Oh look! A post about the American demographic designated by the 24th letter of the English alphabet is pissing and moaning about its identity. But first, some comics.
Am I projecting, when I perceive that independent or slightly-rogue comics creators of almost exactly my age had a tough time finding their way? I’m thinking about those who are very firmly understood as later Boomers like Diana Schutz, the Hernandez brothers, Dave Sim, the Pinis, and Matt Howarth (birth years 1950-1959), all of whom were old enough to have active roots in the 1970s underground, all being noted up-and-coming pros by 1980. I’m comparing them with those born ten years later, hitting their mid-20s around 1990, who flailed around from here to there with genuinely grim stretches, or really slogged their way in the independent darkness with little or no cachet or distribution.
Let’s see … to pick a range of “how it all turned out later,” there were Alison Bechdel (b. 1960) who was fringe as hell before 2000, Colin Upton (1960), Jeff Nicholson (1962), Bob Fingerman (1964, just a few days before me), Evan Dorkin (1965), Martin Wagner (1966), Jason Lutes (1967), Alex Robinson (1969), Drew Hayes (1969) … I don’t know Peter Sickman-Garner’s or Joe Michael Linsner’s birthdates but they’re spot on in there. As always, the boundaries vary by region and other details, e.g., Peter Bagge fits, but he was born in 1957, so I’m not all stuck on this or that precise date.
I might be projecting again, to see them grapple with an ongoing lack of generalized fanbase or distributional pull back in the 90s especially, and a tendency to publish among the interstices of the existing companies rather than “with” one or being able to support one. Believe it or not, I think Rob Liefeld (b. 1967) actually fits the pattern in reverse, coming into that position or placed there almost as if by magic, but to fall right out of it too, as if the gears failed to mesh and the piece bounced out. When success is Brownian motion, a particle’s gonna end up that way.
For thoughts on some of the comics, see my posts Justice comes by night, And I’m not the bad guy, I just want to talk to him, The raw and real deal … This is probably the best post to mention the really pissed-off ones I enjoyed, like Sickman-Garner’s Hey Mister and Dorkin’s Hectic Planet and Fun with Milk & Cheese. (Damn it! What was that one about the two really 80s-type druggie guys who conjured up the devil that one time … I swear, I had issues of these, I can see whole pages in my mind and quote them, they were hilarious.)
A contextual tangent: I did buy and read most issues of Strangers in Paradise and Bone, but both titles wore really thin for me, fast. Today, looking back, they seem of a piece with Image Comics at that time – not enough comic for the media presence and hobby position they were suddenly cast in. To a lesser extent I read the suddenly-hot Canadians like Chester Brown, Seth, et al., but the fact is, I didn’t and don’t like them much except for some of the more topical or historical pieces. Fortunately this isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive survey and a review even less so, so like I said, there’s your crossing-vector you can use for context as I continue.
Anyway, thinking over the comics I mentioned and others like them, I connected with them very deeply. They’re generally bleak and full of rather savage humor, including varying degrees of clinical issues, but it was all profoundly not depressed (this is where the Canadians excepting Upton lost me). It was alienated, flat in aspect but deeply engaged in every way. I mean, mentally, emotionally, and physically; e.g., they’re notably un-hung-up about feeling any given emotion, having and using body parts, and anything else that obviously flipped the older creators’ lids even as they drew them. If I were still in California I’d call it Zen in its attention to the moment, no matter how good or bad, always wry and weird.
Douglas Coupland’s book, which coined the term, is one of those novels that everyone references but no one reads, and whose content is “known,” and endlessly repeated and casually refuted, except that what’s actually in the book is something else that no one talks about. I don’t even know if I can recommend it; I have too much experience with heads filled with “what this book says” stuff that blinds the eye. I like it a lot and actually really needed it at the time.
