Friday, August 1, 2008

I hope Bill Amend is okay with this. I couldn't care less about Bil Keane.

I know the webcomic PvP and its author Scott Kurtz are the subjects of many heated debates and passionate feelings. He's certainly a talented comic artist, but there seems to be little neutral ground when it comes to Kurtz and his work -- some think he's an iconoclast as well as an icon for mainstreaming webcomics, some (this would be me) simply enjoy his work and try to stay above the fray, and some find Kurtz to be an insatiable attention whore and his comic to be garbage. I don't think there's a whole lot of middle ground.

I personally enjoy it -- it's a regular on my webcomic reading list. It isn't the greatest ever -- Kurtz has a rather ad hoc attitude towards character development (for example, I've never really understood his reversion of Marcie to a younger character design, and welcome the return of a more realistic-looking Marcie in the wake of the Brent/Jade wedding arc). But it's certainly held my attention far longer than User Friendly, which is still modestly enjoyable but painfully anachronistic and repetitive (honestly, story and character development came to a halt after Pitr and Pearl met). But Kurtz does love to throw a bomb from time to time, and this one went off like a MOAB in an LP tank farm. (Let's just say the denouement is simultaneously one of the funniest and most vicious uses of media parody I've ever seen, even compared to the end of the first Scooby-Doo movie.)

I'm probably reading far too much into what is really just a slash-and-burn attack on a very monotonous and overly sweet family comic (Family Circus has nothing on For Better or for Worse, which is hardly an exemplar of greatness itself), but it seems to me to be an interesting comment on decorum. We move through life and often cover the more unpleasant sides of ourselves with polite fictions. This is fine; it keeps the wheels greased. But the darker side is when "decorum" becomes a mask covering serious dysfunction, abuse, or outright insanity; this sort of decorum is what made comics like George Carlin and Richard Pryor so controversial, because they saw through it for the bullshit that it was. Even if Keane is nothing like Kurtz makes him out to be, there is still the point to be made that trying to maintain these fictions so that the maintainer doesn't have to face reality is precisely the point of insipid garbage like this.

I leave you with a paraphrase from the 1990s MTV cartoon Daria -- when a classmate of Jane and Daria's dies, it is pointed out (I don't remember by who) that the phrase "it really makes you think" implies that thinking is uncomfortable and an impedance to our daily lives. That observation, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem of dogmatism, and explains why I've thrown in my lot with the skeptics of the world. Maybe none of this was Kurtz' intent, but it does make me think, and frankly, I don't mind that.