Being Too Ironic

Posted by on February 21st, 2010 at 10:30 PM

© 2009 Art Spiegelman, in a manner of speaking.

Observations about the comics section of The San Francisco Panorama (McSweeney’s No. 33):

1.   There’s such a thing as being too ironic.  Of the twelve contributors, five of them have chosen to do ironic twists on science fiction/superhero tropes.  Actually, that’s not quite fair; Jessica Abel and I.K. Huebert are apparently doing it unironically, and Erik Larsen is coming at it from the other angle, taking his normal adventure comic character and injecting irony into it, rather than applying an ironic outlook into a joked up version of genre material.  The assumption appears to be that this is what full page Sunday newspaper strips would be if they had survived to this day, which I believe is a misconception.  More importantly, it seems a waste of a rare opportunity to work in the full newspaper page format, though perhaps for some of them that’s an itch that was scratched by Kramer’s Ergot.  Larsen incidentally has one of the highlights of the section, a chaser strip about a zombie trying to understand the hostility all around him (“Well no wonder! Their heads are full of delicious pasta!”).  As parody, it pales in comparison to the comics section of the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody from days of yore.

2.   There’s such a thing as going to the well once too often.  Though Art Spiegelman’s page wasn’t bad it was awfully familiar, and when I saw him dragging in the old comics characters again I groaned internally.  Though not as much as I did when brought in the Maus reference again.

3.   The more space you give Chris Ware to dick around with, the more he will dick around with it.  By my count you have to change the direction you’re holding the paper eight times to follow his two page center spread.  When you do decipher it you find another tale of the young outcast geek growing older, on which see previous note re going to the well once too often.

4.   You can do all right by doing what you normally do, as do Ivan Brunetti, Alison Bechdel and Seth.  Bechdel’s reminiscence and rumination on The Game of Life (the board game, that is) is particularly winning.

5.   By the evidence presented here, the cartoonist who would get the most out of working in this format more often is Kim Deitch, who in delving into the life of Paul Winchell, ventriloquist turned inventor, delivers the dazzle the Sunday page begs for.

As for Panorama as a whole, well, here’s the thing about McSweeney’s.  The content of the magazine generally has little to distinguish itself from that of Tin House or Virginia Quarterly Review or Granta or any of the other upper end literary magazines.  Where they distinguish themselves is in their knack for drawing attention to themselves through design devices.  Now capturing the attention of a readership is no small achievement for a literary magazine, but that really seems to be more what the Panorama does than to show a viable future for the full size newspaper.  In the end I just felt like I was reading McSweeney’s content.  Good George Saunders story, though.

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3 Responses to “Being Too Ironic”

  1. steve block says:

    I take it number two refers to Spiegelman, or am I missing a trick? Not that I’ve bought the book or even glanced at it, but I do enjoy Fiore’s thoughts on anything.

  2. R. Fiore says:

    Actually, this entry is intended for our telepathic readers, but if you insist on being coddled, I’ve fixed it.

  3. steve block says:

    The telepathic readers didn’t need it posted at all, surely. Anyways, you’ve made me curious enough to glance at the book when I get a chance. Tell you what, delete our comments and it’ll look like nothing ever happened.