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Tilting at Windmills

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March 4, 2009

IN DEFENSE OF GEEKS EVERYWHERE.... The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, in his review of "Watchmen," casually dismisses comic-book fans as "leering nineteen-year-olds" who fear "meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation." Adam Serwer offers a welcome response.

Not to question what is, I am certain, the vibrant and thrilling sex lives of film critics, but I'm not so sure that "film critic" is much higher than "comic book geek" on the social spectrum. Moreover, what exactly do Lane's thoughts on comic book nerds have to do with the quality of the film? What does the reviewer grant the reader by insulting the film's intended audience?

I'm not going to argue with Lane over the quality of a film I haven't seen, but I really find it hard to understand why comic book fans are the subject of such persistent abuse. You'd think we clubbed baby seals for a living or perhaps sold sub-prime mortgages. The unbridled contempt for people who like comic books reaches something close to the feelings people have for parking cops and tax collectors.

Comic book nerds can count Barack Obama, Rachel Maddow and Patrick Leahy among us.... Whatever Lane's opinions of Watchmen's source material, comic books are the closest thing Americans have to folktales, and their content is about as close as a reflection of American cultural identity, for good or for ill, as we have. You'd think that for that reason alone, the material and its consumers would be worth at least a minimum of respect.

Hear, hear. The condescension from Lane, and others, is tiresome and cliched. One gets the distinct impression that Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons" is taken a little too literally among those unfamiliar with the medium.

As it happens, right around the time Adam was posting his defense of comic-book readers everywhere, Matt Yglesias (comic-book reader) referenced a remark by Ana Marie Cox (another comic-book reader) about Watchmen and contemporary politics, which Matt then expanded on to make a point about Cold War policy towards Russia.

It's almost as if comic books have something compelling to offer to those who aren't socially-awkward teenagers.

Steve Benen 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Comments

Who cares what Anthony Lane thinks of comic book fans? What does Rush think?

Posted by: Markozilla on March 4, 2009 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

All of this going on and on about American cultural identity in the comics ignores that many of classic comics (e.g. Superman) were the work of Jewish immigrants, and the guy who revitalized the form (and wrote Watchmen) is a Brit (Alan Moore).

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 4, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

But that's part of the point. Part of the American cultural identity is about being a strange visitor from another planet who finds a place here.

Posted by: Ben on March 4, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are the *children* of Jewish immigrants, not immigrants themselves. Well, Shuster moved to Cleveland from Toronto when he was 10, but it was his parents who came to North America from Europe. Siegel was born in Cleveland.

Posted by: Rob S. on March 4, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

'Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons"' is making fun of folks who work at the shops, which is a different breed. And many characters in "The Simpsons" are based on real people who grew up with Matt Groening in Portland OR.

Posted by: MobiusKlein on March 4, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

There was never any possibility that the New Yorker's review of WATCHMEN would be anything but smugly dismissive. Anthony Lane comes straight from the hey-mom-look-how-good-I'm-writing school of criticism. And if David Denby wrote the review, he'd do it in a separate venue where the cool kids wouldn't have to witness him lowering himself.

Posted by: Mark on March 4, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

The New Yorker never liked mysteries in their heyday, either. A certain percentage of their arts coverage reads like a parody of a New Yorker arts piece. And once they got around to covering rock... but unlike comics and mysteries, the New York rock scene post '66 was never worth much, IMNSHO.

That said, they have some of the best political and constitutional writing in the country, and even some occasionally readable arts coverage, when they're not parodying themselves. Well worth the subscription, if you ignore about a third of every issue.

Posted by: ericfree on March 4, 2009 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Lane's crack was a quick, lazy way to score a point against a group of people who you (the movie critic) deem lower than you on the social ladder, but who are more and more having an effect on the medium that you review for a living (there's a reason why entire casts of films go to the San Diego Comic Con every year, and it's not to hunt down back issues of Marvel Team-Up).

