Saturday, August 23, 2008

An Open Response to Noah Berlatsky

When the first edition of Grant Morrison: The Early Years was published, Noah Berlatsky did a review of it in The Comics Journal. The review was negative, and it's never fun to read negative reviews, but we respected his opinion. Also, it was one of many reviews, most of which were overwhelmingly positive.

Anyway, Noah's reposted the review recently on his blog, apparently because we're issuing the second edition. Which is cool. This time around, probably due to the ease of posting online, Mike Phillips (Sequart's Editor-in-Chief) and Tim Callahan (the book's author) have weighed in. So I thought I'd do so too, for the record. Particularly because we all remember that review and have thought about it since.

Here's my complete response to Noah's review, which is about as long as the review itself. I don't mind giving Noah a link here, despite his opinions: like I say in the response, I respect his opinion.

First, thanks for reading the book and for your enthusiasm for the material, if not its analysis. You’re welcome to your opinion, irrelevant of the quibbles I’m about to offer.
If you think the book is light, too plot-focused, or don’t like its focus on themes, fine. I think there’s a lot of synthesis and that the book is a lot more than lists of themes, but I do take your point. There’s a wide gap between fanboy gushing and unreadable academic nonsense – and, as an academic, I’ve read and produced myself a lot of such obfuscating nonsense. A lot of books on comics are way lighter than this one, and a lot are way too snooty with little real understanding behind them (often with jargon mystifying what are really simple observations). Sequart strives to occupy a middle ground between these two: to be approachable but also to analyze and open up comic book texts in non-mystifying ways. If you disagree with this agenda, then the book’s not for you. If you just think that Callahan hasn’t met that bar, you’re entitled to
your opinion.
I would point out, as far as fanboy gushing goes, that Callahan readily points out that he likes the works and wants to explain why they’re important. Callahan knows his manga and underground stuff -- I’ve talked with him, so I know. It’s just that he has a high opinion of the works covered, and you’re free to disagree with that or to want the book to be something other than it is. For my sake, I can’t imagine anything more awkward than a book about Morrison’s early super-hero work that is filled with French theory or can only explain its points through references to Eightball –- how insular would that be?
Callahan’s admitted that he goofed on attributing a couple quotations, and we’ve corrected that for the second edition, which is apparently the occasion for reposting this review. No complaint there, and thanks for taking the time to review us, positively or negatively. Thanks also for catching the goof! But I’d just like to point out that it’s been fixed – and both the author and the publisher considered it important to do that.
Sorry there’s no index. Yes, there are some proofreading errors. I am legitimately sorry for that. But, for the record, that doesn’t mean that smart people who read and write professionally didn’t proofread the book literally dozens of times. Again, we’ve caught many errors for the second edition. Many times, when people point out errors, they’re actually the result of a different style manual –- I don’t know if this is (at least partially) the case here. And, for the record, I haven’t read a book or magazine (including every issue of The Comics Journal) in 20 years that hasn’t had errors, and a lot of books (including academic ones) don’t have an index. Whether or not we had more errors than others, we can only apologize and spend countless hours fixing what we can find. Which we do.
Maybe this is just because I got my academic training when comics was an unacceptable artistic medium, but I usually prefer to be glad that other analytical works are out there about comics, even when I don’t like their approach. Hey, The Comics Journal attacked the name of our organization because it sounded like a bodily function… which, since our name is short for “sequential art,” would mean that “art” sounds like a bodily function -- certainly a great irony, and one that’s personally given me many laughs. But I’m glad it’s out there, and I’m glad you’re out there too.
For what it’s worth, Sequart’s serious about its mission, and a lot of others are glad that it’s out there. You might not like that mission, or you might want books about comics to be something other than what we publish. Again, that’s your prerogative. We can simply agree to disagree about whether or not Grant Morrison: The Early Years will cause people to run screaming from considering super-hero comics as serious art.
I’m sorry that you didn’t like the book, but I thank you for your time and consideration.

1 comment:

Julian Darius said...

Noah has a nice reply to my comment over at his own blog. He seems like a nice guy, and I very much appreciate his words.