One bit: I can’t help but complain bitterly about the term’s appropriation – evidently everyone “just knows” that Generation X refers to the demographic targeted by marketing for it, born in the mid or later 1970s. The exact point in the book that the next-down-the-way younger characters, the eager Reaganites, were casually and unreflectively becoming a “generation” directly descended from the Boomers, could not be better illustrated by reality. (See, for example, the Generation Jones concept.) Suffice to say that “X” was written to indicate a cipher, an unknown, the invisibles – not as an entity between a preceding W and and a following Y, and as one of the chapter titles indicates, certainly not as a target market.
It’s idiot-proof obvious to me. What actually happened to money and jobs is readily available and widely cited, it’s not some secret or mystery. Keep in mind I had my first job in the summers of 1978 and 1979, graduated from high school in 1983, and from college in 1987. Let’s look at that first phase.
You’ve heard about inflation and gas prices and an oil crisis during the 1970s? Probably as some sort of Vietnam letdown malaise, or some shit like that. It wasn’t magic. The U.S. had bankrupted itself with the Vietnam War; in 1971, it went onto the paper standard, and some interesting institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank reversed the ordinary meaning of “import” in such a way that the word “empire” applied in full, and still does (see Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire). Labor instantly vanished as a political force, not that it had been much since WWII anyway. The so-called oil crisis was nothing of the sort and had nothing to do with Arabs; it was simply nationwide gouging at the local pump because they could.
So that’s what was up for me going into high school. During my second year, Ronald Reagan become president, and look …
Again, no mystery. Given the deregulations during Reagan’s first term, finance became a fake-ass economy and the only thing economists would henceforward talk about, and the opening shot of the airport workers’ strike’s conclusion in 1982 became a real shock of simply lying, looting institutions pretending to be banks.
They called it a recession or an adjustment, but I was staring right into the entry job zone and I knew better – all of a sudden, anyone could get a credit card, no actual salaried jobs were available except for cult membership at Arthur Anderson, and any time you mentioned anything about this, someone was sure to gesture fiercely over-there and fulminate about Japan. Or Russia. Or the communists “destabilizing” poor old South Africa and infesting “South America” (don’t even ask what they were referring to, geographically
This economic double-hit is what made us, entering our teens just after the IMF/WB shift, entering our twenties into Reagan’s criminal-finance reality. Maybe “generation” is the wrong word, I don’t care one way or another. It was a sharply age-defined wave of misfits, dividing at college age into hustlers, suck-ups, and very self-aware drop-outs. The former, especially the first, adopted the Friedman school or rather cult – I was at the U of Chicago and saw it with my own eyes; it was exactly us – and don’t think for a minute they believed it. It was survival; they knew what they faced without it. The second were tragic, the most sincere of us, thinking that if they really tried and if they really believed, and you know, worked hard, it’d be OK, and shocked to learn that by 40, they were being bought-out and out-promoted by everyone ten years younger.
I was the third, while end-running the second via competence. There were a lot of us, but we created no group, no subculture. We weren’t hipsters – but we were what the hipsters made fashionable. I always had a job, always a weird job, invented for me or altered into a new shape once I was in it, often with high responsibility, but never with recognition or socked into an advancement structure. Slovenly, feckless, high-performance, under-employed coffeeshop dwellers – I was grunge as hell in 1986, but no one called it that, and certainly not with any implication of a style or fashion. They had other words for it. Marginalized people adopted me almost on sight. Other people regarded me with sullen anger or with disappointed surprise that I was somehow alive.
There’s also some values or symbolic content to consider. We were the first generation born into the Pill, knowing about it as the New Normal and in no way a change or shock; but we were also the last to get sexually active before AIDS became well-known. That means an almost-wholly unique attitude toward sex, sandwiched between two groups who both sorta really believe in sin. Boomers can’t shut up about casual sex, as if it were some kind of revelation; those younger than us approach it with trepidation and careful definitions and a resurrected sense of how important “commitment” is.
We were also the single curiously non-militarized group, not all anti-military by any means, but certainly the only demographic I know of for whom this outlook is regarded as among the normal, without special need to justify it or explain why you’re off-message like that. Then there’s the whole Bomb thing, about which, well, considering that stupid idiots apparently did hit the nuke’em “go” button on a couple of occasions, thwarted only by ethical people at the silos, never mind. I could go on – the last age-group without the internet, but the first to see it happen and to adapt before the familiar Windows-style platform kicked in; the first students to get computer training in high school but specifically to learn BASIC and PASCAL, not animation graphics or web design.