Its like making fun of Trekkies now--if you want to goof on them, fine, but find a fresher angle than "Wow, check out the nerd in the Spock ears!"

Posted by: rob! on March 4, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not a big fan of Alan Moore and find his protestations of the film adaptations of his work ludicrous. As if he were Doestoyevsky and not a minor league writer pumping out pulp. His hissy fit over V for Vendetta was funny, the film was quite faithful to the comic book.

Watchmen is a good to great graphic novel though.

Posted by: grinning cat on March 4, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a comic book artist who subscribes to The New Yorker. Mainly for the reporting, but also because most of the covers are by COMIC BOOK ARTISTS. The magazine is also famous for its COMICS, which I enjoyed since I was a kid.

I read the review, and he just doesn't like the superhero genre. He is obviously a comics fan himself. He loves Maus and Persepolis. He obviously hasn't read many superhero comics, and I doubt that he finished more than the first issue of Watchmen. I don't think he understands that in the original comic, Rorschach was being mocked by the writer. He was a caricature of a specific character (Steve Ditko's the Question) and a type (Dirty Harry, Death Wish, Mad Max, etc).

What's really sad is that he isn't observant enough to mock superhero fans, a fatal flaw for a journalist. Does he really imagine most superhero and ultra-violence fans are 19-25 today?

Posted by: Gene Ha on March 4, 2009 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

You wanna talk weird and comics in the same sentence, spend some time in Japan. . .

But then you want weird and ANYTHING in the same sentence, spend some time- Oh, wait: I LIVED in Tokyo in 1955-56. . .

And now you know The Rest of the Story. . .

Posted by: DAY on March 4, 2009 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Has the world gone insane?

Read the review again. You may not agree with it, you may think Lane is too dismissive of comic books, whatever; the fact remains that "leering nineteen-year-old" does NOT refer to comic book fans. It refers to conspiracy theorists. And if Watchmen is at all like V or 300, it's a point well made.

Posted by: ratnerstar on March 4, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Lane's myopic as usual. If he were writing in the 40s and 50s he would have trashed Noir fans as being teenage sociopaths and shutins.

I avoid the New Yorker film reviews like they are the plague.

Posted by: grinning cat on March 4, 2009 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Just because it's a cliche doesn't mean it isn't true.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on March 4, 2009 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' is a book that will change all but the most arid hearts' view of comic books.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on March 4, 2009 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Of course it meets the needs of leering 19 year olds, it's a comic book and a superhero film.

As to the United States not being ruled by the military industrial complex... What's it ruled by Mr. Lane?

Posted by: grinning cat on March 4, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

A close second to comic books are video games. People who've never played them love to push the standard negative stereotypes. IMO, the forefront of creative entertainment is in the videogame industry.

Posted by: bdop4 on March 4, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

But Lane is more right than he's wrong.

The typical comic book fan is an under-socialized geek who is terrified of real women. Obama, Maddow, Leahy are far far out of he mainstream for comic book fans.

Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons is a pretty accurate caricature.

Speaking of the Simpsons, doesn't Bobby Jindal look like a young Mr. Burns?

Posted by: Cash on March 4, 2009 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

The only "typical" comic book fan I know is my wife. A professional in her late 30s and an avid collector of comic books. I'll ask her tonight if she hates "real" women.

Posted by: grinning cat on March 4, 2009 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

I kind of wonder if he actually read the comic. Sure, he makes some interesting comments about the narrative, as if he made it all the way through without sneering all the while. But no one I've spoken with who has read the original has anywhere near a twisted interpretation of the material as Lane. Conspiracy prone adolescent males? Eh, that's Rorschach's role, not the entire theme. Me thinks Lane protests, nay, projects too much.

Granted, I have yet to be disappointed/excited/pleased by the film (won't see it until I get a babysitter to cover for the night show,) but I can't help but think this man went in with an axe to grind -- like many a fanboy, come to think -- looking for things to assail. Lucky for him, his work was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Me, I hope the story is mostly true to the core.

