In defense of Scott McCloud
So, in an unrelated comics thread commenting on an article linked to by Joe Staton, I praised the work of comics visionary, and one time college buddy of mine, Scott McCloud.
In response, old school comics hackmeister Marty Pasko took issue with my praise of Scott. He said:
"Sorry, Mr. Madigan, but I'd be willing to invest some time in trying to persuade you that your fealty to Scott O'Clude and his "Obfuscating Comics" is both regrettable and misguided.
I have zero interest in stirring up controversy for its own sake, and part of me would almost be grateful if this comment would go unnoticed, but I can't let some of the ignorant nonsense being bandied about here go unchallenged and yet sleep well tonight.
I've always had the utmost contempt for Scott Whatsisname's presumption in trying to set himself up as some sort of authority on the grammar of comics and the fundamentals of graphic storytelling, partly because his own work -- the silly, pointless, empty and creatively-bankrupt "Zot!" being the principal indictment of his fraudulence -- indicts his own credibility. The careful reading of his half-baked, supposedly knowledgeable texts by one who is a serious student of both the history and the current state of the form, AS WELL AS a seasoned practitioner of one of its disciplines, yields a strong conviction that Mr. O'Clude's primary claim to fame is as an egregious example of the principle of "Those Who Cannot Do, Teach."
I regret the fact that space, and the limited attention span of the readership I'd most want to reach, forbid my going into greater, more specific detail. It is my hope to be able to deconstruct, and savage, line by line, Mr. O'Clude's wrongheaded pomposities, as part of a highly personalized, one-on-one writing coaching service in both comics and animation storytelling that I'll be offering between now and this year's San Diego ComiCon, at which I'll be a guest.
Does that sentence mean I'm seizing an opportunity to try to sell you something? Yeah. You bet your ass, baby -- welcome to America. I have a bunch of majorly valuable experience and hard-won knowledge that I can download to you, you aspiring storyteller, you, that will give you a competitive advantage in securing paying gigs.
Watch this, uhm, space for further details...and a link to the site, now under construction, where it's gonna happen."
To which I responded as follows:
"Mr. Pasko -
No reason for you to give a shit, and certainly it shouldn't change your opinion. I'm a fan of Scott in great part because I know first hand that he's pretty much a genius; I had the privilege of being part of the same college clique he hung out with at Syracuse University. I learned a great deal from the best; him and Kurt Busiek. Kurt and I are no longer even remotely friends, but I know Kurt is a gifted writer (with some unfortunate limitations) and I know Scott is, well, a genius, both as an artist and as a comics analyst. Scott is a true visionary; one of the very few people I've ever met who can actually think originally and truly create new things.
And beyond that, where I would never say this about Kurt (unfortunately) I also know that Scott is a class act and a helluva fine human being. There's nothing mediocre about him. Only a terminal mediocrity would ever even think to associate that word with him.
I'm not going to discuss what I think about your writing over the years because it's not germane; I'm simply going to say, I've personally known far, far better writers than you, and been privileged to learn from them. In my opinion, of course. For what little it's worth. (Certainly as much as yours, though.)
ZOT! had some problems until the main character got stuck on our mundane Earth; the book needed that central conceptual contrast to really take off. Scott is, as I've mentioned, a genuinely innovative and original thinker and creator, which is a great deal more than I can say for you. Sorry, but I've read at least as much of your work as I've read of Scott's (or, for that matter, of my other college mentor, Kurt Busiek's) and you simply aren't in their class. Your denigrating words towards Scott strike me as insecurity at best and probably rank jealousy at worst... but either way, they are simply inaccurate.
I realize you're not going to hear/read this well... who would? And I realize you had no idea you were talking shit about someone I regard as a personal friend, mentor, and as one of the very few truly Great People I've ever actually met. And I also realize that probably makes me not at all unbiased about his work. But one of the many, many reasons I admire and respect Scott is not simply that he's a good friend and a great person, but also that he's an enormously talented artist.
