Saturday 28 January 2017

Carson Grubaugh's Cerebus Re-Read: "Form & Void"

Cerebus Vol 14: Form & Void
by Dave Sim & Gerhard

(from Carson's Re-Read Blog, August 2016)
Form & Void did not offer me much to care about in the ideas department. I have zero interest in literary classics. There are very few I have read that I gave two shits about. I think prose fiction is a dead story-telling medium. Unless you are going to give me a readable formalist like Mark Z. Danielewski, whose stories can only be understood in the context of the formal nature of a book, I would rather have a comic-book or a television show. So, imagine my disinterest in learning about an author of literature who Dave Sim doesn't even care about.

Sim despises Hemingway as an author and as a person. He proclaims at the end of the volume that he is happy to be done with having the Hemingways in his life. I felt the same way about Form and Void as a book. Happy to not have to read any more of the lengthy interpretive notes.

Had I not read the notes I would not have gotten any of the metaphor out of the lion hunt that Sim puts into it. In that sense I consider Sim's notes an essential part of the story. The volume requires the same endurance from the readers that Sim put into thoroughly researching a subject he disliked. It is possible that the whole volume was a purposeful exercise in enduring both disinterest and disdain.

As little as I care for the story in Form & Void there is a lot of interesting stuff to remark upon in the art... [Read the full review here...]

Cerebus Vol 15: Latter Days
Cerebus Vol 16: The Last Day


Jeff Seiler said...

Um, for the record, Ms. Schutz did not recommend *my* proofreading services, *have* corrected some of her corrections.

LOVE correcting you, Ms. Schutz!

It's always so warm and cuddly.

Jeff Seiler said...



I know, already!

I went too far, there.

Ms. Schutz (whick!) (please! don't!), I apologize for (whick!) (please, I'm begging you!) for pretending that (whick!) (aagh!) I was/am anything (whick!) (Oh, God, I can't take any more!) more than an acolyte in your uber-most-church-of-proofreading.

Even though I'm better than you; sitting here in my rocking chair, doing it one word, one letter, one punctuation mark at a time.

Yeah, you all hate me, but I'm the punctuationist.

Jeff Seiler said...

Carson, your work for Dave is first-rate, for the most part. But, denigrating Gerhard by cherry-picking stuff from the period when he had a bad ulcer and needed time off, despite it being mostly self-induced, is poor form.

You have replaced Ger, as the current collaborator, but you have not (yet) replaced him as The Dude.

So, I think it would behoove you to hold off a bit, scholar though you be, to give Ger Hard a little leeway when it comes to his art in the later books. I mean, the room where Cerebus died was a comic book masterpiece.

Has Dave beat out Ger on fine brush lines? Yes. They used to compete on that. A lot. But, backgrounds, composition? Without Ger, no.

In fact, without Ger doing backgrounds, "scut-work", office work, shopping, typing, representing, it wouldn't be what it is.

However, having said that, the driving force has ALWAYS been the unique mind of Dave Sim. I very much enjoy observing and picking at that mind.

I'm just saying, Carson, please don't get ahead of yourself.

Sorry if that offends you, but I have a soft spot for awesome people who choose not to stand up for themselves publicly.

Nevertheless, and despite me,

The Dude.


Travis Pelkie said...

Didn't Dave say that Diana Schutz only proofread the text pieces in the back of the book, or did I misunderstand what he meant?

Also, nobody said she recommended your services, Jeff.

Erick said...

you take a lot of crap on this website - some of it fair some not. But I must say, you impressed me standing up for Ger - as if he needed it. Still, when a jackass like Carson thinks that he can get away with dumping on Ger just because he is the flavor of the month, that ticks me off royally.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Jeff said: "...I'm just saying, Carson, please don't get ahead of yourself..."
Erick said: "...a jackass like Carson..."

Carson's comments were admittedly tough, but strictly about Gerhard's art. I'm surprised by your reactions and the need to get personal so quickly. Was that really necessary? Given Gerhard so far has received 100% acclaim for his Cerebus work, I'm sure he can cope with a single dissenting voice.


Travis Pelkie said...

But Carson was meannnnnn, Tim!

I have no problem with Carson's view of Ger's art, but as Carson is ... sort of taking over, to a degree, as Dave's new Ger (if you will), it might come across as ... a bit much? Not sure how to say it.

I for one enjoy dissenting views, as it hones the knives and makes us better able to defend our own viewpoints by being able to counter arguments.

I mean, I don't HAVE a counter-argument right now, but for me, Form and Void is a really important GN personally and one that I had read over and over. So I don't know that I can step back and analyze it well, but whenever I get to the full Cerebus read that I need to do someday, perhaps I'll be able to do so.

Carson Grubaugh said...


I am in awe of the amount and extraordinarily high quality of work Gerhard produced for Cerebus, even more so in awe of his dedication to a work not his own. Who could even imagine the book without him? I have praised his contributions before, and if I remember correct, do praise his work again in the comments on The Last Day. What interested me were new developments in the art and formal storytelling trickery. No reason to point out every time, "Gerhard is still being a bad-ass background artist."

I had no idea Gerhard was suffering an ulcer during this period. The amount of time put into the book never seems to take a hit, but, as explained in the last set of comments there are some very bothersome stylistic ticks that show up when Gerhard draws natural objects. When talking about how the art changes from volume to volume this should be totally fair game. It is a MAJOR change. I cannot not see this stuff. My job revolves around looking for these kinds of issues and helping students correct them. It would be like asking you to not be bothered by spelling and grammar errors. Just not how our brains work.

In terms of this volume, I was just not into the narrative at all (I think I shit on Dave way more in this commentary than I did Gerhard, btw), and the only pleasure I got out of it was from the formal task of spotting the differences between the two artists. To me they are night-and-day obvious, except for the very small drawings.

I did not have when I wrote these last August, and do not have now, any intention to, or illusions that I could, somehow take Gerhard's place as The Dude, as you and Erick seem to imply. I am very well aware that my contribution of twenty some odd pages to SDOAR is a blip on the screen of the Dave Sim oeuvre.

I came to AMOC because I had started re-reading Cerebus and got curious about the status SDOAR. I never imagined Dave was bringing other people on to draw it, but when I saw he was I knew I had the ability to help. The offer of my skills was absolutely selfishly motivated by the fact that I really want to read the book already! getting to work with one of my favorite comic creators doesn't hurt either. Who wouldn't do that if they could? Again, there is a reason you, Jeff, offer your proofreading services. No different here. I either had the chops to help on SDOAR or I didn't. No amount of ass-kissing is going to change that fact.

Also, what do either of you think my long-term intentions could possibly be when you assume I am kissing Dave's ass and trying to tear down Gerhard's unassailable legacy? I walked away from a career in comics when I was 21, very purposefully. SDOAR, as far as I am concerned, is not a gateway to anything else in the industry. I did not even think my involvement would go past helping get Volume One on the shelf. There is a lot more of it left to complete than I expected when got involved, and will be happy to help when and where I can. My chosen career path lies in academia and I am working very hard to obtain a tenure-track position. This is no easy task and working with "misogynist" Dave Sim is likely a liability in that aspect of my life. Also, all time spent on SDOAR is time spent not painting and showing my work in galleries, which is a large part of how one builds the kind of resume that leads to getting hired. SDOAR is a passion project for me, one that is probably going to bite me in the ass, not a set of crassly obvious maneuvers to further my comics career.

The urge to stand up for Gerhard is awesome. He deserves tons of praise. The constant insistence, especially from Erick, that I have ulterior motivations rely on an extremely uninformed conception of my future goals.

Carson Grubaugh said...

Thank you.

Maybe the issue is that I do not see myself, at all, as "Dave's new Ger"? Just a dude that is helping out, who also wrote some commentaries last July and August because it seemed like fun and a good way to get into Dave's head prior to trying to produce drawings for one of his books.

Erick said...

my views on Carson were formed long before his ridiculous take on Ger's work. And yes, Ger is universally lauded and needs no defense, but ignorance (Carson's) is no shield against 'smackin a fool'.

Jimmy Gownley said...

Context is important. It's a blog called "A moment of Cerebus." Imagine if Denny Laine was on a Beatles site trashing George Harrison. It would seem a little off-putting don't you think?

Also, when one is endeavoring to recreate a dead art style (50's style photorealism) from a dead art form (comic strips) that were originally presented in a now dead medium (newspapers) maybe don't lead with dismissing the entirety of prose writing ;)

Again, context and whatnot.

Of course, I've dedicated my career to kids comics so what do I know?

Carry on.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

You're coming across like a complete arse IMHO.

Barry Deutsch said...

I thought that Carson's post was harsh on Ger's art, but that's fair. One's work taking criticism is part of being an artist.

I hadn't known about Gerhard's ulcer. That must have been a terrible situation for him to be in. But we can understand that, and still think his art during that time wasn't as strong as his art from other books.

Carson's discussion of Ger's animal drawings vs Dave's animal drawings was really interesting. I had already noticed a lot of that - I think any cartoonist who closely read these books would - but it was useful to see it articulated.

