Douglas Wolk’s “Reading Comics”

Just picked up Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics, his informally didactic how-to book about criticizing comic books. It’s like being chastised by your older brother, but in a good way: “No, dude, Eric Carr was actually Kiss’ third drummer.” You blush with shame publicly, but are secretly grateful for the knowledge. I’m about halfway through, and I’ve already learned the distinction I drew between Marvel/D.C. and Image yesterday was a spurious one: Image was actually founded in 1992 by a group of disgruntled Marvel illustrators. So even though Phonogram looks like something more indie than X-Men because the superheroes inside haven’t been around since 1963, according to Wolk, it’s still a “mainstream comic book” not an “art comic book.”

My bad.

Anyway, so far, Reading Comics is a great book. Wolk’s definition of what it means to be “counter-culture” or “bohemian,” for instance, is a model of clarity; it reminded me of the scene where Ethan Hawke defines “irony” in Reality Bites. And this is right after Wolk casually references Kant. He’s so good it seems like he’s being smug, but he can’t help it if he knows everything, can he? I’ve actually kinda been waiting for a book like this: I’ve read The Great Comic Book Superheroes, Jules Feiffer’s funny 1965 essay on the so-called “Golden Age” of comic books, but to discover a guy like Wolk (and by discovering a guy like Wolk, you also automatically discover a legion of guys that are going ‘What, this doof didn’t know about Douglas Wolk?” Look, fuckers, The Believer is expensive, okay? It’s like the price of two comic books), alright, what was I talking about? Oh yeah…it’s like discovering that there are other people out there who put their Chris Ware right next to their Chris Claremont. Other people that saw American Splendor and wanted to know where to sign up, but then remembered what it was like to get a wedgie in the bathroom if you are seen with those guys.

So…I know I took 20 years off from reading comics, guys, but where have you been? I’ve been blogging about this shit all summer long. Was it just cause I was hanging out with the jocks all those years? C’mon. Let’s hang out.

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