Saturday, November 17, 2018

Bill Maher and the low art of comics

Anybody who's a comic book fan has probably read what Bill Maher has had to say about Stan Lee. Apparently, Maher doesn't see what the big deal is, and he thinks that comic books can't be sophisticated because they contain pictures. I'm not going to go too into Bill Maher here. I lean pretty left, so I appreciate when he criticizes conservatives and Trump. However, he's a tremendous hypocrite for calling out the right for its climate change science denial while espousing scientific illiteracy when it comes to vaccines and GMOs. (And even though he's an atheist like myself, his movie Religulous contained a lot of really bad arguments.)

Anyway, Neil Gaiman said it best with his tweet: "More people cared about Stan Lee’s death than care about Bill Maher alive."

With that said, I wish that people would get over the whole thing with mixing words and pictures. Literature can be high art, correct? So can drawings, right? Why is it bad when you put them together, either in a comic book or a picture book? Most people can't draw much of anything, much less draw well. Artists, including comic book artists, take years and years to develop their skills. When it comes to comic book artists, they not only need to know how to draw, they need to know how to tell a story with pictures. Ever look at a comic and get confused as to what order you should look at things? While the problem might be with you, chances are also good that the artist doesn't know how to construct a page just right so your eye flows naturally from one panel to the next.

I realize that lots of people are already citing works like Maus and Watchmen as examples of the genre achieving high-art status. That's worth mentioning, but even if we didn't have these ready examples, the very notion of panning an entire art form is just ridiculous.

Think of it this way: if the problem with comic books is that they require pictures and can't just use words, then what does that say about every other form of art?

Music? No thank you. I'll just read books of poetry because I don't need somebody to sing it to me! Some of those songs don't even have words!

Those folks who see live productions of Shakespeare? What, they need a bunch of actors to perform the play for them? Why can't they just read it? It's all published in books!

Ever go to an art museum? Why? Don't you know how to read?

The irony of it all is that the basis of Maher's criticism is one that can be leveled much more effectively at the way he makes his living - television. What, that's high art all of a sudden? (I believe that it can be, but if only comics or television can be on the list of high art, I'll put comics first.)

I reckon that Maher probably hasn't looked at a comic book since he was a kid, and he figures that they're all the same as they were back then. (But I also hate the idea of disparaging entertainment made for kids. That can be just as great as anything else.)

I don't expect everybody to have the same depth of knowledge about comics history that I do, but I wonder if Maher would be surprised if he found out that his attitude is rooted in one that was spearheaded by puritanical religious zealots who sought to ban comic books in the 1950s. The medium has been getting more and more respectable over the years, attracting a more diverse audience. I've been reading them for over 30 years, and I used to hear people say stuff like what Maher did all the time. I guess it just kinda shocked me that a guy who did a cameo in Iron Man 3 would be so totally clueless. Surely he knows and interacts with some pretty intelligent comic book readers?

Lastly, he tries to draw a link between the fact that we take comic books seriously in this country and we elected Donald Trump to the presidency. I guess Maher also doesn't know how much more respected comic books are in Europe and Japan.

Whatever. The man likes to feel like he's better than all the rubes out there, but somebody needs to tell him that you need to choose between being condescending and being full of shit. You don't get to do both.

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