Despite my disagreements with Carson now and again (I'm sure we'd both find the other's politics terrible), I'm really enjoying this series.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jimmy G.: You are correct that "It's a blog called 'A moment of Cerebus'." A problem some people have (I'm looking at you, Jeff S.) is that they think it's called "A Moment of Drooling Dave Sim Sychophancy" -- which it is not. Dave is not interested in critiques of Cerebus, as he feels (yes, feels) that anything other than "the greatest, most incisive work of genius ever created in any medium current or yet to be invented). This is one of the reasons why Dave is the single most harmful thing to Cerebus extant. (He is, of course, also the single biggest champion of Cerebus extant (sorry, Jeff S.)

Jeff S.: Gerhard's health issues are not relevant to discussions of his art. Of course has my person sympathy, but the quality of the art itself is the issue at hand.

Travis P.: I would love to read your (or others') critical assessment of "Form and Void", should you get around to writing it. I hope you'll remember to post a link here.

Carson G.: One of the interesting things about Cerebus is to watch the twin trajectories of Dave's mastery of the medium and his "thinking". As he got better and better as a cartoonist, he had less and less to say.

And you say, "I think prose fiction is a dead story-telling medium." Them's fightin' words! And may I point out that prose fiction is doing better than comics in the world today, so perhaps people who live in glass houses ...

-- Damian

Erick said...

Well Tim,
That is your opinion of me and you are entitled to it. My opinion of Carson, based upon previous interactions on this website with him - in which i have found him to be a condescending dissembler, truly took hold when he called BLM a racist group on this very website. Lets just say my opinion of him is a tad bit jaundiced. His latest unwarranted attack - and that is what it is, on Ger is simply a continuation of his disagreeable ( to me that is) personality. His laughable screed against prose writing - is straight up Bonkers. Whether you read Infinite Jest or Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone - I have read and loved both, you appreciate the rich and wonderful worlds being created with the written word. How can you take seriously anyone who holds the views he does against prose? Carson has expressed his views, I have expressed mine, and you have expressed yours. So, lets get back to the reason we have come to this site, to celebrate all that is Cerebus. Mind you, I did not say to celebrate all that is Dave Sim. I said Cerebus

Erick said...

I have been on this website for a few years now and you and I have never had a cross word. As far as I am concerned you are coming to the defense of a friend. As far as the colloquialism 'smackin a fool' is concerned, that is only and completely a verbal flourish- not to be interpreted literally that is.
I think Carson has good drawing talent, but he could stand to work on his humility.
Jeff stood up for Ger. I appreciate that.

Tony Dunlop said...

The only complaint I had against my high school American Lit teacher - who was very good, even inspiring most of the time - was that he assigned us a fair dose of Hemingway. UGH. He made up for it with lots of Vonnegut late in the semester. YAY. God bless you, Mister Podas.

Dave nailed Hemingway's prose perfectly, which…must be harder than it looks? It doesn't look very hard, and I can't be bothered to try.

Barry Deutsch said...

Erick wrote: How can you take seriously anyone who holds the views he does against prose?

Not that you asked me, but: I compartmentalize.

Carson's opinions on BLM and on prose seem pretty asinine and I don't take them seriously. His opinions about pen-and-ink drawing, and about Dave's pages, are very interesting and I do take them seriously.

I don't need to agree with someone to enjoy their art, or their opinions about art.

Michael said...

Dave has to take a lot, even on this site and in this review, but how dare someone criticize Gerhard? Am I missing something?

Erick said...

I certainly do not agree with all that Dave has said and I still love the overall Work. So, yes we agree about that.

Michael, no one is above criticism. But when it comes from someone who is ostensibly replacing the person they are criticizing - whether they acknowledge it or not, and then add the into the mix that the previous relationship ended in acrimony. Well, it looks and smells bad.

Carson Grubaugh said...


I NEVER said anything about BLM as a group and am tired of the constant assertion that I consider them a hate group and/or that I am a white-supremacist. Provide a direct quote that proves either of these assertions or knock it off. I am a person of Jewish descent and find your second claim absolutely laughable in its ignorance, how else do you expect me to respond to such ignorance except with condescension?

You are blatantly and childishly trolling for a response in the lowest possible form, character assassination. The only reason I bother continuing to respond to you is that when you accuse me of holding such reprehensible viewpoints you potentially damage my chances of obtaining employment in the politically sensitive environment of the universities I am currently applying to. The fact that a second person, Barry, is now willing to accept your accusations is extremely troubling.

Jeff Seiler said...

Carson, my point, as others here have echoed, is that your criticism of Gerhard here is indelicate. Yes, you wrote it before you started collaborating with Dave, but you could have rewritten it before publishing it here, today.

Remember, it wasn't so long ago that you were trying out for the job and taking instruction from Dave about your product. For all we know, you still do.

You are "replacing" the dude who pressed the buttons, flicked the switches, cranked the gears at Aardvark-Vanaheim for at least (at the least!) half of the time for 20 years. You've "been there" (I put that in quotes since you're, um, not *actually* there--Gerhard was, um, *actually* there, elbow to elbow), you've "been there" for, what? Six months?

And BTW, Carson, I'm not criticizing you for analyzing Gerhard's work; I'm taking you to task for the tone with which you did so. "Indelicate" is a kind way of describing it.

Carson, it's easy, as a professor, to start to believe that you know waaay more about the subject you are teaching than you actually do. After all, you get to pontificate to eager (some not so eager) young minds who treat you as if you actually are the font of wisdom you purport to be. Been there, done that.

But, in 20 years, *if* you're still collaborating with Dave, you're gonna look back on this little kerfuffel and wish you *had* rewritten that review.

Oh, and if you're going to bad-mouth prose fiction, you might wanna correct all of those typos in your essays, first.


Don't get ahead of yourself.

Jeff Seiler said...

Erick and others I appreciate your support of me for supporting Ger. I am not, however, Carson, involved in your political or religious confrontations, one way or the other.

Carson Grubaugh said...


The trajectories are the most interesting thing to watch, although I disagree that Dave had less to say as he went, just less interesting stuff to me at this point in my life

I am willing to stand by my fighting words! They are primarily a statement of personal taste, but I do think there is some objective validity to them as well.

When I say prose is an outdated medium I am talking about the speed of information delivery possible with the printed word. A written description of a living room, like those in Dostoevsky, or what I just slogged through in Alan Moore's Jerusalem, take much longer to consume than the gestalt of a picture of the same living room. This is pretty basic neuro-biology, and can be expressed in quantifiable data about what amount of information is transmitted at what rate. If you consider different mediums at the level of analysis of 'efficiency of content/information delivery' I think it is pretty clear that comics are superior to prose. I thought this was a uncontroversial claim in the comics field post Understanding Comics. Even less controversial now after Nick Sousanis' Unflattening.

How popular sales of prose is at any given moment is a different level of analysis. It may be the case that people enjoy the slower uptake and the extra work they have to do with prose. I don't. I have a lot of other things to get to on any given day so I need my stories told as efficiently as possible.

Neither levels of analysis have anything to do with print versus digital delivery of prose or comics, which some people seem to think was part of my statement.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff S.: As usual, your reflexive defensive of anything to do with your hero has led you to make embarrassing errors of fact and logic. Carson G. is not "'replacing' the dude who pressed the buttons, flicked the switches, cranked the gears at Aardvark-Vanaheim"; unless I've missed something, helping to run A-V is not part of Carson's role. Nor is he even replacing Gerhard as background artist, as that's not what he's doing either. It would be most accurate to say he is replacing Dave as artist on SDoAR.

And you conservatives hated "tone policing" when liberals used it. What converted you to the idea that it was a good thing? Welcome to the "special snowflake" club.

Carson G.: If you "thought this was a[n] uncontroversial claim", you were mistaken. It is an interesting contention that the worth of a work of art depends on how short a time it take you to experience it. I believe that viewpoint is termed "philistinism". Of course you're entitled to hold it, but it is hardly uncontroversial.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...


Maybe I will regret it as being indelicate. I doubt it. That could be the result of years of being involved in classroom critiques. You want to see brutal, sit through a graduate level critique session. I have seen grown adults bawl. That is just the game.

It isn't like I just said, "These SUCK." I compared and contrasted the two artists, gave a number of formal explanations, and as far as I am concerned backed up my claims that Dave draws better animals than Gerhard does. In a series of articles that considers the art of the book in question that seems on topic and fair game to me.

If people disagree with me, especially at the level of a formal analysis of how outline, contour line, and cross-contour line have been utilized to lesser and greater extents by each artist I will absolutely disagree with them but would love to read it. These essays are part of a challenge that was issued to all fans, so there is no reason my voice should be the only one. I hope Cory Foster completes his commentaries. He kicked this whole thing off as far as I know.

I am also very uncomfortable with the role other people seem to be assigning to me. I expect I will continue to be involved past the completion of SDOAR Vol. 1, but cannot say for sure. Karl Stevens is still involved as far as I know but not as publicly as I am. Probably because he has his own strips to focus on. You should all be checking them out! He posts stuff to Instagram all the time and has a weekly strip in The Village Voice.

Wouldn't you expect the guy who bad-mouths the written word to not care much for grammar and speeling? Seems consistent to me ;b

Carson Grubaugh said...