We didn’t believe in a damned thing, still don’t. We were the first young teens to encounter the role-playing hobby and watched the Satanic Panic rip into and redefine the hobby, such that the next round grew up flinching from it and resentfully defying it, whereas we had stared in quizzical contempt. We saw Reagan fulminate in fire and brimstone against the Rooshans and then embrace Gorby at summit after summit, while the same people cheered either way. “Say no to drugs” meant nothing to us; we ripped our brains for fun, not rebellion or mysticism. As with sex, the older group thought drugs were way more important than they are, and the younger one thought they were flirting with hellfire. Meet an American in his or her 50s who looks like they buy into anything, and they’re lying. They did it to keep their job or equivalent ticket into a life-style; at most, they’ve merely forgotten how to stop.
To bore you with one more claim, we experienced an utter and quite painful break with the elders – almost a conspiracy of silence from the parents, and almost a dedicated exclusion by the older siblings. This was and is a very alone group of people. You saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Hilarious, right? Not to us; we knew those kids, pretty much were them, and knew when the movie stopped being itself and went for easy endings. You saw River’s Edge? It’s not satire or exaggeration; I knew every one of those kids, meaning, their equivalents. We knew they were us unless we stepped a bit more … cautiously? No, with more cunning? At the very least, more quietly.
Thus Jeff Nicholson’s Through the Habitrails, first published in the Taboo anthology series, and most appropriately so. It’s one of those stories whose surreal and horror elements are practically a relief from the stunning, outright perfect portrayal of modern work. And I cannot explain why the protagonist is so damned sympathetic, with his stunned impassivity, his acquiescence to piled-on outrage, and his increasingly weird urges. But he is, in exactly the same way as the proto sort-of-not hipsters in the comics I talked about above. He’s not devoid of feeling at all, and he can do “I have no mouth but I must scream” – until he can’t.
It perfectly captures the jobbed among us – invaluable expertise, lateral thinkers, all badly paid, then bought-out and betrayed. The first age group that had no idea what the word “pension” means; the first one for whom “two weeks paid vacation” disappeared about when they thought they’d start getting one.
You saw Office Space, right? Thought it was a wacky comedy that sort of went off the rails? Not to those of us who knew exactly those guys, including Lawrence, and who consider the movie to be its weakest precisely when it went for comedy.
Due to my scholarships for both high school and college, I also got a good look at the affluent among us, many of whom became alienated from their family networks in late high school and college, and had to carve a new place in them or elsewhere, often overtaken by younger less-reflective siblings.
For lots of us, academia was the only way, and that turned out to be my way; its meritocratic aspect worked for a while until you hit the early Masters or late Ph.D. stage. I’ll save the third, super-nasty hit of the late 1990s in that sphere, again exquisitely timed, for some other time.
Characteristically, I have no nugget, no zinger, no insight. Some of us ended real good, sooner or later; some of us find their way through the interstices like I hope I can do. Most of us are a loser sector of a loser demographic, who made the mistake of being too smart to believe in your job, but too dumb to suck-up to the egregious liberal-left or hard-right, or to seize upon some rhetoric associated with a lever of power.
This post was surprisingly difficult to write.
Links: CBR interview with Nicholson, and I figure you’re not traumatized enough lately so here’s Hey Mister for you, Self-assured destruction “dropping the bomb” how truly we spoke
Next: Not sure, actually! I’m working on something, hence the slowdown. I might stick to fun little posts for a bit. Check out the Patreon if you wanna know.
Posted on October 24, 2017, in The 90s me and tagged Alison Bechdel, Bob Fingerman, Colin Upton, Douglas Coupland, Drew Hayes, Evan Dorkin, Generation X, Hey Mister, Jason Lutes, Jeff Nicholson, Martin Wagner, Peter Bagge, Peter Sickman-Garner, Taboo, Through the Habitrails. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.
