Posted by: Jeff Lester on October 8, 2007
Reviewing Confessions of a Blabbermouth is a can’t win situation–it’s written by Mike Carey and his fifteen-year-old daughter Louise and illustrated by Aaron Alexovich for DC’s Minx line, and I think it’s not only excellent that DC is publishing a line for teen female readers, it’s doubly excellent that there’s a teen female writer involved in the line as well. So my instinct is to write something that would, in effect, praise all involved–in essence, give them a tickertape parade and the key to the city. Unfortunately, I found Confessions of a Blabbermouth a vexing read, so I would have to follow up that tickertape parade and key to the city with sticking them with the clean-up bill to and then riding them out of town on a rail. If I was smarter, I would just skip the review and let the whole thing go unremarked on, but, of course, I’m not smart. Also, apart from providing guidance to whomever might be thinking of picking this up, the review might allow me the chance to vent a bit about my frustrations with the Minx line based on this book and The Plain Janes.
(To be clear, I haven’t read other books in the line–although Re-Gifters is lying around somewhere–and so criticizing a line of six books based on the two I’ve read puts me on pretty shaky ground. And yet, because Plain Janes’ and Confessions’ mistakes, although different, feel grounded in the same problem, I think it’s worth the risk of looking foolish as well as ungracious.)
For me, the problem stems in large part from perception. DC’s Minx line openly promotes itself as being for female teen readers and I think that’s good: OGNs aimed at teen females is a market that’s worth tapping into; the more teens, females, and female teens we get reading comics the better; and if a teen who wanders into a shop looking for the next Minx book ends up picking up, say, Jaime Hernandez’s Locas, then, really, the whole thing is worth it. But by creating a book line with such a clearly defined target audience and a clearly defined goal, you’re one step closer to creating books that are more product than art. And while I don’t have a particular problem with that–I don’t mind picking up a Minx book knowing it’s unlikely I’m going to read some intense work of raw personal vision, the next Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner–I do think the closer a work comes to being product, the higher the expectation becomes that the product be of professional standards. I think this is how most of us who aren’t trained in the mystic ways of the critical arts are able to tell if a genre piece of work is good or bad–if it’s a comedy, is it funny? If it’s an action movie, are the action sequences satisfying? Do the people making the cop movie know what a cop movie is supposed to deliver? Do they satisfy? (If so, then people usually say it’s good.) Does it know what it’s supposed to deliver and give it a unique twist? (If so, then people usually say it’s very good.) This is also why the farther someone operates outside the realm of pure art and farther from the realm of pure product, the more we’re generally willing to cut the creator more slack: I’m far less likely to complain about Sophie Crumb’s problems with anatomy than, say, Whilce Portacio’s.
I’d like to think this is why Plain Janes‘ “it’s not an ending, it’s a stopping” deeply annoyed me (and Abhay too, apparently): no one’s thrilled to assemble a table and discover there’s only three of the four legs. Similarly, pesky problems cropped up throughout Confessions of a Blabbermouth, the story of a teen blogger at loggerheads with the new man in her mom’s life and his daughter, like “She’s not a blabbermouth, she’s a liar,” “why does the blog look like a zine?” “why is [certain character] able to write a scathingly accurate satire of bloggers but then goes on to call them ‘blingers?'” and “what kind of narrative feint in a high school social comedy is potential molestation and incest, anyway?” caused me a great deal of annoyance.
Let’s take that last one: if, for example, the reason why Bridget Jones can’t get together with Mark Darcy is she believes him to have encouraged the Rwandan Genocide, it’s a great explanation for why the two characters don’t get together, but it also knocks the reader/viewer out of the work. So when Confessions… looks like it’s taking a turn into darker territory, it’s certainly effective, but when the feint turns out to be something entirely different, the spectre of the previous topic still colors the conclusion of the work.
What I find most depressing about the Minx line at this point is that DC clearly wants to duplicate manga’s success with the Minx line, but can’t be bothered in the fucking slightest learn any of the simplest lessons from manga. Over at Sporadic Sequential lately, there have been some intriguing posts explaining the importance of editors in manga. Even before those posts, I knew that editors were heavily involved in manga’s creation (it’s something the authors are always very quick to mention in their own books). So why does the Minx line apparently have the same hands-off editing approach shared by the vast majority of the North American comics market? I assume that’s why Plain Janes can get published with such a bumbled ending, or Confessions… can disastrously muck up its own tone. But does that really bode particularly well for the line?
The more professional and satisfyingly competent the work is, the better the chance it’ll appeal to an audience outside its niche: I’m thinking here in particular of Pixar’s films, that operate in a pretty narrowly defined range and yet appeal to just about everyone. Again, I’d like to think that explains how manga, comics created for acutely specific audiences in an acutely specific culture, are able to be read and enjoyed in such large numbers worldwide. Or why Looney Tunes can be enjoyed by kids and adults decades and decades after the work was produced.
I’m not calling for the return of Mort Weisinger or anything, but where the hell is our Maxwell Perkins? Or at the very least, where the hell is the person who’s supposed to keep the creators from cocking up their own work?
Confessions of a Blabbermouth is an easy read, amusing in places, has some very nice turns of phrase, and the individual sequences are polished and strong. It comes from a group of creators I’d like to see do more work in the industry (as if Mike Carey could do more work in the industry than he is currently!). And yet, it’s ultimately an Eh work that could’ve easily been much better than it is, and that’s genuinely frustrating.