Not the worth of a work of art. That is a different level of analysis. At the level of analysis of 'efficient content delivery' I believe it is obvious that comics are more efficient at packing more descriptive information into less space, which can be consumed in less time, than prose. We have been arguing for comics in education for decades for exactly this reason.

When it comes to gathering information and being entertained, I don't see any good reason not to be a philistine. I am not interested in being any more sophisticated than I need to be in any given situation. 'Sophistry' being the art of bullshitting, 'sophisticated' being the state of being good at bullshitting.

Erick said...


What you deem inherently divisive, others find uplifting. I never once called you a racist or a white supremacist. Those are your words. For the record, I do not think that you are a racist. Your condescension and dissembling, are a different matter. If you are so concerned about your future career, perhaps you should refrain from blasting your more uh, controversial views which others can and will find disagreeable across the interwebs?

Read on

Jim Sheridan said...

Didn't the expression "Let's take America back" basically DECLARE a whitelash? The Trump campaign was eagerly divisive, and its followers eagerly bought into it. To suggest otherwise seems disingenuous.
9 November 2016 at 11:34
Carson Grubaugh said...


Yes, but the Left has been generating these kinds of inherently divisive terms/slogans for a while now: white/male privelage, mansplaining, manspreading, Black Lives Matter, etc. If there was a 'whitelash' it was, in large part, a reaction against the exact kind of demonizing language from the Left that 'whitelash' itself is. "I was with you until you told me you don't want me."

Also, exit polls are showing that Clinton received LESS women, hispanic and black votes than Obama, whereas Trump gained in the hispanic and black relative to Romney. So the white-male backlash narrative doesn't hold up as representing anything near the entire picture. To simplify down to that is just going to push even more people away from the Left. I am one of those who was pushed away. Berkeley-educated Liberal through-and-through, who was forced into abstaining from casting a vote because of this mess.
9 November 2016 at 16:58
Erick said...

Carson, you are being willfully ignorant.
Black Lives Matter is not a racist phrase. It means Black. Lives. Matter. It does not mean or imply that Black Lives matter anymore than other races, but it is instead a reminder that too often Black lives have not mattered to the police. This is not just about Blacks being killed by police, but it is a response to generation after generation of Black's being harassed by police for no crime other than being Black.
It is about letting people of all races know that Black Lives (and Black Life)matters just as much as White lives and life.
For people to be so deliberately ignorant of what the movement is and is not about speaks volumes about them.
And we have had this 'conversation' before

Jack said...

Prose is way more conducive to abstract thought than visual media. That's one reason why movie adaptations tend to be considerably dumber than the novels they're based on.

Carson, you make some interesting points, but about your view that all Westerners should read "Islam, My Islam" to gain a basic understanding of the Muslim world... Yeah, I wasn't aware that Saddam Hussein's game plan was to become "heir to the mantle of the Prophet" until Dave, a non-Arabic speaker who has never visited the Middle East and whose understanding of the region is based on his idiosyncratic readings of the Koran and National Post columns by Canadian neocons, laid it all out for me.

Erick said...

I do not believe that you are a racist or a white supremacist. In fact I think you would like to make BLM over in your own image of what they should be. I believe that you are one of those patronizing types who think they know what is best for all and refuse to listen to any viewpoint other than their own. You described yourself as a liberal thorough and through and yet in the most polarizing election of our lifetimes you chose not to vote. Uh, huh. Ya know what happens when there are extremes on either end of the spectrum? They tend to meet at a very unexpected nexus. I am done with this topic.

Jeff Seiler said...

Wow! I think we may now be officially in the realm of the old Cerebus Yahoo Chat Group days. Does anybody here who is also an alumnus wanna give me an "Amen!"?

Carson, you call it a game. I say you were indelicate and disrespectful, considering your current, part-time job.

If it's a game, then, in the words of former MLB player John Kruk, who had had testicular cancer surgery and had one testicle removed during the off-season and then showed up to spring training wearing a t-shirt that read, "If you don't let me play, I'm taking my ball and going home."

Carson Grubaugh said...


You just said,
"I never once called you a racist or a white supremacist"

In response to my,
"I NEVER said anything about BLM as a group and am tired of the constant assertion that I consider them a hate group and/or that I am a white-supremacist. Provide a direct quote that proves either of these assertions or knock it off."

You said,
"My opinion of Carson, based upon previous interactions on this website with him - in which i have found him to be a condescending dissembler, truly took hold when he called BLM a racist group on this very website."

So, again, can you find any proof that I called BLM a racist group? That is one of the two very specific things I said you accused me of, which you obviously JUST did. I never said anything about "racist" and consistently used the term "inherently divisive": language that has the concept of division built into it. Very different assertions.

It is funny how you totally avoided the first of your two assertions and re-cast my question as only being about "racist or white-supremacist," because you know as well as I do that the only reason I cannot quote you as calling me a white supremacist is because that post was deleted. It was two weeks ago, following my commentary on Rick's Story. You also called me a sycophant. I know. I deleted it, and my response to it. Go ahead, claim I am making things up, people will believe what they will, but you and I both know the truth.

After I delete that post it bothered me very badly that I had acted against my own support for free speech and resolved to not do it again, even if it meant having to waste time defending myself against the baseless accusations you continue to sling. You think you are sick of it, imagine how sick of it I am. You being done with the topic is a blessing. Thank you. I hope that claim holds.

Jimmy Gownley said...

I loved John Kruk

Barry Deutsch said...

Carson, with all due respect, I do think calling the slogan Black Lives Matters "demonizing language" is asinine. So I stand by what I wrote.

But I also think you're a wonderful illustrator. And I enjoy reading what you write about Cerebus. For what that's worth.

Barry Deutsch said...

Also, Carson isn't the new Gerhard. That just seems silly. He's Carson. the way he collaborates with Dave, is significantly different from how Gerhard collaborated with Dave.

I don't know Gerhard, but he's a grown-up and a professional. I assume Gerhard can take it if his work is criticized. (Furthermore, I think assuming that Gerhard can't take it, would actually be somewhat insulting to Gerhard.)

Carson's right; Dave's animal drawings have a lot more life and interest to them than Gerhard's. My saying that in no way takes away from how awesome I think Gerhard's work is. (Although I kind of like the way the Zebra herd came out with the very flat lines Gerhard used, because it turned the Zebras into an interesting abstract black and white pattern.)

And finally, Carson, I really enjoyed the information about Georgia O'Keefe and her husband.

Culpa Direct said...



I was just about to post something similar. Seems like Carson may be turning in to the new (yahoo) Rick.

Hang in there Carson!

Carson Grubaugh said...


Thank you for being able to disagree with my analysis of a piece of language without feeling the need to come after my character, and for being capable of separating that disagreement from your enjoyment of the rest of the production.

BTW. I looked at your strips a few weeks back and enjoyed them, a few philosophical differences aside.

Unknown said...

When you scroll through a post and see that there are 35 comments, the odds are that it isn't 35 people all singing Kumbaya in unison.

Welcome to the Big Leagues, Carson!

Barry Deutsch said...

Thanks, Carson! I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Carson Grubaugh said...

LOL! Thanks, Dave.

It strikes me as entirely appropriate that a commentary on Form and Void would get everyone ready to strap on boxing gloves.

Unknown said...

Hey Carson,

I do plan to finish my reviews—I got caught up in some other projects, but I'm hoping to resume pretty soon. I've since read through Reads, Minds, and Guys, taking notes along the way. I think part of the reason may be that I found some value in your statement that my reviews are largely plot-focused. It got me thinking, "well, who am I writing these for? Mostly other Cerebus fans, so of what significance is recounting something they've already read?" So I'm trying to think of other angles I could take. I'll probably wind up just sticking to my script though, just for expediency's sake.

I am curious about your thoughts on prose. I can see your point of view that describing a room is done better with a drawing than a block of text. But I also agree that a matter of taste. I think there's a lot to gain from reading an author with a real admirable command of language describe a room in a way that one hadn't considered before. Reading somebody very expressive, like Nabokov for example, can be a real treat both in the way that he creates linguistic rhythms, but also in the way he can pique the imagination. In a comic, one is shown what a room looks like, but in prose, one gets the pleasure of interpreting that in a way that can sometimes create a deeper connection with the work. Almost as if you're a partner in the process with the author. Again, a matter of taste, but it's what grabs my interest in the form.

Also, having been through design school, I definitely agree that the morning critique sessions are beyond brutal! I sure don't miss it, but I can understand the instinct to assess art in that way.

Jeff Seiler said...

Nicely stated, Mr. Foster, in that second paragraph.

Kit said...

and as far as I am concerned backed up my claims that Dave draws better animals than Gerhard does

That dog that Gerhard drew in the shepherding issue is the best character in the last 80 issues of Cerebus.

Carson Grubaugh said...


Glad to hear you are going to finish them off, your commentaries were what got me interested in doing my own. The more perspectives given on Cerebus the better.

The enjoyment to be gained from linguistic flourish is real but personally I have never responded much to poetic use of language, in fiction at least. For fiction I just want to consume the story as efficiently as possible. If I am reading pure text it is going to be philosophy or art theory (faux-losophy), which is about an hour or so a night for me, because the abstract nature of the program requires the abstract tools of written language.

For fiction, though, television and comics do just fine. Modern television, the best shows, seem to have just as much nuance of character as any novel I have read, even without the interiority of stream of consciousness like tricks. I don't watch many movies because they don't have the time to play with character in the way TV does. Movies usually only have the time to make broader philosophical points. I particularly like what I perceive to be an ongoing philosophical debate between the Wachowskis and the Nolans, although both pairs have moved on to television (Westworld and Sense8) and, I think, are better off for it. Plus, I can consume TV WHILE DRAWING.

As for the musical quality of a good writer, maybe it is just me but I never hear that in my own head. Alan Moore being a perfect example. I LOVE his spoken word performances. With his voice, sense of timing, and command over the language it is hypnotic. Jerusalem, however, oh my god, what a slog! The few truly brilliant flourishes were not worth the tedium of the rest of the book and the idea he is trying to get across about the nature of time is something he has expressed much more powerfully in some of his comics and a couple of interviews. Why the hell did I read almost 1,300 pages? It is like James Joyce, two chapters in you get the idea, all moments can be contained in a single moment, free-association can get you there, okay, now this is boring.

Like I said in the commentary, the only prose fiction writer I EAGERLY read is Mark Z. Danielewski. He is an amazingly clever literary formalist, whose work could not take any other form than a physical book. On top of that, the formalism always spills from the story and is in service of the emotional exploration of character. Most formalists seem to be trick first, then fit the story to the trick/structure. Moore is guilty of this in Jerusalem, big time.

I have tried reading many "classics" and given up after two or three chapters. They just bore me to tears. My point in the commentary is that, given my utter lack of interest in prose literature as a domain, especially THE GREATS, it shouldn't be surprising that I am even less interested in the lives of the authors, especially an author Dave presents himself as loathing. It set a nasty mood for a volume I had no reason to care about anyway.

Tony Dunlop said...

"Consume the story as efficiently as possible," eh? To each his own, of course, but that reminds me of a friend of mine who criticized me for slowly savoring my food as I ate it. His argument was, You don't gradually drip gasoline into your car, making sure it enjoys every drop, do you? Why do that with your own fuel? A very utilitarian viewpoint - but as for me, even with comics I often like to linger on a page and savor the perspectives, the textures, et cetera. Efficiency is definitely *not* why I like comics.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

It has been my observation long before this post that individuals with a marked preference for photorealistic-style art display also an impatience with prose, and indeed often mention the "efficiency" of an image versus a description. It's like how engineers often have a mental weakness for libertarianism (although to speak of "mental weakness" and "libertarianism" is redundant). There's a certain kind of concrete thinking that both helps the individual with the job and renders them blind to some aspects outside their purview.

If Carson G. values efficiency and plot as the most important elements of a story, that's his perfect right, of course. I might think he's a philistine and that he's missing out on some good stuff -- but really, there's more good stuff in his wheelhouse than he can ever experience in his lifetime, so it's not as if he's going to be living a bleak life. (And if he finds he is, all he has to do is lower his standards and watch more TV!)

(It's positively risible that he believes the Wachowkis or Nolans have any kind of philosophical underpinnings to their work. That's a different topic, not relevant to this blog; if anyone wants to discuss it with me, please email. It's a fun conversation -- reason seasoned with a soupcon of snark.)

One of the most valuable contributions I've seen Carson make to this blog was a list of the "guest stars" in "Guys" and a look at the inking styles Dave employed on them. I would love to see a lengthy discussion, perhaps even of the whole work, from such a perspective. Dave was never particularly original, but that's precisely the point: he became a master of employing just the right technique (or shot or layout or word or pause or rhythm or ...) to get across the point he wanted to make (comedic or dramatic; less successfully thematic).

If Cory is considering what might make good Cerebus commentaries -- given that we all know the plots already, and desiring to do something else -- he might consider what specialist knowledge he has that he can approach Cerebus with. Kind of like looking at Cerebus from different angles will allow us to triangulate its worth as literature, instructional, and artefact.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...


Of course preference will be at the exclusion of something else, that is a bullet we all bite. And, these things change. I used to LOVE reading fiction. Since undergrad the only thing that makes sense to me in text is philosophy. Maybe ten years from now I will love prose again. Who knows.

Something else that just occurred to me. It seems like the written word is often credited for being a superior technology for conveying interior states, emotions, etc. I suspect this might be incorrect.

In the same way an overly descriptive drawing or photograph takes away all of the fun of imagining a scenario based upon a written description I think writing is too explicit about interior states and takes away from my ability to empathize. Listening to someone tell you how they fell is much different from feeling it yourself, and to me is often extremely tedious. A really great actor, or cartoonist, however, can give me all of the behavioral and expressive cues that we encounter in day-to-day life that do trigger strong empathy responses. Seeing another person in distress is truly distressing.

Point being, maybe film and comics better engage our emotive imagination in the same way text engages our visual imagination. I think this is why I love the way characterization is being handled in really good TV, and why I found books like Jaka's Story and Melmoth so fulfilling on this re-read. All of the subtle emotional acting strikes me a wiser and more perceptive than any blunt philosophical plot point(The crudeness of the Wachowskis and Nolans rightly deserves your scoffs. It is the way they seem to be constantly answering one-anthers crude points that I find interesting.).

Carson Grubaugh said...

I did spend a whole year eating pretty much only Soylent. So, yeah, spot on and fair enough.

Jeff Seiler said...

"It's people! You're eating people!!!"

Carson Grubaugh said...

Everyone used to tell me, "You are what you eat," and I always have wanted to be a good person, so it only made sense!

Unknown said...

Carson: fair enough! And now back to my reviews (hopefully)!

Jeff Seiler said...

So, Carson, you denigrate "the written word", yet you work with/for the person who has already published dozens of comics which had numerous (sometimes half, or more) pages with nothing but prose text (and single, static, graven images) on them. The person who may well have been the first one to do so, in that format. (Sorry if I'm wrong, Dave--I'm not, in any remote sense, the comics scholar that you are.)

Were you, Carson, "bored to tears" by Jaka's Story (as just one example)? Most people didn't understand it for what it meant, at the time (God knows, I didn't), but they *read* it. I *read* it. Have you read those pages?



Please, again.

Don't get ahead of yourself.

Carson Grubaugh said...


I honestly do not understand how you think I am getting ahead of myself? All I have been doing is stating my personal reactions to things and then explaining in the best detail I can why I believe I have those reactions. I would love to read you Cerebus commentary.

Stating one's opinions publicly strikes me as pretty damn good way to keep one self in check, actually. It is like the Socratic Method in reverse. You say something in a much too abbreviated fashion, "Literature is inferior to comics!" then everyone jumps on your ass to clarify. As you clarify some inconsistencies in your own statements arise you revise your thinking and become more nuanced. If that isn't a purposefully humbling strategy I don't know what would be.

One of the reasons I love Cerebus, and am fascinated by Dave, is I think he did exactly this starting at the half-way point of Reads, and hasn't stopped since. The more nuanced a position gets the more entrenched it will seem to others, sure, but it isn't arbitrary, it is the result of years of careful consideration and correction. Others may still disagree, especially in matters of taste, but a position reached after years of consideration should at least be respected for the thoroughness of formulation. This is why even though I often disagree with Dave I am very keen to hear his thoughts on any given subject, I know they will be singular and have years of consideration behind them.

Of course I read all of the prose in all of Cerebus (well, the dimensions of Rick's temple got skimmed), Jaka's Story included. In Jaka's story it served a formal purpose that couldn't have been achieved in any other way, fair enough. I still kind of thought, "Shit, one of the text pages," every time I hit one, and feel like I got an infinite amount more wisdom about human nature out of the drawn pages, especially the silent domestic pages that start the book off.

Again, I don't think stating my personal preferences and being willing to analyze why I probably had those reactions is in any way getting ahead of myself. Sorry. You coming here and assuming you know enough about my mental life and background knowledge to pass judgement on whether or not I am acting within the proper boundaries of humility for someone of my age/experience (again things I don't believe you actually know about me), that is probably getting ahead of one's self.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: Your "Socratic Method in reverse" strikes me very much as an extrovert's tactic. I am more of the school that you figure out what you mean before you say it (and I infer that Dave is of this school as well). But I agree that the free contest of ideas is an excellent means of correction -- including self-correction.

That's one of the interesting things about following Dave's work over the years. You said that following Dave's thinking is "One of the reasons I love Cerebus, and am fascinated by Dave, is I think he did exactly this starting at the half-way point of 'Reads', and hasn't stopped since." (I rather think he stopped at least 20 years ago; his "thinking" hasn't appreciably changed this millennium.) I would place the commencement point even earlier, during "High Society" when it seemed as if Dave realized that he could actually do this: tell one continuing story over two years with more drama than "Will the X-Men die?!"

