Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow, or Bad reviews help you grow, but they sure can get you down

badreviews-header.jpgIn this new mini comic from the Minimalist Comics Collective, Carlos Che Salazar faces up to some of his harshest critiques, including one you read right here on PLAYBACK:stl.

   

Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow, or Bad reviews help you grow, but they sure can get you down (DIY JET)

A mini comic by the Minimalist Comics Collective

12 pgs. B&W; price unknown

(W / A: Carlos Che Salazar)

 

 

I don’t want to hurt anyone. It’s easy to say those words, isn’t it? And pretty self-serving, after you’ve hurt someone. But hurting people’s feelings is what good critics do.

I mean, that’s true, right? In the same way that a thoughtful critic rushes to extol the glorious, he’s quick to damn the pretentious, the superficial, and so on. And an author on the receiving end of those adjectives will certainly be hurt.

But you see, my aesthetic love comes from a holy place. Just so, my aesthetic gripes arise from a desire to defend assaults on that place. And yet, this is far from simple.

For one thing, I’m talking about opinion, not fact. From that perspective, my convictions are about as useful as a colander in a flood. For another, a real person puts real time and love into their creative children, and when I, as a critic, dismiss them as worthless, I’m cutting deep.

My criticism might take two hours. Their effort might have taken two years. See how easily, in the public imagination, I can reduce an artistic voyage to a laughable footnote? Doesn’t seem terribly fair to the creator, does it?

And then, what about the times when I’ve missed the boat—when my ignorance of some reference or allegory has left me in the dark, and that failure to communicate is processed into a dismissal of the work?

What to think about Carlos Che Salazar and his Minimalist Comics Collective, now that he’s essentially called me out in the pages of a new issue? Salazar’s Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow or Bad reviews help you grow, but they sure can get you down is a mini comic that offers serious reflection on the hurt engendered by my earlier review of his work, as well as others’ harsh reviews of the same.

First, a taste of my ugliness: I wrote of Salazar’s first comic, "In truth, it doesn’t really do anything, except make you glad you failed to attend the release party for the comic, where you might have had to meet people proud to have disgorged these sophomoric, bland, and inscrutable efforts. I guess maybe they’re just kids, though…Indeed, the related site, http://diy-jet.blogspot.com/, describes this as a ‘zine. And with ‘zines, you plow through a mound of adolescent drivel before you find a keeper. So it goes…As they say in the Special Olympics, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ One point for bravery, kids."

Ouch. Yes, if I were on the receiving end of this one, I would be hurt. So now we have the follow-up, the coyly titled Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow or Bad reviews help you grow, but they sure can get you down.

In addition to actually reprinting the first sentence of my excerpt from above, the author does a number of things, many of them fascinating, all of them absolutely bursting with the earnest attempt to bridge the gap between the creator of a cryptic piece of art and its audience.

Click for a larger image.Salazar describes two romances gone sour, and how lack of communication was the death knell. He writes "WHY CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT I’M TRYING TO DO?" across two pages, juxtaposing the work of such artists as Duchamp and Orozco with panels from his own first comic, apparently wondering why readers such as myself failed to catch the oblique references. He describes the pain of a man denied the right to be an artist by his unsympathetic family, who then elects to kill himself. He explores—as he did in the first comic—his need to break free of the convention of panels and create a new, genre-busting form of comic.

His musings explore—effectively—the communication gap between artist and audience. Should an artist really care about an audience, as long as he’s satisfying himself? That’s the primary thing. Then again, isn’t an artist without an audience only half of the equation? There are no easy answers here. It is, quite frankly and quite ironically, an effort that communicates to the reader much more effectively than did the first issue.

A bit huffily, Salazar references his hero Duchamp (as artist and chess master, apparently), writing "He would play his game and keep his intentions hidden."

Hm. I’ve always believed, to extend the author’s fine art analogy, great paintings shouldn’t have placards next to them at the museum explaining the artists’ intent or the professors’ interpretations. The power and meaning of said works should come through mere sensitivity, through the unvarnished act of emotional and logical absorption, without a paragraph of assistance from "the experts."