Synder can at best hope to convey the same messages of the original. If he gets others to experience the source material, even better. That's my hope for his -- and the actors -- efforts.

Posted by: gphatty on March 4, 2009 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a passionate comic book fan, and have my IMAX ticket for Watchmen tonight safely in my pocket.

I own approximately 3,000 comics.

I also have two university (college to you Yanks) degrees, am a qualified lawyer, am married and have an active social life.

I'm strongly reminded of (as one commenter said) the characterisation of players of video games as twelve years old.

I've never understood the idea that artwork that is painted has validity, and the artwork that is written has validity, but if drawings and text are merged, it becomes merely 'kid stuff'.

Posted by: Aussiesmurf on March 4, 2009 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you! You have to appreciate the irony of this kind of passe elitism coming from a magazine noted for its cartoons and drawings. I generally enjoy the New Yorker but I've never found their film reviews to be at all helpful; they seem to have a barely-disguised contempt for the medium in general.

Posted by: JRD (comic-book reader) on March 4, 2009 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK
The typical comic book fan is an under-socialized geek who is terrified of real women. Obama, Maddow, Leahy are far far out of he mainstream for comic book fans.

You can prove that, no?

I think you're about, oh, thirty years behind the times. And a prime example of proving Steve's point.

Posted by: gwangung on March 4, 2009 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I've only just gotten interested in comic books after learning that John Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, also writes them.

I guess I'll have to tell my parents to prep their basement for my imminent return.

Posted by: doubtful on March 4, 2009 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

I lent my trade paperback of Watchmen -- which I bought because the 12 original issues started to fall apart from repeated reading -- to a co-worker, and he's amazed at how dense and literate the book is. There's hardly a single word or image that isn't carefully considered by Moore and Gibbons.

I'm not one who insists on calling them "graphic novels to avoid the term "comic books,' But Watchmen is as intricately plotted, carefully characterized and internally consistent as any novel, and more so than many. And it came out in the '80s, for Ford's sake. Throw in works like Neil Gaiman's Sandman and many others, and it's clear that sneering condescension toward comic books isn't just elitist, it's 20 years out of date.

If Lane is an example, I'm not sure movie reviewers are at all higher than comic book readers on the heirarchy.

Posted by: Gregory on March 4, 2009 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

You know, using a bunch of Bloggers to defend comic books really isn't really helping.

The difference between Comic Book Fans and Film Fans is if you insult a comic book in just the right way, the comic book fan will literally cry when trying to explain the errors of your ways. Insulting a Film would just have the Film Fan walk away in the most theatrical manner.

Posted by: Dervin on March 4, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the world has a dim view of comic book fans because they have a dim view of themselves, and therefore read insult into things not remotely addressed to them? Again, can anyone here provide any justification for reading "leering nineteen-year-old" etc. as a shot at comic book fans? I don't see it. It is clearly aimed at a) conspiracy theorists, and (more broadly) b) people who enjoy the visceral thrill of violence only so long as it's served up in a manner that flatters their ideology.

I haven't seen Watchmen (or read the book). Maybe Lane's all wrong about it. But if you see yourself in Lane's description, it says more about you than it does about him.

Posted by: ratnerstar on March 4, 2009 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

I've known comic book "artists" and animation "artists", plus students and those who teach the crafts for 35 years. Trust me, there are real problems.

My finest moment as a teacher was when I had a class of animators write and\ essay on the difference between art and entertainment, but they could NOT put animation in the art category.

Tee hee. Actually got some good essays from the twerps.

But really -- Dante, Shakespeare, Walt Disney. Which name doesn't belong there?

Posted by: Bob M on March 4, 2009 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with ratnerstar (and thank him/her for pointing it out, since I didnt look at the original article until after reading the comment).

Here's the quote that is mentioned in the original post:

“Watchmen,” like “V for Vendetta,” harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering nineteen-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear—deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation—is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along.