But as a thinker, Dave's a good letterer. Bob Fiore once said of Neal Adams, "It's clear that he learned to draw from life, and then stylized (somewhat carelessly) from there." Dave learned to think from comics (because he learned everything from comics; he never lived a life outside comics), and stylized somewhat carelessly from there. He has the usual weakness of the auto-didact: nobody ever told him, "No, you're wrong." By now there's nobody he thinks is qualified to correct him. So a finely-tuned and subtle argument can sit side-by-side with the most basic logical fallacy or with "evidence" that Dave has misinterpreted or just made up out of his head, and Dave can't tell the difference. (An infallible sign that you're about to read something illogical, wrong, emotional, or just plain dumb: Dave writes "it's self-evident that ...")

This is why Cerebus and Dave are interesting in terms of content. Dave isn't a good enough thinker to apprehend reality, but he is a good enough artist to express the interpretation of reality he's invented (like Monet painting what he saw through his cataracts, not what he knew the world should look like). I've analogized before: It's like reading reports sent back by a fellow who obviously doesn't live here.

(Final cheap shot: Jeff S. instructs you, "Don't get ahead of yourself," because he must defend the man he loves against all comers. Don't look for reason behind it; there isn't any.)

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: Your comment, "the written word is often credited for being a superior technology for conveying interior states, emotions, etc. I suspect this might be incorrect," interests me. Have you further thoughts?

I find myself agreeing with the consensus here. It's not about efficiency; it's about being guided through the experience -- like how a cartoonist will break an action into panels. An actor (or a cartoon actor) can use movement, facial expression, or vocal inflection to convey a character's conscious and unconscious worlds, but that is only ever a crude approximation, a translation of interior state into exterior action. "Conveying interior states" is not "telling us how the characters feel"; rather, it's "showing us the thoughts, motivations, desires, and fears that characters reveal, hide unsuccessfully from others, hide from others, or hide from themselves".

I think "Jaka's Story" is one of the more nearly successful phonebooks exactly because of something prose does better than more visual media: unreliable narrator. It's not immediately clear that the text bits are Oscar's book, not objective descriptions by the omniscient narrator we've seen before in the book. As we learn more about the characters, and contrast that with the text pieces, we can triangulate a truth that is less pleasant than the one the characters pretend.

(It also helps that Dave is parodying Oscar Wilde with the overly florid text. In the later books when he's "doing" Fitzgerald, it just comes across as flat -- like a gin 'n' tonic made with flat tonic. I mean, it's a fine pastiche, but somebody already invented that style. ("And then Hemingway punched me in the mouth."))

Someone will probably bring up Fight Club, but I think it's a poor example. The necessity of a twist ending forced a retcon of the narrator as unreliable. Cory F. above mentioned Nabokov, and Lolita is a better example: we follow right along with a man who justifies his own monstrous pedophilia and child molestation.

-- Damian

Jack said...

Yeah, I always think of Lolita as one of the most pointless books to adapt into a movie, even though it's been done twice. Not only is the book filled with jokes, parodies, allusions, and subtextual hints that only work in prose, but a lot of its dramatic tension comes from the contrast between Humbert's inner self, as exposed to us through his prose, and his outer facade. You're not going to get the same effect by using some cheesy voiceover and having the actor act all twitchy around little girls. Nabokov thought his mostly unused screenplay for the Kubrick movie was one of his best works, but I've read it and think it pretty much sucks.

Carson Grubaugh said...


It isn't like I haven't thought all of this stuff over for years before I said it publicly. Also, I am not sure how many comic artists are also extroverts. Seems like a bad combination. I sure am not an extrovert by any means. Anyway, as soon as you finally do say something publicly the response immediately exposes some holes in your reasoning, or forces nuance that was impossible to get sitting in a room pondering. For me at least.

For example, it never occurred to me to question the power of the written word to create empathy for interior states until these conversations. I could be totally wrong, but it is a perspective I have never heard put forth, and the more I think about my reactions to things it seems to hold up.

I understand that a narrator can give a lot more detail but my reaction to the extra detail is that it kills the immediacy of the empathetic response. The textual stuff in Jaka's story is a really interesting formal trick that makes the plot richer as you begin to understand what you are actually reading, but none of the descriptions in the body of the text had the same immediate emotional impact on me that the silent sequences of domestic life that open the book did. The IDEA that Oscar is writing this stuff and obviously distorting the truth, the weight of the betrayal on Rick's part in telling Oscar private things about Jaka's past, all have very interesting emotional impact, but that is at some kind of second-order, less immediate, remove from anything directly conveyed by the body of text directly.

My assumption is that at an evolutionary level we have developed a deep, deep, ability to recognize interior states in others based on body language cues. These empathetic responses are extremely direct in day to day life. I have had students walk into the class room and I know within a second that something is dramatically wrong, which also puts me in a new state in a micro second. That is powerful. I personally have never had that from reading a book, only the second-order response to the totality of the situation being describeb. Reading even a sentence takes way too long for that micro-second reaction.

Images, however, seem able to carry that information. Live actors, maybe even more so.

Here are links to two comic pages that drew immediate and powerful empathetic responses for me in a way a description of the scenario never would.

An absolutely devastating image by Sakamoto Shinichi, from The Climber. Now, one of my top three favorite comics of all time, tied with Cerebus and Promethea.

And, a page that made me fall in love with a glance, from Bastien Vives, who is constantly doing exactly the kind of thing I am talking about. Amazing stuff.

Carson Grubaugh said...


Some other thoughts on text.

The way Dave integrates text into comics reinforces my belief that comics are superior technology. He proved comics can have it both ways. Especially the way Dave does it, where the text heavy pages are understood as IMAGES of bodies of text that exist within the world of the story, not just bodies of text. Very clever way to have your cake and eat it too, and in books like Jaka's Story, extremely relevant to the plot. Later on, meh, the trick got old, to me.

I said at some point up above that verbal flourish doesn't really do enough for me to justify reading novels. That didn't sit well on further thought. I really do love a good turn of phrase and clever wordplay. Then I realized that most of my favorite turns of phrase and bits of clever wordplay show up in musical lyrics. Again, it is probably the ease of consumption that comes with music that makes me prefer it to prose. I can consume it AND drive my car. Gimme an Aesop Rock rap over James Joyce any day! Plus, we can turn as many phrases in a comic as anywhere else. The multi-modality of comics is a huge recommendation for the medium.

Carson Grubaugh said...


RE: Dave as a thinker.

I meant that starting with Reads he really began to engage in this reverse Socratic Method. My commentaries make my thoughts on this pretty clear. Up until Reads it seems like Dave was trying out many different ideas/personas, seeing how they resonated with him, took what he liked, cast off the rest and moved on to the next outlook. In Reads he finally comes out as himself and begins to use the public reaction to the book to sharpen his personal viewpoints. How well that worked in terms of generating "Truth"? Up in the air.

I agree that Dave is guilty of some poor philosophizing, and get into that in the next commentary if I remember correctly, but the process is fascinating to see. I think the process of trying on a lot of different hats, or at least convincing himself that he did, probably lead to being EXTRA sure that his own position was right. When you think you have given all the options a go it is easier to dismiss them as nothing you haven't heard before.

Pure philosophy aside, Dave does strike me as having an extraordinary intuitive grasp on human behavior. This leas him, I think, to exposed the societal repercussions of post-modernist/deconstructionist thinking long before most of us saw where they were taking us. Dave is, in my opinion, much better at generating negative accounts of other idea systems than he is at producing his own positive account. This is something I am guilty of as well, so I have no room to criticize. Just recognizing and appreciating a like mind.

Jeff Seiler said...

Not sure Dave would call you a "like mind", Carson, any more than he would call me that. But, I'm just guessing.

Barry Deutsch said...

Carson, those were both beautiful bits of cartooning; thanks for sharing them.

Do you have any idea how one finds a copy of The Climber to read in English? I'm not having any luck.

As for prose, I can't argue with you when you say that you get more out of comics than you do out of prose. But - given the huge popularity of prose books compared to comic books - it seems unlikely that your experience is generalizable to humans in general.

Comics are a very efficient form of communication in some ways - as you said, in the ability to instantly communicate to readers through perfectly expressed body language or expressions.

But comics are less efficient in other ways. For example, how long does it take to draw a conversation in detail? Much, much longer than it takes a novelist to write that same conversation.

One of the best conversation I've ever read in comics is the sequence in Church and State with Astoria in prison chained to a wall (which ends up with Cerebus raping Astoria). That conversation runs over 100 pages, if I recall correctly. Very few cartoonists are willing to stick with a conversation long enough to delve into it, because it takes forever to draw a beat-by-beat conservation.

A 600-page novel like Connie Willis' Doomsday Book (probably my favorite science fiction novel) can tell a story that would take a few thousand pages to tell in comics. (Or it would have to be so expurgated that it would lose all emotional impact, like the Classics Illustrated comics). That's a kind of efficiency.

But in the end, I don't think efficiency is the only or best metric to judge art by.

Carson Grubaugh said...

I doubt he would, but I see many things in Dave's work that I recognize in my own natural set of interests and inclinations which is probably why I enjoy his work so much!

Unfortunately there is no printed English version yet. I read it all online at, and absolutely blew through it even with the inconvenient reading format. It is a brilliant work. The art starts off mediocre but you can see where it goes in that image above.

As to your other points, I again reiterate that we are talking at different levels of analysis. It could very well be that people LIKE doing the extra work of reading prose. That doesn't mean it isn't extra work. I could be totally wrong and just have an odd brain. Hard to figure that out for sure.

