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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Accessibility. 

This is the kind of city I live in:

Snow falls on trees that are still green.

A man driving a gigantic Chevrolet SUV with a "100% Cowboy" bumpersticker does not see the irony in the dreamcatcher hanging from his rearview.

Bad weather makes the drivers worse, not better. They do things they'd never do in good weather, such as cross three lanes on a slick interstate without using their turn signal.

(We interrupt this broadcast to inform you that Orgazmo comes out on DVD on March 29th. It's about goddamn time.)

All of which is to say it was better I stay in yesterday rather than go out to get my comics and, thusly, die. So no comics reviews until later tonight or tomorrow.

So yesterday I'm handing out copies of the mix CD gift to various people I know. I preface the whole deal with a short little speech:

"Now, I cast the net pretty wide on this one. If you don't like a song, just go to the next track, see how that one suits you. Keep in mind that the best songs, the ones that really stay with you, don't really hook into you on the first, fifth, or even tenth listen. You've gotta soak 'em in before you really get them."

And, for whatever reason, this reminded me of a little game I like to play involving people I'm fond of who aren't into comics: what series to best introduce said persons to comics? All kinds of ways to figure that one out, really; a person's general proclivities in fiction as well as their literacy level are just two of the many barometers.

But there are some comics I'd only hand to people who are already quite sharp, or indoctrinated to the tropes of (for instance) the superhero story. I'm thinking Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns, here, the usual one-two punch of Advanced Superhero Comics. Because I worry about accessibility.

(And I'd actually hand someone I'm uncertain about Watchmen before I'd hand them DKR. The former is much grander, but its general stance and points are right there on the surface. The latter is so wrapped up in sound and fury and energy -- not to mention recognizable franchise characters -- that the engine driving the whole thing can be flat-out missed by those not already clued in.)

How important is accessibility, anyway? Comics as we know them are so mired in esoterica (on both ends of the superhero/art spectrum) that unless you've already invested a good chunk of your life into learning them backwards and forwards, you won't be rewarded for reading 75% of them. The universally hailed benchmark comics series are almost all, in some form or fashion, commentaries on comics themselves. A certain amount of meta is almost a given, which is (as far as I can tell) not a trend duplicated in other mediums, at least not to this degree.

In short: what the fuck is with all the navel-gazing?

On the other hand, it's like what I say about the songs that really stick with you: they may not hit you right away. It may take a long time for them to sink their claws into you and stay for good. The song, basically, has to beat your brain into a shape that can appreciate it.

By which I mean you must already be open and receptive, and learn to meet the artist halfway, rather than having him (or her, or them) do all the work for you. Appreciating a really good work of art (in any medium) is as much putting yourself in the artist's head as it is naked observation.

But you take that too far, of course, you let the artist stay inside his head and do all the work for him (or her, or them), and you get Artboy Coddles His Easily-Wounded Ego. Or Identity Crisis.

The problem with a rant like this is it's not really a rant; it's me trying to work something out by typing it out, hence the rambling nature of it all.

Who straddles that line best, then? Who, in your opinion, has figured out that perfect balance of artist/audience workload? What does the artist owe to the audience, and what does the audience owe to the artist?

Help me out, here.

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