialistic view of the world is ipso facto lame?

Any pointed examination of human behavior within a certain context/matrix is invalid unless it fundamentally challenges that context/matrix? (E.g., the HURT LOCKER conundrum.)

It's possible there is a middle ground between apocalyptic doom-laden rants and dismissing-as-utterly-harmless, but this would require living in a non-Manichean world which, as we know from Mister A (or Rorschach), is a craven compromise with the forces of evil.

I think there is plenty of pop culture that is insidious and subtly destructive, and that's worth pointing out (although perhaps not quite so Howard Beale-ishly), but I also think it's possible to overreach and I think it can be morally dubious and qualitatively good at the same time. Sometimes I begin to suspect that ALL good art (or decent entertainment) is actually morally dubious at best.

Eric Reynolds wrote:

This could be the greatest critical roundtable in tcj.com history.

Gary Groth wrote:

• Kim was the first to cite capitalism and is, now, the first to cite socialism. There's a Manichean world view on display here, but not mine.

• Reading Wilde's paradoxical dictum on moral and immoral art literally always leads to trouble.

• There is a long list of morally dubious great art - RiefenstahlPoundCeline, the usual suspects- because their aesthetic virtues trump their moral vices or at least can be appreciated while holding one's nose. Unfortunately, Dilbert has no aesthetic virtues at all; its observations of the human condition are art-free and, not to put too fine a point on it, but we have both been too polite to mention what a visual eyesore it is even among the visually desiccated ranks of today's newspaper strips.

• I wondered why images of Dilbert flitted through my head when I was watching Shoah last week.

• A pointed examination would have to be just that - pointed.

• Postulating (postulating?) day after day and year after year that pretty much everyone in the world is a selfish idiot and all personal and professional interaction spirals inevitably into entropy devolves rapidly into a one-dimensional, reductive and even dishonest schtick (because not everyone in the world is a selfish idiot and all personal and professional interactions don't spiral into entropy - or do they? Maybe I'm behind the curve on this one) that's numbing in its repetitiveness and simple-mindedness. Even savage critiques of the way we live -think Face in the Crowd of Elmer Gantry- feature real human beings with whom we can empathize and who refuse to sink into nihilism and entropy. Dilbert isn't pointed, isn't a critique, isn't an examination - it's a relentless of glib, shallow cliches about office politics and managerial ineptitude that a million office drones could probably come up with if they just typed and scribbled long enough.

It has no juice, it has no fire. It's a sedative.

• Funny you should mention Network. A little shrill, sure, but at least it had guts and passion eloquence and a touch of humanity. Dilbert is just a load of crap.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Hey now, I take grave exception to the claim that we've been "too polite" to mention the hideousness of the art, I referred to "his godawful art" days ago, and then to Breathed "drawing better than Scott Adams, but everyone does, including Cathy Guisewite and 90% of the submissions in our slush pile."

I think we're played out on this. I'm not sure I can quite wrap my head around defending DILBERT against the charge of constituting, basically, "feel-good nihilism" although it sounds like a great genre. If Barnes & Noble had a section for "feel-good nihilism" I'd make a beeline for it every time, and not just for the DILBERT books.

Gary Groth wrote:

"Feel good nihilism" has ben a post-modern genre for years and has its own section in B&N. Where've you been?

You're right, you mentioned the hideous art e-mails ago; but in my defense, it cannot be said too much or too often.

Look, I know right at this moment, at 10:59 PM at the end of a grueling Tuesday, you believe that Dilbert is a not only a laff riot, but a shrewd, pointed exercise in sociological observation, but take my word for it just this once - it is a a piece of shit. There are issues facing us that are legitimately open to debate - should we have national health care, should we be landing troops on Libya, is Ditko as good as Kirby? - but this is not one of them.

Dilbert is the antithesis of everything Fantagraphics stands for - believe it, baby.

Kim Thompson wrote:

As in most cases, I am right and you are wrong.

DILBERT is not a sociological observation. It's (for the most part) an ongoing exercise in analyzing how something that is theoretically sensible and logical (corporate business structures built to produce things and make money) is undone by human nature (stupidity, selfishness, cowardice, etc.) to actually consistently do the opposite of what it's intended to achieve. One could argue equally convincingly that it's a paean to capitalism (laid low by its flawed practitioners) or a postmortem/condemnation of it (a system that doesn't take into account its practitioners is inherently doomed).

