This is the introduction for Joe Sanders' collection of academic papers about The Sandman, The Sandman Papers, published by Fantagraphics a few years back.
There’s introductions and there’s introductions and there’s introductions, and then there’s ones like this where I’m introducing a book that has some kind of connection to me, and I have no idea what I can really add to the book in your hand. Still, I need to try.
I once – at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, in Florida, some years ago – went to a presentation of three papers on my work (one of which is reprinted here), and after each paper was presented, I was asked if I would like to make some reply, which is honestly a bit like asking someone who has just undergone an autopsy if he’d like to talk about the experience. (My replies varied, at least in memory, from “Er, thanks. That was very nice of you,” to an “Er, with respect, if you read the issue you’ve cited, I don’t believe it actually says what you think it does”. But possibly I just smiled and nodded.)
Those were, however – with the exception of pointing out the occasional objective mistake – simply my opinions, and I don’t consider them to be privileged. Once you’ve written something it’s not yours any longer: it belongs to other people, and they all have opinions about it, and every single one of those opinions is as correct as that of the author – more so, perhaps. Because those people have read the work as something perfectly new, and, barring amnesia, an author is never going to be able to do that. There will be too many ghost-versions of the story in the way, and besides, the author cannot read it for the first time, wondering what happens next, comparing it to other things that he or she has read.
So while I may, opinionated myself, disagree with some of the conclusions presented here, I am quite content for the opinions to exist; after all, the people who came to them read the work for the first time, which is more than I’ve ever managed. Sometimes I’ve had my eyes opened by papers on something I’d written, and noticed that there was something else there than I had intended. I’ve been praised for unintentional cleverness and damned for things I don’t actually think I did. And I’ve always enjoyed it, perhaps because I’ve always had a healthy respect for academia. Even when I'm puzzled by it, it treats art like it matters. And for those of us who make art, that’s a fine thing to experience.
I’m always particularly delighted by academic attention to comics – partly because I think we need the best critical minds to point to what we do and explain it to ourselves, and partly, even mostly, because it shows how much things are changing. (A decade ago I was invited to speak at one major American university by the art department, and was informed, apologetically, that the English department were, ah, boycotting my talk, because, after all, I did comics. These days the invitations come from the English departments...)
One thing I know that I can say is that Joe Sanders (there are two people of that name in this book, just to confuse you. I’m talking about the editor) is not only a fine and perspicacious critic, and an excellent teacher, but he has also proved quite indefatigable in bringing this book into the world. I hope this book will prove to be only the beginning of the printed and collected dialogue between those who do comics and those who tell us what we did.
January 10, 2006
It is a terrible thing to read a series of Amazon book reviews and find yourself sniggering like a schoolboy. But I read this and sniggered.