Obviously, you can hold whatever opinion you want about whatever you want, and express it wherever you want. But any tiny vestigial respect I might have had for your judgment regarding creative matters or comic books is now utterly gone. I don't expect you to care about that... who the fuck am I, after all? A failure and a wannabe, I'm absolutely aware. But Scott McCloud is so far superior to you as a comics creator, analyst, and visionary, and, as far as I know, as a human being, that honestly, it's just pointless to even make the comparison. That you'd end a several hundred word bitch slap at a far, far better man by trying to get me to buy something of yours is just the final underscore on how much class you lack.
If I seem angry at your absolutely unmerited rudeness, well, you seem astonishingly boorish, avaricious, and opportunistic, so I guess we're even."
There was absolutely no need for Pasko to jump into that comment thread and shit all over Scott. The level of personal vitriol he spewed was completely unwarranted, and, again, I can only assume motivated by some kind of intense, nearly obsessive personal jealousy. Maybe Marty Pasko once had a huge crush on Scott's delightful wife Ivy, I don't know. Whatever the case, his actions were completely out of line, and for him to say that he has "a bunch of majorly valuable experience and hard-won knowledge" is about the most egregiously self serving and, obviously, utterly false to fact statement I've seen since the last Republican stump speech.
Pasko's writing has always been mediocre at best. Now I know why... he's a mediocre at best human being who is apparently eaten up with jealousy regarding a far, far better person than he will ever be.
AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!
People like to say stuff like "It all boils down to this" and then they throw out whatever their particular favorite scapegoat is. Hatred. Intolerance. Ignorance. Greed. Original sin. Lack of patriotism. Homosexuality. Whatever.
However, the basic underlying fundamental issue of all human problems is none of these things.
It's that there are way too many goddamned people out there who will not do what I want them to.
You know who you are, too.
* * * *
Now, I posted the above in an attempt to be humorous. But honestly, the above is, probably, one of the major contributors to most human conflicts -- not the idea expressed by the post, but the attitude that the post embodies.
Dig it -- I get aggravated with your shit just as much as you get aggravated with my shit. And you can substitute any one particular proper noun for either or both parties in the above sentence. The LGBT community is aggravated with Orson Scott Card's nonsense. Wall Street Bankers are currently affronted by the temerity of Senator Elizabeth Warren daring to ask them some real questions about financial regulation. (Who the fuck does she think she is? Doesn't she know they pay her salary?) The Tea Party is sick to death of that uppity Negro Barack Obama. Karl Rove has had it up to here with the Tea Party messing up his plans for a permanent Republican majority.
And 'Joliet' Jake Blues hates the Illinois Neo Nazis.
And on and on and on and on.
A lot of crap annoys me too. I would like to tailor a virus that would remove forever from our television screens the horrifying social carcinoma that is reality TV. I would enjoy it if the Tea Party would launch itself into orbit on jets of its own concentrated bile. I think we should probably airdrop the entire membership of the Westboro Baptist Church into the Andes mountains, preferably without parachutes.
But I don't get to do that. And it's right that I don't get to do that, because while all these things are aggravating, none of them are actually causing me real, demonstrable harm. They annoy me. They aggravate me. They infuriate me. Sometimes they even hurt my feelings. But they are not shooting at me, menacing me with broken beer bottles, spreading roofing tacks in my driveway, vandalizing my property, setting fire to my furniture, or assaulting my children.
They're just talking.
I read stuff on Facebook that says, like, 'Kanye West should be banned from the Grammies for life'. And I go, 'yeah, Kanye West is a douchebag and he acts like a douchebag and if I were running the Grammies I'd probably refuse him admittance at the door'. But what did he do? He got up and acted like an asshole. He... talked.
Yeah, he made a lot of people mad and probably hurt Taylor Swift's feelings and I'm not saying that was okay, but I am saying, maybe we want to stop and think before we start saying "He did something that made us mad and hurt someone's feelings, so now he must be banned for life".