I’d like to discuss the book “Generation X” with you. If you’re willing, as a starting point I’d like
to post a bulleted list of the events of the story and its structure as I remember them – a way for me to share which contents left an impression on me. I also propose that Douglas Coupland’s later novel, Microserfs, is relevant to both some points you’ve been raising on the blog and the discussion on Patreon. Would you be interested in all this?
I’m very tempted but that looks like a lethal time sink given what I’m trying to accomplish today, tomorrow, and next week. But I like the idea, yes. When and if we do it, I suggest reading the book directly rather than relying on memory.
I haven’t read Microserfs though, would have to catch up.
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And about, um, let’s call it “cubicle fiction”: I was fascinated when I read an article somewhere on the Internet that did a contrast and compare between Office Space, The Matrix, Fight Club and American Beauty, underlining that each and every single one of them were released on 1999. Though I’m not sure the people portrayed are of your generation – yet, as I’m typing, I’ve just realized the age differences between all the protagonists. Neo’s so naive he could very well be 20, Tyler is 25, the Narrator is 30, and the Kevin Spacey character is, I assume, having his 40-year-old midlife crisis. I assume the guy from Office Space is around 30 as well.
I feel this comment is so rambly, especially in comparison to my other one. I feel the concept of “work”, or perhaps more accurately “job”, is a strong throughline in your post – and in all four movies. And I guess I could develop my recent insight and wonder how the economic reality of the times affected people at different ages. But… I dunno, maybe all I can do right now is waive my arms around and yell “Is there anything here?”
Well, here’s the most solid thought that has appeared in my mind after all this tiping: I get the feeling you say both the previous and the following generation were better adjusted. About the next… I guess I could picture that the post-2001 rethoric allowed some beliefs in the Dream, or the system, or patriotism to revitalize. But I assume getting a job, and the general economic situation, would have become harder and harder as time went by. What’s that about all those people in their forties being replaced by people in their thirties? Were those young guys on their way to being replaced as well? Is this related to that truism I keep reading on many websites, that nowadays no one “wants to” (but probably, no one can) have the same job for more than a few years? I’m not sure if you’re saying the following generation has had better job security, or if you share the view that job security has only worsened year after yeat but the difference lies in that the following generation (s?) did naively believe in job security / the Dream / other values.
I’m not invested in generation characterizations & comparisons, at least for their own sake. But I’m interested in work, or labor I suppose if the ideological implications don’t distract anyone, and I have of course spent 25 years directly engaged in helping younger people get value from their university years.
I can speak to that point in detail, as I worked at universities with substantial numbers of students who were first-arrivals into that culture from their family. I typically connected with those students and their sense of hope, skepticism, alienation, and drive. I brought a blunt perspective about what they came there for, and would take from it, and needed to do, that did not match the sunny narrative promulgated by administrators to the students’ parents. (You may recall one of my earlier replies to you concerning life-choices and the illusion of the ladder.)
Briefly, until the late 2000’s, I was able to advise students very effectively – either I knew the mechanisms by which they could enter specific careers without just jostling in the herd, and when to start, or I knew how they could sculpt a solid/authentic professional starting point and be interconnected with employers even before they left. I received enough follow-up information to know I was doing well.
But by the mid-2000s, and especially upon the mortgage crash in 2008, that was no longer possible. It was clear that there was no ethical way to claim that we, the university, were adding value to their lives in terms of their options and opportunities. It was related to changes within that particular university itself (which were typical, but which it had avoided until 2006), and to other issues specific to me, that’s a big part of why I resigned and left academic science in 2014.
I think job security tanked hard in the mid-1980s and hasn’t recovered; the effects to watch after that were the ways to leverage credit and mortgages so it felt like you had a salaried income even though you were being paid effectively under-the-counter. I look back at my first job out of college in amazement: $19,000/year with one week of actual personal time (no questions asked) and two weeks actual paid vacation time. A decade later people would kill to get that. A decade after that (2007) no one had any idea what those words used to mean.
