Thursday, October 14, 2004

ghostwriters, updike and mcsweeney's 13

"Why does the novel maintain its exalted status as the pinacle of human achievement? Any idiot can write one: you just need patience and a massive ego. It seems extraordinary, when we are surrounded by so much visual information, when we rely on the visual to tell us so much, and the lines between comics, films, advertising, TV and computers are becoming so blurred, that comics should still be considered trivial in some quarters."


God, I'm really taken with the Guild of Ghostwriters blog; especially under its current guise, The Guild of Guestbloggers; it's brilliant - colourful, imaginitive, funny and clever in turn, with a new entry a day by a host of talented doodle bloggers. I'd like to display a couple of pictures here but I can't access my webspace right now and, although they use a creative commons license, I won't nick their bandwidth. So just go and have a look for yourself, it's worth it.


The quote above, with which I started the post, is from Charlie Higson's review of McSweeney's 13: The Comics Issue, another dazzling example of artistic inventiveness. I haven't bought a comic since I was a young teenager (unless you count Viz, and the odd nostalgic Oor Wullie annual at Christmas) but I asked Victoria to buy me McSweeney's 13 for my birthday in part because of Higson's enjoyable, urging write-up and partly because I was so very taken with its packaging. It's a very beautiful book, a conventional hardback but for it's gorgeous wrap-around sleeve and the burst of colour within, where the issue's editor, Chris Ware, collects together a luminous collection of modern and nostalgic american comic art.

Now, for all Higson's praise (he goes on to say "Comics will be around long after most literary novels are forgotten, and they'll show us what was going on in the world a lot clearer"), I don't agree that comic art is - as Higson informs us Updike believes - 'more admirable than what novelists get up to', but it can be fascinating. That said, I love McSweeney's for it's thinginess, it's aesthetic value; turning it over in my hand, it reads as well upside down... The comics inside are entertaining and diverting, but then you read a line of Updike (to take Ware's reference) and...

"She had on a kind of dirty-pink - beige maybe, I don't know - bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me, the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim. If it hadn't been there you wouldn't have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty."

It is more than pretty. But comparing comic writing to Updike is ungenerous; that is to say, no-one is more immediately impressive (or, for readers of some of his later work, as dissapointing; the beauty of the prose above only masks his tiresome misogyny, more apparent later) - and it does the likes of Daniel Clowes (who wrote the excellent Ghost World) a disservice. Both McSweeney's 13 and the Guild of Ghostwriters are well worth a look. And read Updike.

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