Leaving aside whether it's well drawn (it isn't) or well written (it is, a series of precise, almost haiku-like mockeries that remove any shred of humanity or individuality for pure conceptual humor), I can see where its adamant refusal to engage the moral or political underpinnings of capitalism or corporate culture might be infuriating for anyone who needs to strain his entertainment through his own sociopolitical colander of correctness. (Also the lack of humanity could be off-putting, I guess, if you're into the whole humanity thing.)

There's also the question as to whether it's funny or not, which is probably impossible to resolve because any sentence that starts off "This is not funny because..." is automatically meaningless.

Good debate! as Sean Hannity would say.

Did I mention I like ARLO AND JANIS too?

Gary Groth wrote:

Yes, once Dilbert is completely divorced from the historic/political/cultural/economic context that it clearly inhabits and exploits and after that pesky "humanity thing" is expunged from the equation and he strip is neatly turned into an abstraction (or "pure conceptual humor" you've really got something there.

Are you sure Scott Adams isn't a pseudonym for "Watson"? The results couldn't be appreciably different.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Er, uh, what?

Gary Groth:

No fair! That was going to be my opening argument against Arlo and Janis.

POLL QUESTION:

Tonight at Warwick's in La Jolla, CA!
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under Monte Schulzevents 1 Mar 2011 7:55 AM
MONTE SCHULZ TOURS WEST COAST IN MARCH TO PROMOTE THE RELEASE OF THE NEW NOVEL, THE LAST ROSE OF SUMMER

  

SEATTLE, WA, FEB. 2, 2011 --- This March, Fantagraphics Books will publish The Last Rose of Summer, a novel by Monte Schulz. To support the release, the author will tour several cities on the West Coast in late-February and March:

Sat., Feb. 26, 4PM • Tecolote Book Shop, Santa Barbara, CA
Tues., March 1, 7:30PM • Warwick's Books, La Jolla, CA
Thurs., March 3, 6:30PM • Bay Books, Coronado, CA
Fri., March 4, 6PM • Latitude 33 Bookshop, Laguna Beach, CA
Sun., March 6, 5PM • Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA

Wed., March 23, 7PM • Tsunami Books, Eugene, OR
Sat., March 26, 1PM • The Bookseller, Grass Valley, CA

"Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, a veritable time-machine that whirled me through time to the dirty back roads of the American midwest in the year before the Depression. ... Did I mention how good the writing is? The writing is excellent... a masterpiece of setting and storytelling..." - Cory Doctorow, BOINGBOING

With the Great Depression looming and about to define America's next decade, three strong-minded women related by marriage form an uneasy household in the summer of 1929. Forced by her husband Harry to uproot their two small children from Illinois and take up residence in East Texas, Marie Hennesey struggles to find a place not only within her mother-in-law's home but in a Southern town whose troubling unfamiliarities compound her marital woes and homesickness.

Maude Hennesey has little patience for Marie and her children, and even less for her own pretty but petulant daughter, Rachel, who fights and flirts with a dashing pilot from New Orleans. Colliding issues of faith and sexual mores, racial proprieties and class distinctions, fuel a constant bickering through the narrow corridors of the house, all three women heedless of the love that has brought them together. Maude seems cold and distant except toward the ladies of her club; Rachel's affection for her doting aviator rises and falls capriciously; and Marie seeks to understand an absent husband, while deciding how to receive her employer's slow seduction.

As summer wears on, the conflicts among these women are exacerbated by a child murder that sends shockwaves of fear and mistrust throughout the community, particularly between the town's white residents and a black shantytown across the river. An ever-increasing sense of dread culminates in the arrival of a terrible storm whose aftermath reveals poignant and unexpected truths about these three women living at a time when America was poised on the brink of economic catastrophe.

In The Last Rose of Summer, Monte Schulz has created a story about three women and their interior and exterior lives, each of whom symbolize quintessential American notions of family, love and community. In so doing, he reminds us all where we come from and how we got here. With an elegiac voice that evokes an era in its final bloom, and a thoughtful rendering of the public and private contentions that ruled the day, The Last Rose of Summer becomes an instant American classic.

Monte Schulz published his first novel, Down By The River, in 1990, and spent the next twelve years writing a tapestry of the Jazz Age, of which The Last Rose of Summer and 2009's This Side of Jordan are two of three parts. He received his M.A. in American Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he continues to reside. He is the eldest son of Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts).






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