The time it takes to complete and the time it takes to consume are two different levels of analysis as well. As artists, we both know the completion side of it VERY well. A writer says, "Draw a naval battle between three pirate ships, with hundreds of men fighting aboard each ship," and the artist thinks, "Awww, hell." (Unless it is Sergio Aragones, ha-ha).

I have never read Doomsday Book, surprise, surprise, but still suspect that if an artist did take the time to draw it out a 2000 page comic would take less time to read than a 600 page prose novel. I bet reading the entire run of Cerebus, prose and all, at 6000 pages, takes less time than the 1,260'ish pages of Jerusalem. When you include all of Dave's essays, etc. they took me about 4 months a piece.

Oppose conversation in prose to recorded conversation, audio or audio/visual. Less efficient form of consumption, for sure.

I would never say efficiency of consumption is the only metric of good art. I am just saying that unless story really needs to formal properties of existing in the written word, I would rather consume the same story in a more expedient format. Everyone is coming up with exceptional cases of things that formally HAD TO BE novels. Those are really rare cases. Again, I rabidly consume Mark Z. Danielewski novels. I don't think the majority of entertainment, or stories these days fall into that category.

My initial point, in the essay, was, I think comics are a superior story delivery method, except in rare cases like MZD. This means I am not very interested in written literature as a domain of art, less interested in most of the authors, especially one that Dave professes to not even like. Given all of that it was very hard to find anything compelling in Form and Void, for me. I am still surprised that any of that is controversial. I know I stated it tersely, but, that represented the mood I was in after reading the book and I like that immediacy of reaction to the work.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: All right, I will use stronger language: The reason you're surprised that your point is controversial is because you can't tell the difference between a personal preference and a fact. (This is one of the things you and Dave have in common.) You're not saying efficiency is the only metric, just the most important one. But simply stating that you don't like prose fiction because you don't think it's efficient doesn't oblige anyone to share your point of view, and it certainly doesn't prove that comics are superior to prose. All it says is that you like comics better than prose fiction. Which of course is your perfect right. Nobody says you have to be interested in prose fiction. However, you seem to want your preference to be a fact when you haven't advanced an argument, let alone a proof.

Are you working out these ideas here, or have you worked them out over years? Because you've claimed both things. I can address specifically some of the things you say, but if it's the former case it wouldn't really be fair.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...


I am being pretty careful to qualify everything I say with "I think," "it strikes me that," "I suspect," etc. I don't know how much more clear I can make it that this is mostly an issue preference. Apparently it is a preference which seems to confound people, so I have tried to articulate my reasons for having such a preference.

I do think it is a commonly accepted fact that comics and film are multi-modal mediums whereas text is not (highly recommend Nick Sousanis's brilliant Unflattening graphic novel dissertation).

I do think it is an uncontroversial claim to state that humans have evolved to read and respond to body-language cues in an immediate way that is qualitatively different from the response one has to reading a body of text.

I am pretty damned sure that if I hadn't read the back-matter the 6,000 pages of Cerebus would have taken much less time to consume than the 1,250ish Jerusalem, which implies to me that comics CAN BE consumed faster than pure prose. Of course one COULD savor all of the details for hours on end if they want.

I don't think the above make the written word bad, but they do make it inferior to comics and film at some very specific levels of analysis, which happen to be the levels of analysis that I personally care the most about. Of course any of that could, and should, be debated, but it seems silly to say I haven't been clear about this being a matter of preference on my part, even in my initial commentary.

"Form and Void did not OFFER ME much to care about in the ideas department. I HAVE zero interest in literary classics. There are very few I HAVE read that I GAVE TWO SHITS about. I THINK prose fiction is a dead story-telling medium. Unless you are going to give me a readable formalist like Mark Z. Danielewski, whose stories can only be understood in the context of the formal nature of a book, I WOULD RATHER have a comic-book or a television show. So, imagine MY DISINTEREST in learning about an author of literature who Dave Sim doesn't even care about."

That IS a hell of a lot of qualifying language, with NO universal claims other than the fact that Dave doesn't care about Hemmingway as an author, which I think he makes pretty clear in his annotations.

Most of these opinions are very old opinions, dating back to 2005 when I first read Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media" and realized that the linear nature of text he describes doesn't really model the current networked-account-of-reality zeitgeist that drives the information age. Some of the nuances, especially the SUSPICION that text MAY NOT be as good at conveying empathetic information as people SEEM TO think it is, arose in the last few days.

I really don't know how I can qualify all of this as personal preference, suspicion, belief, etc. any more than I have been from the very start. Sorry.

Jack said...

I actually don't think comics are such a great medium for education, by the way. The educational comics that come immediately to my mind are The Cartoon History of the Universe, the "..For Beginners" series of graphic novels from several years ago, and the non-autobiographical stuff Harvey Pekar did toward the end of his life, but I wouldn't recommend using any of them in a classroom. To focus on Pekar's "The Beats"--it basically consists of panel after panel in which a caption briefly explains something that one of the Beats did and a drawing depicts what the caption says, with maybe one line of (often stilted/implausible) word-balloon dialogue per drawing. And I'm not sure the book could have been much better, either. I still like it because I always love Harvey's voice and enjoy Ed Piskor's artwork, but if you want to learn about Burroughs, Keroac, Ginsburg, et al., you'd probably be better off reading their Wikipedia entries.

Sean R said...

I've really enjoyed reading this conversation. I don't have anything to add other than to suggest that Carson and Damian both find a copy of "Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga," a parody comic drawn in the 1980s and published by Viz in the late 1990's. There's an intensely funny conversation about the nature of art, and comics as educational vehicles, that is a. very relevant to the discussion, and b. one of the funniest things I've ever read. The educational comics sequence culminates in a "Tokyo train manual manga" that has a lot to say about the limits to delivering information in a linear narrative form :) Seriously, check it out.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: Thank you for further explaining your argument. I paraphrase it, "A requirement for me to enjoy a work of art is that I can consume it efficiently. I can consume comics and movies more efficiently than prose fiction." Would you agree that is accurate? I'm not sure how you get from there to "comics is a superior medium than prose fiction" -- unless by "superior" you mean simply "works better for me", in which case I think your arguments would be uncontroversial if you just said that.

Others' experiences may be different and equally valid. I can read a screenplay in half an hour. Movies, which take two hours to watch, are thus obviously inferior to the written script. I would not make this argument -- but you would.

Unless, as I said, you're not making an argument. And that's fine. We're just two guys on someone else's blog; you have no obligation to provide me with intellectual justifications for your likes and dislikes. Perhaps I got hung up on your use of the word "superior" when you meant merely "preference". You seemed pretty unequivocal that "prose fiction is dead" -- and, as I said way above, "Them's fightin' words!"

(I read McLuhan when I was an undergrad too (which was a few years before you, but I remember at least some of it). I read also at the same time Jonathan Miller's McLuhan -- recommended for some interesting counter-arguments. I don't say I agree, but they're interesting.)

-- Damian

Marshall McLuhan said...

You know nothing of my work.

Carson Grubaugh said...

Thanks! I look forward to reading that.


That is pretty accurate, yes.

By "superior" I meant at the level of analysis of delivering story content as quickly as possible and letting me move on with my day. We may disagree on that, but I hope I have show that it at least isn't a flippant position.

I also meant that comics have more tools available to them. As Cerebus proves, comics can have all of the strengths of prose, if need be, or all of the power of a silent sequence of images, and anything in between. More tools in a tool box = a better tool box, to me. An obvious negative outcome of this is that more tools increase the difficulty of mastering all of the tools and can lead to bad tool misuse. I will bite that bullet.

I still think prose fiction is an outdated (I will concede that DEAD is a bit strong of a word) storytelling technology, for all of the reasons I have outlined. It is probably a good thing for the medium, actually. people who really care for it and understand it, like MZD, really work to show they have damn good reasons for choosing the medium. I enjoy any work of art that is produced in a way that excludes the possibility of any other medium conveying pretty much the same information.

More power to you on the screenplay front. I could never do that. No surprise here, but one of the reasons I left comics for the fine arts is I hated getting and reading scripts. Like, send me into deep depression, HATED! SDOAR is probably the only book written by someone else I could stand to work on because what I get from Dave is visual.

I will have to look up the Miller book. McLuhan is a huge influence for me. Thanks!

It is pretty hard to figure out all of what you meant with that "hot" and "cold" nonsense muddying your intentions! ; b

Erick said...

I can draw a figure of a dog on a piece of paper well enough that almost everyone would recognize it as a dog. A good novelist using nothing but words can write a description of a dog that would make you cry. A visual artist can do the exact same thing - if they are talented enough. It's an old man's game to trash the younger generation for a perceived lack of appreciation for an 'obviously' superior form of communication. A great novel does take work. I am guilty of dismissing Carson's views about comics and prose as well. However, I do think that someone who is a professed teacher, should be held to a slightly higher standard when it comes to the appreciation of an undisputed art form. Dissenting ideas are fine. Dismissive, are another matter.

Carson Grubaugh said...


My original claim was that comics are better at telling stories. The educational thing is a whole other set of issues that I do spend A LOT of time thinking about.