One of Robert A. Heinlein's nuttier beliefs, while alive, was "an armed society is a polite society". Heinlein genuinely believed that if you want people to be civil, you needed to legalize dueling. His reasoning, if one can use such a grand word for such an obviously completely emotional non-thought process, was that if there are possible consequences to being impolite, then people will stop being impolite... or, at least, there will be considerably less impoliteness, because rude people will get shot and then they won't be rude any more.
Now, think about that. When you boil that down to its basics, what Heinlein (and quite a few others I've read over the years who agree with him) is saying is, if someone is rude to me, I should be able to shoot that motherfucker.
It should be legal to murder someone because they said something that pissed you off.
This is madness. If you can't see that it's madness, then you probably need to stop reading this essay, because you're probably wishing that you could legally shoot me for offending you, and there's just no talking to you.
A great many people seem to feel this way... not that, you know, they should be able to haul out a gun and murder anyone who offends them in any way, but that, you know, they SHOULD be able to take otheractions against such people. That 'hate speech' -- which means, pretty much, anything that offends any one particular person or group of people who have the ears of a majority of legislators -- should be illegal. That boycotts should be organized to keep writers with controversial political opinions from being published in certain venues.
That homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to teach, because, presumably, their 'gay cooties' will get on our kids.
If any of these things seem ludicrous to you, and you are a reasonable and mature and fair minded person, then ALL of these things should seem ludicrous to you.
If you're offended by the notion that gay people shouldn't be allowed to teach (or marry each other), but you think it's just great to try to put pressure on a major publisher to not publish work by an author whose political views you intensely dislike... you're a hypocrite.
It's hard to really, really genuinely support freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. Equal access to the law. Equal opportunity. It really is. For most people, there's always a "Yes, but". I'm all about freedom of speech, yes, but... not for the Illinois Neo Nazis, because I hate them. I'm all for equal access to opportunity, yes... but... not for Orson Scott Card, because he's a bigot and I hate him. I'm all for equal access to the law, but... not for homosexuals, because it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
And I'm a firm believer in complete freedom of expression, but, you know, let's get real... the Westboro Baptist Church is a bunch of douchebags, and Kanye West is an asshole, so, you know, let's find a way to shut those guys up.
We would all like to live in a world where no one ever does anything to offend or irritate or annoy or anger us. We would all like to go through our lives and never ever ever under any circumstances encounter or perceive or in any way interact with anything that makes us feel threatened or affronted or alienated or in any way uncomfortable. We'd all like that.
But if we're adults, we don't expect it. We know it's not reasonable to expect everyone else in the world to make our feelings and sensibility a priority in their day to day existence. We understand that we really cannot presume to tell other people how they can dress, where they can go, what they can say, what they're allowed to think.
As a grown up, I understand that I have to take some responsibility for my own emotional responses to things, especially when my emotional response is something along the lines of outrage or repulsion. Essentially, my dividing line is a simple one: if I don't think someone is deliberately trying to offend me, and they're not actually causing me or someone else I care about harm, well, then, I try hard not to lose my shit.
On the other hand, if someone is deliberately trying to provoke or offend me, well, the onus shifts. Those who choose to behave in a manner that they have calculated will probably inflame the passions of others should not be surprised when their efforts are successful. Making someon else love, admire, or respect you is often difficult; making someone else really really REALLY pissed off at you is easy.
But, again... as a grown up, I have to take some responsibility for my own umbrage.
If you're coming at me to cause me physical harm or death, or to damage or harm my legitimate possessions and/or interests, then I have a right to take action to stop you, or to expect the society I am part of to take action on my behalf to protect me.
But if you're just talking shit and pissing me off, well... not so much.
Even if you're doing it on purpose, hoping to piss me off... well, that's on you, but, it's also on me. I need to be a grown up about it.
We need to stop talking so much about ways to keep other people from offending us. We need to work on not being so easily offended.
At least, if we genuinely want to live in a free society, we do.
AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!