That's clearly not making a disparaging remark about comic fans - it's about conspiracy theorists. Granted, I dont really get the idea that consipriacy buffs tend to be 19-year-olds, but whatever.

Posted by: TG Chicago on March 4, 2009 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Dante, Shakespeare, Walt Disney. Which name doesn't belong there?

Dante, definitely. Much too heavy-handed and dour. No sense of plot or character development. Metaphors too literal. Hamstrung by his own religious piety.

This is fun! Next question?

Posted by: C.S. on March 4, 2009 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's pretty cool to have a President of the United States who actually understands that with great power comes great responsibility. Haven't seen that in a few years, have we?

Posted by: MrToad on March 4, 2009 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

You poindexters are a sensitive lot. Perhaps having underwear forcibly pulled up your crack well into your 30s and 40s does that to you.

Posted by: Dr. F. Wertham on March 4, 2009 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Lets get this clear. The hiearchy is as follows:
1) New Yorker Movie Critics
2) Comic Book Fans
3) Star Trek fans
and somewhere down near infinity:
oo) Babylon Five fans.

I´d also put the Watchmen in a category all by itself. It was one of the first comic books I read, and everything else seemed like crap in comparison. Theres no reason to get snotty because something comes from a popular genre. Its one of the best stories I have ever read.

The Watchmen will be taught in schools in a century, where it will be considered dull, dreary and unimaginative by a generation of kids raised on holo vids.

Posted by: inkadu on March 4, 2009 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

just outta curiosity, who DOESN'T "believe that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex?"

Posted by: dj spellchecka on March 4, 2009 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

Awesome being offended by a criticism of a movie none of you have seen.

Posted by: Jay B. on March 4, 2009 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

The critic on CBS's Sunday morning show actually offered a good review of the film. By that I do not mean that he liked the film, but that he was familiar with the source material - seemed to be a fan, even - and reviewed the movie in that light. He felt the film was not successful, that its problem was that it was too reverent toward the original novel.

Now, he may be right about that, and he may not. But dammit, that's how a review ought to be constructed.

(I'm actually waiting on Peter Travers' review in Rolling Stone. When I read his reviews, I actually know whether a movie is worth ten bucks and two hours of my time.)

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on March 4, 2009 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

Make that almost three hours.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on March 4, 2009 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'll know if it's worth watching once Christopher Orr reviews it. But I'll probably have seen it already, even though I'm (a) not 19 and (b) am a girl.

Posted by: nolo on March 4, 2009 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

Rush is Veidt's monster and when he does finally go off he will take Anthony Lane with him.

Posted by: reboho on March 4, 2009 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, there are some women who'll gladly drop their panties for comic book nerds.

And if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you.

Posted by: Peter on March 4, 2009 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

sure, there are some women who'll gladly drop their panties for comic book nerds.
and if you believe that, i've got a bridge to sell you.

then give the bridge to me for free, because my wife's neice, a young woman in her late 20s, is engaged to be married to a comic book artist, who is currently employed by marvel to render on-line product for some new heros they've written.

the guy is quite handsome, quite accomplished, very literate, and just lurvs comic books.

as i do too, we've had many an interesting conversation about the art form.

am looking forward to seeing watchmen (first showing @ imax in la on friday...got my ticket already!)

must agree w/above whoever said watchmen is denser than most novels. i read voraciously, always have, and while it's no tolstoy, moore&gibbons' work has more nuance, complexity and subtext than @least 85% of stuff pumped out by today's "authors" (barbara taylor bradford...stephen king...etc etc).

also, above someone beat me to the "dante" punchline. give me disney anyday over dante.

lastly, i've noticed most of the "serious" media outlets are panning watchmen, whilest most independent (online, small magazine, blogs) outlets are loving it. rotten tomatoes gives it 64% which is fresh, and not a bad good-to-bad review ratio.

Posted by: skippy on March 4, 2009 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

This is fun! Next question?

