Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Comparisons I Didn't Make

Okay, I need to give myself a little bit of a break so that I can catch up on my comics reading and also just on all that stuff in my life that keeps piling up and demanding my time and mental faculties. Instead of posting nothing at all this week, though, I’ve decided to post a look back at some previous Webcomics Worth Wreading entries and the things that I thought about saying at the time, but decided against for various reasons. So here you go: A list of comparisons I didn’t might have made, but didn’t.

1. I did not compare Michael DeForge to Franz Kafka

Why I didn’t make this comparison:

When people hear the name Franz Kafka, their first thought is of the tone that pervades all of Kafka’s work. If you call something Kafkaesque, people understand you to mean that it’s oppressive and arbitrary and absurd. A Kafka story will always feel like a Kafka story, regardless of what happens in it: There will be darkness and hopelessness, all couched in a bleak humor.

And that’s not at all what I wanted to say about Michael DeForge.

DeForge, though sometimes evoking darkness and hopelessness, and though often displaying bleak humor, does not maintain a consistent tone through all his work the way that Franz Kafka does. Different comics by Michael DeForge can feel very different from one another, with tones that range from bleak to profoundly optimistic. Neither creative style is necessarily superior to the other, but they are definitely different, with Kafka displaying consistency while DeForge displays variety.

Why I wanted to make this comparison:

Michael DeForge and Franz Kafka both create short works that are easy to read and, on the surface, easy to understand. They both construct self-contained, absurd universes in those brief works. The value in a DeForge comic or a Kafka story is usually in the re-reading, carefully examining all the little details, contemplating the way that they all fit together and searching for a comprehensive understanding of the work as a whole. If I were an English teacher, I’d have my students approach DeForge’s work in the same way I’d have them approach Kafka’s. They both invite the same type of analysis when I read them, in a way that few other creators do.

2. I did not compare Stand Still. Stay Silent to Shades of Grey

Why I didn’t make this comparison:

When I bring up the title Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde, people will immediately think of Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Despite the fact that the author’s names are distinct, that Fforde’s title is shorter, and that his book came out first, the general public has been so subject to cultural osmosis about Fifty Shades of Grey that there is no means by which I could bring up Fforde’s book without people immediately thinking of that other one.

Fifty Shades of Grey probably has absolutely nothing in common with Stand Still. Stay Silent. I haven’t actually read Fifty Shades of Grey so I can’t say that with certainty. I didn’t want to make a comparison and then have to spend at least a paragraph explaining that I was talking about a different book than the one people were thinking of. At best I would be wasting space, and at worst I would actively confuse people.

Why I wanted to make this comparison:

Stand Still. Stay Silent and Shades of Grey have an awful lot in common, to the extent that I would enthusiastically recommend one to anyone who expressed enjoyment of the other. They’re both set in a post-apocalyptic world, focusing on characters who are utterly entrenched in whatever new societal structure has arisen in the remnants of humanity. They both handle grim and foreboding situations with aplomb and humor. Much of the humor itself comes from similar places, people in this future society misunderstanding aspects of the world that came before them or behaving in manners that make perfect sense to them but seem absurd to us.

Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey and Minna Sundberg’s Stand Still. Stay Silent appeal to similar sensibilities, and I love them both to bits. If there’s either of them that you haven’t read, I suggest you give it/them a try!

3. I did not compare Stand Still. Stay Silent to Scott Pilgrim

Why I didn’t make this comparison:

I realized that the only thing Scott Pilgrim has in common to Stand Still. Stay Silent is the fact that they both introduce characters with amusing captions.

Why I wanted to make this comparison:

Scott Pilgrim and Stand Still. Stay Silent both introduce characters with amusing captions.

4. I did not compare Sheldon to Calvin and Hobbes

Why I didn’t make this comparison:

Calvin and Hobbes is a legend among newspaper comics. No other comic is as universally beloved and respected as Calvin and Hobbes. To say that Sheldon is akin to Calvin and Hobbes would inevitably set the reader up for disappointment, as if proclaiming “This comic is the epitome, the apotheosis, of the comic strip form.” At a guess, I’d say even Calvin and Hobbes would fare poorly if compared to the general image in the public mind about what Calvin and Hobbes is. That comic’s reputation has surpassed it. No real comic can live up to the version of Calvin and Hobbes that lives in the hearts and minds of comics lovers.

Why I wanted to make this comparison:

Sheldon feels a lot like Calvin and Hobbes in a lot of ways. Like with Stand Still. Stay Silent and Shades of Grey, the sensibilities are similar. It’s clear in Dave Kellett’s work that he absorbed a lot from Bill Watterson, and the styles and humor of both comics inspire a similar type of enjoyment when I read them. Both juxtapose young children with serious philosophical discourse. Both get at some of the true absurdities of childhood. They are both great comics and I love them.

5. I did not compare Wilde Life to The Sculptor

Why I didn’t make this comparison:

Wilde Life, at least so far, has not addressed the same thematic elements that The Sculptor does. The similarities that strike me between them are fairly superstitial.

Why I wanted to make this comparison:

Wilde Life has the potential to address some of the same thematic elements as The Sculptor. The protagonist is an artist with the same name as a much more famous artist who worked in the same medium. (So far, Wilde Life hasn’t really dealt with Oscar’s opinion on or relationship to his better-known namesake.) The supernatural themes of Wilde Life could, potentially, lend themselves to discussions of mortality and the meaning that an individual’s life has, to them and to the world.

Maybe one day I’ll look back and say “Hey! The Sculptor and Wilde Life totally have a lot of thematic similarities!”

But maybe I won’t.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this chance I gave myself to write some stuff I wanted to write before but thought the better of. If you didn’t enjoy this break from form, then rest assured that in two weeks I’ll be back with more in-depth descriptions of new and exciting, or old and familiar, webcomics to delight the soul and engage the mind.

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