Yet here we find another murky proposition. Occasionally, I’m afraid, a certain amount of hand-holding does become necessary. Again, where the earnest attempts to break the comic form in the name of some "minimalist" cause in the first issue were communicated in a frustrating and half-assed manner, the clearer lines of explanation (and actual footnotes) of the second issue were a comparative relief. So in general, where the cryptic meets the clear, hopefully, intent is visible—and that’s a big "hopefully."

But Mr. Salazar—by now I assume you’re the only one who’s read this far—please don’t assume that had I understood all your references I would be reveling in your cleverness. Many of the strips in your second comic take the tone of a hurt, pouting little boy, unutterably upset with his parent-masters for not "getting it." That which I didn’t get, as you point out in so many words, is as much your failure as mine. I’m certainly not alone in needing a little help with veiled references to Duchamp and Orozco.

Partly, this is a question of context. If this were offered at some sort of independent-publications festival at a modern art gallery, then perhaps the book would have been met with a kinder reception.

But speaking for myself, at PlaybackSTL, I’m in the business of reviewing comic books—and that includes comics that break the form, hopefully with delirious glee and a satisfying sense of the author’s frustration dripping through the page.

But that which I understood in your first issue I found fair-to-middling. I stand by the review. I don’t want to hurt you, but as a critic, I will write things on the page I would soften were I to say them to your face. That’s the convention, and it serves me. Your earlier work was impressive in intent, but wanting in execution. That’s only my opinion, of course, but to soft-pedal it might be to encourage the reader to seek out your first comic. And that, I maintain, would be a waste of money. Your second comic I offer a harsh-but-measured "now-you’re-getting-somewhere." Do I sound like a dick (again)? Probably. Am I hurting your feelings again? I am guessing yes. Will this "help you grow," to use your terms? That would be nice, but arrogant of me to suggest.

May I offer an analogy? Serious, aspiring poets, in graduate school or the like, sit in a circle and, under the guidance of a professor, rip each others’ work to shreds. It’s a rather ego-shattering experience. Does it help them grow? No doubt.

From my own life: a year ago I was fortunate enough to be given a solo show of my photography at a gallery here in St. Louis. I blithely blew up and framed some three dozen photos and invited one and all to come and drink from my mind. My friends offered me compliments, of course. But the art critic from our local alt-weekly newspaper, whom I personally invited to review the show, pointed out its aesthetic shortcomings. And she was dead right. Her criticism was, in the end, more valuable than my friends’ praise, because it changed my technique from that point forward. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Love your enemies for they will point out all your flaws." My feelings stung for a month or so, but the lesson will last much longer.

What I will take with me from Bad reviews help you grow, but they sure can get you down is its staggering earnestness. The reader will find an artist engaged with himself, his work, and his projected readership at a level more considered than that of the overwhelming majority of his peers. This is just a mini comic, but as in the case of some of the best ‘zines, it is straight from the heart.

Also, I’ll remember the way the author begins to effectively turn his experiments in breaking the form into appreciable little dispatches. But this exercise calls for nothing less than complete honesty. What will surely stick with me most is the adroit way that Salazar turned the tables on the reviewers—especially this reviewer. This may sound corny, but it touched me. My embarrassment was brief, but my appreciation for the thorny issues of communication he probes will last longer—I hope.

I also hope this is the end of the meta-chain, and that Salazar chooses not to quote me again, in his third issue. But if he does, I’m happy to let him have the last word. He’s more than earned it. He met my (and others’) vituperative scorn for his creative offering with thoughtful consideration, with honest frustration, with conflicted explanation, and without anger. His graciousness made me embarrassed for my viciousness. Maybe I even learned something. It’s hard to say.

And Carlos—may I call you Carlos? Send me your third comic. I may or may not choose to review it, but I’d love to see it.

You’ve kinda turned me into a fan. | Byron Kerman

 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply