Dean Haspiel is Talking About Me

And it really isn’t very nice.

Upon first reading this, I went back and wanted to edit in some sort of clarification to my Quitter review.  Then part of me wanted to defend myself on his journal but I can’t because I don’t have a live.journal ID and, frankly, I don’t want another ID to keep track of. I even thought of emailing him but, honestly, he probably doesn’t care by now and, if I slept on it, I’d probably just blow it off by morning, too.

But after re-re-reading my review, I think I am clear enough in my calling not Haspiel personally out for his credibility, but the possible credibility of one of the narrators, either the illustrator or the writer. Put another way, it is a question of reliability. Much like how you gradually come to know that Humbert Humbert isn’t to be trusted as a narrator in Lolita, I wondered if the reader wasn’t given reason to not trust one of the interpretations of “Quitter,” either that of the illustrations or that of the words. Here’s the block of text from the review that I think caused the problem:

Considering the visual nature of comics, I wonder if this doesn’t take away from the credibility of one of the narrators, either the writer or the illustrator. The text matches up well with the illustration, but considering the effect small things from facial expressions to stances to shading can affect how a panel is viewed and interpreted, there is a clear possibility for one to provide an interpretation of the story that might be different from the intended interpretation the other half of the story telling might desire to communicate.

Now, I admit, it’s not exactly William Faulkner. But it’s not horrible. And I think the credibility (or reliability) of one of the narrators is fair game. Maybe I was entirely wrong but I thought there was a certain disagreement, at times, between what the illustrations depicted and what Pekar’s words depicted. And that this disagreement could mean that one was slightly more or less reliable than the other. And that such a thing might be entirely purposeful by the writer/illustrator. The idea of two narrators telling the same story but in different ways, at the same time, seems like an intriguing idea to me. Something that makes me think of Last Year at Marienbad, for instance.

I also do not believe his examples of a director/screenplay and singer/lyrics are really fair comparisons. First, they can’t be referred to as “narrators” in the same way the writer/illustrator can (and must necessarily be) referred to as “narrators” in their respective forms. It isn’t a question about the credibility of the artist as a person. It’s simply not, and I think that’s clear. The credibility that is being questioned is the narrative truthfulness of the illustrator versus the writer. they’re telling the same story in different mediums. Each is, essentially, a narrator. If the interpretation of the text ever differs significantly from the interpretation of the images, I think the credibility of one of the narrators has to be called into question.

Just as you question the narrative credibility of Humbert Humbert in Lolita. It’s not a question of Nabokov’s credibility as a writer but of his creation.

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3 Responses to “Dean Haspiel is Talking About Me”

  1. Leland Purvis Says:

    You imply that there is a fundamental unreliability to the comics medium itself, as it is always (when in collaboration and not an auteur) an interpretation of pre-existing text.

    But this betrays a critical misunderstanding of how collaborative comics are generally made. You seem to infer, firstly, that the text seen on the printed page is all that was provided to the artist, evincing a tension between the imagery and the writer’s intentions based on only a portion of a working script.

    Comics scripts are often carry much more descriptive content than copy for print: panel descriptions, staging suggestions, social geography, etc. Not to speak of often hours of conversation between the collaborators themselves.

    These collaborators are not, ‘telling the same story in different mediums.’ Comics is a medium unto itself and any writer who has turned his/her hand to to it after years of other kinds of writing finds this out immediately. Comics creators often use this interplay between words and pictures to create the inimitable that only this medium provides in this way.

    Secondly, questioning the credibility of a character Humbert Humbert, or say, of the unreliable narrator in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, is not the same as questioning the veracity of a work based on the fact that it is a collaborative undertaking. The notion that you could somehow get closer to the one truth of the original intent without the interpretive element is just a basic misunderstanding of a function of interpretive art.

    Every orchestra that has performed Beethoven’s 9th sounds different from every other. Each performance is as authentic as any other because the written symphony only begins to approach Beethoven’s intent when performed. A symphony he could not have ever heard at that age. A symphony he could not have played by himself.

    • charlieblizz Says:

      I don’t think I’m questioning the medium of corroborative texts at all. It seems as if a few have taken this as a bizarre personal attack on illustrators when I think I made it fairly clear that it’s not a question of the illustrator going off and purposefully trying to undercut what the writer is trying to say – as you appear to be insinuating that I am saying.

      If I wanted to say that corroborative works are inherently unreliable, then I would have said that. Instead, I focused solely on this work and said that it could be an entirely purposeful action on behalf of the creators. Saying that they may purposefully provide contradicting stories isn’t some sort of personal attack nor is it an attack on the medium.

      I read through Quitter and I see words and images that don’t always align themselves to tell the same story. To me, the words and images are separate narrators and that one must, inherently, be less reliable than the other if they provide for differing interpretations. This has nothing to do with corroborative texts as a whole or even comics as a whole, but just with this particular work.

      Is this disconnect intentional? I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know. I thought it was there but it might not be there. At the same time, it does provide for a way of re-interpreting one half of the work (the words) by its disconnect with the other half (the images).

      Perhaps I should leave the fact that the illustrations are done by someone other than the writer out of the argument but I don’t think it would be fair to not mention that. It’s relevant. Again, does that mean the illustrator went Sarah Palin and just started drawing whatever he felt like? No, of course not. And, again, I don’t believe I said that.

      I don’t see how saying that Pekar/Haspiel may have purposefully provided a contradiction in word/image is a negative thing or an attack on corroborative works.

  2. Karo Says:

    “To me, the words and images are separate narrators and that one must, inherently, be less reliable than the other if they provide for differing interpretations.”

    To me, this doesn’t follow at all. Why shouldn’t both be equally unreliable? Why should one interpretation be more valid than another?

    The truth of a work of art does not lie solely in the creator’s intention, it’s not the original vision, but whatever transformation happens through the creative process, that might well involve more than one person (and in my opinion it always does, because the audience always contributes their share too). To privilege one creator’s vision seems utterly arbitrary.

    “I don’t see how saying that Pekar/Haspiel may have purposefully provided a contradiction in word/image is a negative thing or an attack on corroborative works.”

    This one, I totally agree with. Art is often praised for allowing multiple readings. I don’t see how attributing deliberate ambiguity could be construed as an insult.

    I think the problem might have been the attempt to establish a hierarchy of reliabilty – the implication that one of the creator’s interpretations is closer to the truth – the platonic ideal of the story – than the others.

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