For perspective, too, on “privileged” academia, a prof hired at my grad school just before I went there started at $28,000; when I left academics in 2014, I had not quite broken $50,000. Profs are paid worse than waiters, and tenure “exists” only regarding a rather small minority of faculty positions.
Regarding the films, I think Office Space and American Beauty are more on-track with the topics I wrote about, and the ages match well (the former being exactly my age, the latter being just a little older). I stress, however, that Hollywood has zero perspective on lower incomes, so their representations often focus on relatively privileged characters who are vaguely dissatisfied – see, especially, the hideous distortion in High Fidelity. That one is important because the protagonist is obviously based on Buddy Bradley (Peter Bagge’s main character in Hate), yet misses every imaginable important point, shoehorns in a notably stupid story, and misrepresents the economics of such a character beyond belief. At most, the movies just touch upon or briefly reference the outlooks I’m talking about, then shunt off to more standard fare. Even the brief mention wins the film accolades for being so edgy, and I also note that the cultural memory of their content tends to be awfully inaccurate.
I’m killing myself with time-crunches right now – can’t follow up. I hope this was interesting, but let’s not pursue it for now. Any thoughts of yours are welcome but I can’t do repeated query/replies.
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It was, very much! Thank you.
A couple of intended references eluded final capture. They include:
Matt Groening and Eddie Campbell, fitting the mid-50s born pattern I mentioned early in the post.
Bret Easton Ellis, born the same year as me, whose books I have consistently found repellent partly because I understand the road not taken. I forgot to mention the distinctive passive psychosis I knew all too well from certain teen acquaintances, especially in the economic sector that I recall (perhaps incompletely) from his stories.
Adam Reed, born 1970, absolutely on-target. Also re: comics, Jason Lutes, 1967.
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Pardon the odd reference, but I’m jolted by reading this post while reading “Ready Player One” – overlap, but not quite in-synch. At least, not based on the 1/3 of the book I’ve read so far …
That said, I am (as you know, Ron) right in that cipher-X cohort. A lot of what you say here just feels right. A few bits, I’m not sure but – local variations.
I could probably find ways to dig deeper at this, and part of me really wants to, but between your commitments and my own current brain-space, I guess what I want to say is this:
It’s hard to capture the experience and the explanation of what seems distinctive about our cohort, and also avoid (as much as possible) coming across as … I don’t know, “overly exceptionalist?”
You did a good job here. Thanks.
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I appreciate the kind words but I am still unsatisfied with the post. Where it fails structurally is in keeping the focus on the comics. I’d planned to conclude by diving into Through the Habitrails much as I’d done for Poison Elves in one of the above-linked threads. But I found myself unable to share it out – I literally don’t want to talk about this comic as a generalized, any-audience thing.
That’s related to an observation about Coupland’s novel, which is notable for not trying to explain things to anyone, sidebars and other conceits notwithstanding. It’s written by us for us, in knowledge that there really isn’t a connection to be made with others, or any purpose to “reaching out” – that to give voice among ourselves was at that time difficult enough, as well as sufficient.
Many plot points in the book emphasize that standard verbal-cultural communication cleanly misses the point, as when the protagonist gives directions to the Japanese tourist family with pidgin and gestures, despite the former being fluent in Japanese, because he knew they’d be happier with their “American experience” that way. My reading of the book is that it’s doing the same as far as the general audience is concerned,
My reading also perceives the book as connecting at a different level for those who share Coupland’s position; referencing the final scene with the Down’s Syndrome kids is probably sufficient. Although I’m not always in tune with his protagonists – their economics don’t match at all, for instance – what speaks to me about them is their deep and abiding empathy, which goes so far as to know it’s meaningless to display – that’s what others incorrectly see as being over-ironic or numbed.
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Whoa. Just… Whoa.
I *do* want to reread it now.
I think you’ve got your return to the comic and your “nugget, zinger, insight”* right there – how certain fictions, or parts of them, strike home for a particular set of people. You (us posters, anyone) could explore further how that works, in the particular cases of Generation X/Through the Habitrails**, or in general. I’ll bet there’s a lot there to examine. But, also: making that point, developing the personal sufficiently that we (I, anyway) understand “don’t want to talk about this comic as a generalized, any-audience thing”? That’s enough.
