There is so much complete crap in the comics world — crappy comics, crappy writing about comics, crappy writing about crappy writing about comics, crappy crap crap crap crap — that when one encounters something that isn’t crap, the temptation can be strong to overpraise. “Alternative Comics: an Emerging Literature” by Charles Hatfield is not complete crap. As a set of deep, academic and critical analyses of key “alternative comics,” surrounded by a smattering of historical context, the book seems to accomplish everything it set out to do. It is ambitious, intelligent and carefully wrought. The field it covers is one that needs a book like this to exist.
And I didn’t like it.
And I don’t really even know if it’s any good.
I was expecting a different kind of book — a journalistic history of the alternative comics scene, sort of what “Men of Tomorrow,” by Gerard Jones, did for the commercial comics industry. You get a very little bit of that in this book, but only a very little. Chapter One, pretty much.
The rest of the time, you get actual Capital-C Criticism of actual Capital-A Artwork, on a panel-by-panel, line-by-line, inch-by-inch kind of basis. That the book isn’t what I wanted it to be is not the book’s fault. I know this. But that still doesn’t make me like it. I found it excruciatingly boring.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a complete anti-intellectual. As an English major, long, long ago, I ingested (and even disgorged) a good amount of Close Reading. I still know it when I see it, and I recognize the need for it, especially in the under-appreciated medium of comics. I just don’t care to spend my own personal time reading it anymore.
That’s also why I don’t know if this book is any good: you have to spend a fair amount of time sampling various recent examples of a thing before you’re really qualified to decide which examples of it are good and which are bad. I have not done so, and have no desire to do so.
But hey! You might like it, if you like to read (or need to cite) academic critical prose.