The problem with educational material is that, as I just said to Damian, the more modalities you include in a presentation the less likely it is that any one person has a mastery of all the requisite formal skills for each modality, is actually a master of the given subject, AND has the wisdom to choose when and how to employ each modality. I suspect a lot of the bad educational comics are due to some complication related to the above issues.

What really interests me as an educator, and comics formalist, is expanding comic principles into the digital realm where almost all modalities are possible (no hands on experience possible, yet).

One problem is choosing the appropriate modality. You are 100% correct that factual information is much more efficiently consumed as pure text. "David Bowie died in 2016." A picture of David Bowie is just additional information, that may or may not be relevant to the reader. Abstract thought, like philosophy, doesn't really work without lots of written language either, but, some thought experiments can be made more clear with the aide of visuals and other interactive elements. You can check out some examples of how I played with this idea in a philosophy text here (a rough prototype for a group I was working with in 2013-2014):

Brett Victor is the best I have seen at creating this kind of interactive reading.!/Tangle

There is also the problem of transitioning the readers between modalities without breaks of attention. An example: I have thought a lot about how to integrate video into comics. It is really hard to do in a seamless way. Either you have to guess at what speed the reader will reach a video, or you have to let them activate it. One is impossible to get right for every viewer (maybe eye tracking tech could do it?) the other breaks the flow of attention by requiring the reader to push play. Plus, you have to HOPE they have their sound up.

So far I have only been able to find one way to take advantage of video in a comic that is actually enhances the story in a way that could not be done in any other form. Unfortunately I am not a coder so I haven't been able to figure how to get the thing to work across all browsers. If you have Chrome or Firefox, are on a laptop or desktop AND have your sound on (see the problem?) check out

Another experiment, with the author's permission, was to take a section of David Chelsea's "Perspective for Comic Artists" and try to make it clearer by including animated gifs (This book is an example of a really successful educational comic. I have all my basic drawing students buy it. 1000x better than the old textbooks where yo got a list of instructions and a "refer to diagram 12a" with diagram 12a three pages forwards or backwards in the book from the corresponding direction set.) I was noticing some students couldn't visualize the actions that take place between panels, so thought, what if the actions happen in the panels? No need to stop, rewind, replay, like in a video, but all of the motion is there now too. This test can be seen at:

Problems are, the constant motion could be bothersome, I had to guess what speed of animation was appropriate for optimal comprehension.

I suspect that this kind of thing will prove to have too many factors that need to be effectively balance and will never be very successful. But, it does provide a fascinating set of problems to mull over for formalist geeks like me.

Carson Grubaugh said...


Hopefully it is within the bounds of acceptable, and I would assume, expected, behavior for an art professor to state what he sees as the strengths of his field relative to another field. Hopefully I have been lucid enough in providing a number of reasons for why I hold my preferences and beliefs that it is obvious I am not being outright dismissive or intellectually lazy.

It is up to the guys in the literature departments to provide their counter arguments and articulate in which ways their medium is superior others. That is the whole academic, philosophical, theoretic game. You take a position, build a career around it, and defend against all comers. Thankfully I am a professor of practice, not theory, so my success is tied to my artistic output not to relentlessly defending a position until the day I die. This is great because I really value the freedom to change my opinions!

Erick said...

Yes it is acceptable. And I am well aware that there are academic proponents of video games as being the superior tool for learning, just as their are fans of video games who feel about comic books the same as you feel about prose literature. The wheel turns. However, that does not mean that truth is not lost. The irony here is that Dave, whom you obviously hold in high esteem, is a polymath who has an appreciation, if not necessarily a passion for various arts outside his own practice.
Do not be so quick to announce your ignorance of an art form before you are fully aware of what it is.
It is good that you say you are not closed to modifying your opinions though

Erick said...

yes i know there/their are typos

Travis Pelkie said...

They're am typos, Erick. :)

Man, I gotta read this thread. Ya know, I didn't really mean it when I said about Carson as replacement Ger, I just thought with the appearance thereof, any comments Carson makes will be looked upon askance by certain Jeffs in the audience. Not necessarily me. If you can back up your arguments, and I think you probably mostly did re: Ger, I don't see any actual issue with commenting.

More babble once I read all this!

Carson Grubaugh said...


Those video game proponents are probably right! I grew up without a television so the furthest I ever got with game systems was the original Game Boy. Anything past that very simple controller requires too much finger coordination for me. That is a medium I truly know nothing about.

I actually do know quite a bit about literature as an art form. Probably why I am so picky about the formal aspects of it.

As a kid I read all the time. Every year my parents would have me choose a difficult challenge for a New Years Resolution. If I met my own conditions by the end of the year I would get some kind of reward, a trip to Marine World, something like that. At 6 or 7 I vowed to read two-hundred book in a year. I think I made closer to three-hundred (kids books, obviously). They probably still have the list of books somewhere.

I do know that even as a small, small child, like 4 or 5, I would purposefully seek out the books that had word balloons attached to the characters head and favored them over books that had the Prince-Valiant-style illustrations-floating-over-top-of-text-and-dialogue. It never made sense to me why you would disconnect someone's words from their representation when there was a way you could connect the two.

In third-grade I blew through the short-story/excerpt literature text book on my own at home so they gave me the fourth-grade book, then the fifth, then the sixth, all by the middle of the year. Bridge to Terabithia made me bawl like a baby. In sixth grade I ran through Tolkien and never even blinked at the overly descriptive passages I would bitch about now. I devoured books. I devoured comics. Probably the lack of TV. Thanks Mom and Dad!

That continued until I was in my early 20's, went to college, and started really taking philosophy seriously. Philosophy changed something about how my brain processed the written word. I think Huxley's Point Counter Point was the last book I really enjoyed, and that might as well be a philosophical dialogue. I remember loving the closing sentences, "That night he and Beatrice pretended to be two little children and had their bath together. Two little children sitting at opposite ends of the big old-fashioned bath. And what a romp they had! The bathroom was drenched with their splashings. Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

At some point I tried to read The Brothers Karamazov, hit a multi-page description of a living room, and thought to myself, what in the hell am I doing? Blew through Dubliners and Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, eagerly cracked open Ulysses, got three chapters in, went "okay, got the point, all of Reality can be represented in a single moment, this is boring now" and haven't really touched a book since unless it is written by Mark Danielewski. I roughed it through Jerusalem only because I am an OCD Moore completist. Jerusalem may have cured me of that.

Sean R said...

Okay, Carson, now I really am just throwing things at you to read, but based on the above, these two items will enrich your life:

Of the latter, make sure you pick up an edition with the author's own illustrations included. Very, very relevant to the discussion of unreliable narrator and the unused/underutilized possibilities for prose.

Point Counter Point sounds great! Will have to put it on the list.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: I do not think your position is consistent when you say that the citations of prose fiction people have given represent exceptions (I would call them rather examples), and simultaneously admire Mark Danielewski as a prose writer when he is most definitely an exception. I suggest that "prose fiction" is fiction conveyed through the words alone; Danielewski requires his audience to consider the visual placement of the text on the page, which makes him an extreme minority (i.e. an exception) among prose writers.

I think that "Jaka's Story" might (conceivably, though I think the case is yet to be made) be an example of using text as visual as well as content-carrier. I think that "Reads" is not such an example.

An argument might be made (I wouldn't necessarily make it, but it's not immediately dismissable either) that visual media like comics are better than prose at conveying plot. That's a different thing from saying visual media are better at telling stories -- a statement that requires defining "a story" as (and only as) "plot". An argument might be made that movies are better than comics at this same task, as movies whisk you along at their pace, not yours, and thus have greater immediacy and urgency.

I don't see a supportable assertion that prose is dead and comics are superior when more people read prose fiction than comics, prose fiction sells more than comics, and prose fiction is held in higher esteem than comics. (Preemptively: I don't think that movies based on comics proves that comics is a superior medium to prose. If that proves anything, it is that comics are inferior to movies. I'm not sure all of us here would agree with that. And I thought Dave's "Comics and the Mass Medium" started off well, before falling victim to Dave's usual fallacies.)

The "formal aspects" of literature that you're so "picky" about are the visual aspects. Your thesis looks to me like, "Prose is inferior to visual media when judged by the criteria of visual media," -- which I would call "stacking the deck".

Your personal history is interesting as to your origins, if irrelevant to your argument. I can play along if you like, but I don't see the point of what would amount to dick-measuring.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...


Starting with your last comment and keeping the dick-measuring metaphor: I took Erick's last point to be something like, "Maybe you shouldn't be talking about how much you hate sex when you have also proclaimed that you are a virgin with a two-inch dick." My response would translate to something like, "Well, I don't have a ten-inch cock, and am no Wilt Chamberlain, but my six-inch pecker has done the job with the few ladies I have been with."

As to the claims about exceptional works: I suspect that when comparing the successes and failures of mediums, AS MEDIUMS, it is best to speak in generalities, which means one is largely dealing with averages. Citing exceptional cases as a defense for the average doesn't seem quite fair. I am trying to express what each medium does naturally, not what it can be pushed to do in the hands of extraordinary talents.