I also want to say that “deep and abiding empathy, which goes so far as to know it’s meaningless to display” … it’s literally nigh-3 decades since I read the novel (for whatever reason, though I remember it as impactful/excellent, I haven’t re-read it), but something about that phrase rings true and important. About the characters, and about, well, my life. I want to adjust something around the edges of “so far”, “meaningless”, and “display”, but I suspect what I want is to make them a bit more inchoate, because that would be, somehow and slightly, better.
*My 9th or 10th grade English teacher wants to call that the “theme of your essay”. Which is different than the theme my Literature teachers told me about, which is a bit different from what my Creative Writing profs talked about, which isn’t quite how I came to understand Egri and Story Now addressing of theme. An elusive Questing Beast, this Theme-word, but worthy to pursue.
**As I keep mentioning, I’m not that strong a comics-guy, and certainly not indie-comics. Elfquest, and a glancing acquaintance with the impact (rarely the actual texts) of a few others (e.g., Cerebus) is it. I have now added “Through the Habitrails” to “Finder” on the list of indie-comic-things Ron made me buy.
I’d like to know what you think of Habitrails, when you get the chance.
Certainly. Today, it arrived. I may take the warning to not read it too close to a Monday seriously.
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I’m not sure that exceptionalism applies in the absence of privilege. The possible equivalent, or associated character flaw, is arrogance – and that I’ll cop to, speaking collectively, especially in terms of others’ perceptions of what I perceive as simply talking when I want and not talking when I don’t want. Or going where I want, or not going; or wearing what I want, or not wearing.
But it’s a particularly unentitled arrogance, not associated with “we deserve something we didn’t get.” That’s a millenial grievance, and justified, but they do seem so aggrieved about it, as if they’d, somehow, believed that this something was ever going to happen. That belief skipped us, including its notion that “onward and upward,” “better and better,” “success” is part of a life-script. Everone I know in our age group worked, and works, because (i) they like and value what the job is, and (ii) they know that there is an utterly ruthless consequence for not doing so.
It seems to me, and at least to some of us, that working for anything else or in any other way is nothing less than cultish, in the worst sense of the term. And neither of those are really top-notch success markers for modern skilled work, as it is, I think, mainly defined by cult practices. Therefore we work for lousy pay/benefits because we value the work, making us patsies, or work for lucre despite holding our noses, which makes us not-quite-management-material because the believers know their own.
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I’m reacting violently to the phrase “absence of privilege”, so I’ll just mentally insert an appropriate adverb and/or adjective and move on to say … *I* get the unentitled part, but suspect it’s real easy to communicate bare arrogance instead, and I think you did a good job of avoiding that, as much as can be expected.
Work … I think at times I dipped deeper into the cult, more subtly held my nose, and (in particular) really held some of those benefits. And I know some who did it WAY better than me. But, at some level, I see how your characterization widely applies.
Unlike Gordon, who seems to get it, I’m completely, utterly fascinated by the notion of profound empathy that is meaningless to display. Like Gordon, I also think there’s a “nugget”, if you were searching for one. I’ve been consuming American cultural products since I was 3 years old, when Argentina adopted a neoliberal government in 1990, and I had never encountered that possibility/concept/personality trait before. In comparison, everything else looks like permutations on The Breakfast Club. I sure didn’t get it when I read Generation X the first time, which was… Around 2006, 18-20 years old, in one sitting, in a 5-hour bus trip from La Plata to Rosario, where I attended a comic con with the hopes of roleplaying for the first time. It becomes even more meaningful when I realize that was the same con where I met the independent comic book artists of the school where I learned comics and where I now teach – people your age and at most 10 years younger.
Also I’m terribly curious about the notion of jobs as cult. It does seem more familiar when I think of McDonald’s (there’s a very fine Argentine 2000s short story that reinterprets McDonald’s as a church), but I wonder if that’s something worthy of development in your writings, or perhaps it’s one of those concepts that surprise me but you claim are using in their usual senses, found elsewhere (which is when I begin to Google).