What is your definition of fun, comic book boy?

I remember the look on Zach Schwartz's face (you couldn't possibly know him) as he told me I had to teach them that there was a reality outside of animation. It was so sad. He said that they just made fun of everything, and couldn't stand up for anything. That they were just gormless little dweebs.

Like you. So sad.


Posted by: Bob M on March 4, 2009 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Though I'm sure that the movie will be full of wooden acting and lackluster pacing, boy, Lane's review was pretty weak. He seemed to think that Rorschach, the violence, and ending were intended to be accepted unironically. Doubtful as I am of Snyder's acumen, I really don't think he would botch such a basic aspect of the book. The thing is, Lane's often a pretty good reader and not usually subject to snobbery-induced blindness -- so it's particularly obvious and egregious when it does happen. When I taught literature, the first requirement was that the student understand the basic intentions of the artwork before critiquing it. So right off the bat, C for Mr. Lane. And for what it's worth, I can assure people here that the real literati -- from authors like Michael Chabon, to literary critics, to publishers and young writers -- all give comics a lot more respect than the aging Lane apparently does.

Posted by: Teeter on March 4, 2009 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Listen, I'm not a big fan of comics per se, but most of my friends are, and they pass along the occasional "no, even you will like this." Sometimes they're right, sometimes I say "meh".

But nothing could be further from the truth than this blinkard idiot's characterization. These are professionals, they are well-adjusted people with active social lives. I don't know a single person that fits this description.

Ironically enough, it's lazy typecasting (or is it stereotyping?) like this that usually ruins the film adaptations of these comics.

Posted by: Don on March 4, 2009 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

Good grief, Bob M. What a pretentious bag of shit you are.

Posted by: Rob S. on March 5, 2009 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, I saw Watchmen last night, and Lane's review of the film, if not its intended audience, is pretty spot on.

Posted by: craigie on March 5, 2009 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

Almost.

Posted by: steveb on March 5, 2009 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, the 19-year olds (as well as those 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 years of age) aren't too interested in "Watchmen."

"Watchmen" in fact is a comic book for comic book geeks now circling 40. It was popular 25 years ago, and there are those in Hollywood now who have watched the epic battles between Warner's and Fox over making it who think the movie is about 20 years too late to capitalize on its intended readership, since people around 40 no longer go to the movies like they did when they were 18 (many people around 40 nowadays can't afford to go to any movie).

But for some otherwise-unemployable who managed to graduate from the University of Spoiled Children or any of the other myriad Fillum Schools with a degree in "critical studies" who is lucky enough to not have to be asking those he's just insulted "You want fries with that?" is pretty sad.

Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, teach teachers; those who can't teach teachers, become film critics.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 5, 2009 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

Comic book fans are all 19 year old dateless wonders? Puhleeeze !

I am in my mid-50s, married 25 years, three adult children and successfully self-employed for 15 years, married to a college level art teacher, full professor. While single, it would not be bragging to say I talked and had relations with many women (well into double digits) and in high school I went to 7 proms.

And through that, I managed to read and collect about 3,000 comic books with another 2500 paperback and hardcovers.

Comic book people are articulate and socially active. The reviewer is an idiot.

Posted by: Darsan54 on March 5, 2009 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

Reviewers who aren't familiar with the medium--let alone the work being adapted--have no business writing reviews, regardless of their film expertise. Can't the New Yorker find a more competent critic? For example, Lane notes the use of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in the soundtrack and snarks, "How long did it take the producers to arrive at that imaginative choice?" I guess Lane missed this panel from issue #11 of the graphic novel, which used the song's title in a perfume's marketing campaign.

Lane calls Watchmen "[i]ncoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny," opining that it "marks the final demolition of the comic strip, and it leaves you wondering: where did the comedy go?" While all of those things may be true, it's apparent that he hasn't done enough homework to make that opinion an informed one.

Posted by: cognitive dissident on March 5, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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