[rockcritics.com kicks off phase 2 of is existence with an exclusive interview with music and comics writer, Douglas Wolk. An archived version of this interview is available here.]
Douglas Wolk… Dean of American Comics Critics
By Steven Ward
That title was not self-proclaimed by Douglas Wolk. I came up with the unofficial designation as soon as I finished the last page of Wolk’s Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean ($22.95 Da Capo Press). It occurred to me that sometime in the near future–if not already–the comics fanboy community as well as the pop culutre world will consider Wolk one of the premier critics of all things graphic novels.
Wolk knows his stuff.
When delving into Reading Comics, you find out that Wolk has definte favorites when it comes to comics authors. He seems to know the entire history of the medium off the top of his head and he isn’t afraid to criticize legends in the business.
How good is Wolk’s book? I’m no comics guy. I haven’t picked up a comic book since I was 12 or 13 when I was reading Tomb of Dracula in the ’70s. (Wolk has a whole chapter on that fine Marvel title BTW.) But the appeal of those graphic novels I always look at longingly in book stores, combined with Wolk’s reputation as an excellent music critic, made me want to explore what all the fuss was about.
Well, before I finshed the book, I went to my local comics store, and bought volume one of Alan’s Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing. If you know who Alan Moore is, you will want to read Wolk’s book. If you don’t know who Moore is you need to read this book. Wolk has me hooked. (My wife is eternally grateful to Douglas. Now I have to spend money on something else besides all those books and CDs I have stacked all over our house.)
During the e-mail interview below, Wolk talks a little about music criticism and a lot about comics and comic book culture.
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Steven: Is there a Lester Bangs of comics criticism, and if so, who is it and where does he or she publish their stuff? If not, why not?
Douglas: That’s a hard question–partly because I reflexively twitch at the mention of Lester Bangs’ name. Not that I don’t love a lot of his writing, but I think he’s been a terrible influence on a lot of music critics who’ve tried to be idiosyncratic exactly the way he was, and holding him up as the example of what pop criticism aspires to doesn’t tend to yield very good results.
Another way to frame the question might be: what would it take for there to be an English-language comics critic whose writing would be as fresh and odd and powerful as Lester Bangs’ was in his time? My first impulse is that she’d have to be able to make a living at it, which I think is still functionally impossible–I’ve been doing this for a long time, but a lot of my income still comes from music criticism and political writing. But what overrides that first impulse is realizing that the best writers-on-comics right now (again, in English; I suspect there’s much better developed comics criticism in other languages) are writing on the Web, for no money or almost none.
It’s logrolling, but I’ll say it anyway: my two favorite writers on comics right now are both part of the Savage Critic collective, to which I also belong. Joe “Jog” McCulloch (who also writes at Jog – The Blog) is thoughtful and rigorous and goes deep into his subjects; I always come out of his reviews understanding his subjects more deeply than when I started. And Abhay Khosla is, I suppose, sort of Bangs-like in his approach–or mayb even Meltzerian, which is to say that he rips apart the unquestioned assumptions behind comics criticism and is also hilarious.
But it’s also worth noting that “comics criticism” no longer just means well-wrought prose essays. My favorite piece of comics criticism of the past year is probably Christopher Bird’s detournement of Ultimate Power #2–not just a brilliant commentary on its subject, but a more entertaining story than the one it’s replacing.
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