Anyway, I’m a bit torn because you’re obvioulsy both frustrated at not being able to fully make a point at the end of the post, and unavailable in time and energy. My first reflex is to try and throw things at you, and “help” you to find what you want to say, but perhaps I should read more closely and understand that 1) you’re not asking for help 2) you’re very clearly stating “I can’t discuss this right now” – I mean, when you say “this was difficult to write” I’m all “Let’s help Ron do this”, but perhaps the proper reaction would be “Ron is having a hard time with this, let’s leave him alone for a while and he’ll come back to it on his own”.
Exercise: try responding to the statement, e.g. my final sentence in the post, with nothing more nor less than repeating it to yourself, privately. You acknowledge it’s the case and that you’ve heard it.
Then what? Then nothing. I didn’t ask for anything, so there is no possible response or answer unless you speculate and invent something that was (but actually was not) said or asked. There is no narrative of “he needs, we give,” or “he asks, I answer.” There is no saga of a clear-and-present problem, or a response to a need for help, or a displayed exchange of effort. No such thing is happening.
Therefore not even your stated “proper reaction” applies. Why would I come back to it, on my own or otherwise? That’s a rhetorical question, intended to underscore that no problem is occurring or being expressed. One thing is sufficient and it’s already happened: I felt X, you read it and felt [some letter], the same or different, whatever that may be. Writing about the feelings only muddies that thing.
The problem exists in this reply, the one I’m typing right now. It presumes, or rather, I’m presuming a stated need or desire on your part, which I’m inferring and attempting to respond to. Inference is evil. I’m substituting an internal narrative for whatever is actually happening. I’m polluting this space by bringing it in.
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This is… fucking gold, Ron. Thank you so much.
I can relate to the economic realities you’re talking about but I’ve never had a real job. I spent some time on welfare (Canada is or was more generous) and I am now living off an inheritance (which is running out) so I’m lucky although I’ve been below the poverty line all my adult life. I was always afraid I couldn’t handle the stress of a real job. But for me for years in Vancouver there were communities of artists that made that kind of lifestyle seem not so outrageous, even normal. Punk rock and Lowbrow Art were the happening thing when I was in art school and as the Lowbrow artists were open to cartoonists so I got involved with them and it was great while it lasted. For years there was always at least one Lowbrow gallery in the city that acted as a rallying point for the Lowbrows, shows in bars… always on the wrong side of town!
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I went to “Fan-Fest” here in Vancouver, our big mainstream comic convention. It was fairly horrific. I was there to help interview Paul Chadwick and Gerhard but that didn’t happen. I wandered around, I had a hell of a time finding any comics. I did find a few booths selling comics but it was all silver/golden age or mainstream superhero stuff… here anybody’s idea of a far out indie underground comic is Hellboy… and I like Hellboy. I did find one box of “Undergrounds” (including Buddha on the road 5). It just struck me it’s as if the Indie comics movement I was such a part of and cherished never happened.
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That’s grim to contemplate. I have never enjoyed comics conventions, and only attended when comics-making friends of mine were doing panels or talks. I feel similarly about the comics closest to me, which includes the personal comics of the 90s and the 70s superhero ones which seem to have fallen into the memory hole as well, or revised culturally such that mention of the earlier/origins of that time seems like gaslighting to me.
But convention culture isn’t really where I look for confirmation, as it’s always been a subroutine of traditional distribution (Diamond) and cinema/TV promotion. The internet has its pockets of authenticity, including this effort of mine I hope, but ultimately, at least in my life, that shared sense of “this is what happened, this is what it accomplished,this is what it meant to me” arrives only in direct personal interactions.
To see the contiuation and legacy of indie comics you really have to turn to graphic novels and literary venues, bookstores, libraries, festivals and such. Indie comics have split off from fandom entirely and become an ART FORM!!! Which is good and bad, I find high brow art vacuous, pretentious and elitist. I’m more middle brow me.
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I’d put Daniel Clowes in the group with Matt Groening and Eddie Campbell as well.
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