The MZD worship confirms that attitude rather than contradicts it. At their most average, base level of function (at which it would be unfair to argue only with exceptional examples), I think comics are better storytelling tech than prose, so I will stick with comics for consuming stories, UNLESS a piece of prose is so exceptional that it really pays back the time I put into it, which MZD does.

I am guilty of compressing story and plot into one concept, true. But at the unexceptional level they probably are about the same thing. Another reason with exceptions are worth the effort, they pay you back with much more content. And yes, television is much better than comics for pure plot delivery. I can consume it AND DRAW at the same time!

The word "dead" was a poor choice, which think I already admitted above. I meant outdated. The fact that more people still prefer one thing to another is a pretty weak indicator of its superiority at any level of analysis other than do-people-like-it and does-it-make-money. I am surprised Cerebus fans keep coming back to this market-bound argument. I assume that we all agree that Cerebus is a far superior comic to Uncanny X-Mean, at all kinds of levels of analysis.

Not sure it is fair to say I am stacking the deck by judging literature with visual criteria. That pushes my arguments up one level of analysis. Most of my criteria are "speed of intake" or "has more available tools" based, with my assertion being that if this is your criteria the visual or multi-modal mediums perform better. Now it could be that I started with a visual bias and worked back to, "Okay what prior level of analysis stacks the deck for visuals to win," but that is merely an unfair or suspicious interlocutor accusing me of lying about my motivations.

Countering such suspicions is another good reason to give a biographical background. It helps show how the choice of criteria evolved. For me, at an age way too young to be forming a strategy for arguments about the supremacy of visual or multi-modal media, it just made sense to have words connected to the people who said them. That response tells me I innately valued ease of consumption early on. I intuited that it took more work to associate the words to the speaker when the two elements were disconnected. It also shows that I am fully aware of the pleasure that can be derived from pure text, but over time came to found those not pleasurable enough to balance out the amount of work required to consume the medium. Same reason I ate Soylent for a year. I enjoy flavorful food, but not as much as I hate cooking, so powder in a bag for me, unless someone else is cooking.

Okay, back to eye-melting SDOAR crosshatching!

I am scared to even show up here tomorrow! Woo this will be interesting.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

In your second paragraph, you object to exactly what I objected to in your comments. Those of us posting on the pro-prose side gave a couple of examples of prose doing what it does better, and you dismissed those as exceptions. Yet the example you gave could hardly have been more of an exception, inasmuch as those writers (like Danielewski) who incorporate a visual element into their prose presentation are so few as to be statistically insignificant (however much or little artistic merit they may also possess).

I believe your snide "I am surprised Cerebus fans keep coming back to this market-bound argument," does me a disservice, when I specifically made three different arguments including the market one.

It is absolutely fair and accurate to say you are stacking the deck by judging literature with visual criteria. "I'm going to compare a guy who plays basketball with a guy who plays poker to see who's better at basketball." If you take two things and compare them using standards that apply to only one, and find superior the one whose standards you're using -- well, you haven't actually learned anything you didn't know before you began the whole process. I appreciate your naked self-congratulation in saying, "That pushes my arguments up one level of analysis." Y'know, I don't think it does; I think the fact that you say that demonstrates that you don't understand the point and have only one level of analysis. (Ooo, and say "multi-modal" again!)

You say, "Most of my criteria are 'speed of intake' or 'has more available tools' based, with my assertion being that if this is your criteria the visual or multi-modal mediums perform better." Interesting!

I think "speed of intake" is not necessarily a virtue for anyone who's not you, so I must judge that to be a subjective criterion.

I also think it can become self-contradictory. Why bother creating any kind of art at all? Wouldn't it be more efficient just to tell people your themes in so many words? If all you want to tell me is "The sunset is beautiful," then why don't you do so? Why waste hours painting a picture that I'll then have to look at and assess? If you want to tell me something more complex, we're both going to have to expend greater effort to encode and decode the theme into an artwork. Doesn't seem very efficient.

I think the "has more tools" argument amounts to "quantity over quality" -- or, perhaps more charitably, privileges the creator over the reader of the work. Nobody thinks movies are lacking a crucial dimension because they don't engage our sense of smell. It's the duty of the creator to select the appropriate medium, containing the tools that creator deems necessary to convey the theme. The audience doesn't care what tools a medium does or doesn't offer.

If you show me a painting, I'm not going to say, "Too bad your medium is obsolete because it doesn't have sound." Or try this: Comics are intrinsically inferior to movies, because comics don't move; our eyes are evolutionarily attuned to motion (to use one of your own arguments), so any medium that doesn't include movement as a tool is inferior to one that does.

So when you claim, "the visual or multi-modal mediums perform better," I can only think you mean from the perspective of a creator. From the perspective of the audience, there's nothing "missing" from a completed work of art.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...


That criteria of expediency has driven many decisions for me that have nothing to do with the topic at hand: eating Soylent for a year, having a wardrobe of only seven pairs of matching outfits, owning as few physical objects as possible because I move so much, etc.

If you can't extend the conversational courtesy of taking what I state to be my base-level criteria (which is of course subjective, what criteria for evaluation of quality isn't?) as an honest statement on my part I don't see the point in continuing to discuss any of these subjects. Calling into question the honesty of my motivation for choosing my starting point means this is not a discussion but a debate that you only care about winning. I am not, and have never been interested in winning debates, only expressing my positions as clearly as possible, trying to figure out why I have come to hold those positions, and then searching for ways to make them better. When engaging with other people furthers that endeavor, fantastic, when that gets derailed into the realm of pure debate, well, back to expediency, it isn't any more.

That said, this conversation has given me something new and interesting to mulling over regarding the assumption that literature does a better job of conveying interior states. I never questioned that before but do now, which means I do get to regard the few examples given above as exceptional cases, because my suspicion now is that prose actually is not naturally suited for sparking strong, immediate empathetic responses.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: Well, thanks for your attention so far, and I wish you well in return.

I didn't say you were dishonest; you pre-emptively accused me of that, without justification. Indeed, I took your claims at face value. However, I don't think it's a get-out-of-jail-free card to say, "I sincerely believe a dumb thing, and that makes it true."

-- Damian

Jack said...

I think there's a big difference between sparking strong, immediate empathic responses and conveying someone's inner life, though. To use an example with which we're all familiar--if you followed Dave Sim around with a movie camera for several months, the resulting documentary might give viewers a good idea of his emotional state (whether that consists of manly emotionlessness, as he claims, or the self-pity some see in him). But you'd need prose to fully convey all the stuff going on in his head about God and YHWH bring separate beings, the Feminist Theocracy that will eventually allow cats to vote, the lion-human hybrids of Ancient Egypt, etc.

Jack said...

Well, I guess Carson already acknowledged what I just said in previous comments. Anyway, I'll add that understanding someone's inner life is a lot more interesting to me than having an empathic response, at least in art. I mean, both the "injury to eye motif" and porn are great for triggering empathic responses, right? But neither leaves you with much to think about.

Jack said...

...Of course, some comics have depicted characters' inner lives brilliantly. I really liked Dave's depictions of Rick's religious-imagery-saturated POV and the arguing parts of Cerebus's mind, for example. And Crumb's inner life is obviously his main subject.

Carson Grubaugh said...


It is fun, for the most part. I just paid attention to your full name enough to see you are an ESQ. NO WONDER!

So let me clarify then. Were you trying to say I was strategically stacking the deck to favor my argument, or, that THE DECK, like biology, environment, etc. was a stacked in a way that lead me to the preferences I have?

The first one at least includes the idea of a blind-spot in my reasoning or some kind of self-deception. This is entirely possible, but given how many other areas of my life the expediency criteria is a determining factor for I can't see it as anything other than the legit foundation from which the other opinions grew, not a mere rhetorical work around or blind spot.

If you meant the second thing, then yeah, totally. That is what interests me in all of this. Self-revelation. Digging down into why I am who I am. The next task is to figure out why expediency is so important to me. It is obvious to me that this is a much deeper issue than why I like comics rather than prose. Comics vs. prose is just a symptom of the preference.

A really awesome conversation would have you doing the same thing! Why the strong urge to defend literature? What foundation criteria drives that urge? Is that reconcilable with my expediency criteria? If not is there any good reason to choose your foundation criteria over mine?

Anyway, lets keep this going in the NEW (holy hell this is gonna be a mess) thread so we can quit scrolling so far down. So much more expedient!

Carson Grubaugh said...


I think you provided my answer for me. Comics can do the same thing. Plus more!

When the inner life really turns philosophical I guess I would just rather read straight philosophy and not have it couched in all of the narrative details. I guess some philosophical points might be better made through some kind of formal narrative trick, the nested stories of Cloud Atlas come to mind, but again, those will be exceptional cases, and because they are exceptional they probably will wind up interesting me.

I dunno this is a tricky one. I was listening to Jordan Peterson's lectures today while drawing, and his idea that humans use narrative as a kind of play (as in children playing, play) in which we reckon with the best way to live is compelling. Again, whether this is done best in prose, or other mediums is up in the air, and probably a case-by-case basis thing for which medium is the best for any given idea. My instinct is still that comics, probably even more so film, are the best mediums for most needs in today's society.