A little while ago, Sophia Foster-Dimino started a conversation on Twitter by asking, “People who hate autobio comics: why do you hate autobio comics?” In the conversation that followed (aggregated and annotated by Sophia here), a number of people shared their thoughts; about how they felt about reading and making autobio comics; about the stage readers or artists are at in their life when they first encounter them or try and make them; how the genre acts as an entry point for many artists, who end up making other forms of art afterwards; how the genre can lead to artistic and personal stigmatisation; the dominance of the white male gaze; how different voices can be silenced by choosing to work in the genre, and how others are empowered to speak via it; and how difficult it is to do ‘well’.
Here are a few tweets that stuck out for me:
“i think a lot of hate for autobio is directed at women and young creators who make autobio tbh…”
“…like, when a guy does it, it’s deep and introspective and blah blah blah, but when a woman makes an autobio comic it’s shallow”
“too many tedious misunderstood sensitive self-absorbed privileged males seem to be making them.”
“I don’t hate autobio comics but I hate a certain voice in autobio comics…mainly consensus, shallow and incurious ideas of mundanity as realism”
“I think the complexity of doing them well is betrayed by the ease of finding the subject matter”
“art is kind of self indulgent? But who cares? Someone is communicating something. Let them do it.”
I think these tweets spoke to four themes that I felt were important for me to think about:
- My voice
- What I say with it
- How I say it
- What I like to hear in other peoples’ voices
- My ability to speak – who empowers and disempowers whom to make stuff
- The responsibility of my voice – how I might share my story but not silence others while I’m doing it
- My attempts to speak – how I learn to develop my voice and make the art I want to, or at least get on the journey of making that art
- My taste – what I like to see in other people’s work, as a consequence of the above, and lots of other stuff besides, and why
As someone making zines and comics that are almost without exception autobiographical in nature, I worry about this stuff a lot. For instance, here are some things I’ve been wondering:
I deeply believe we should feel empowered to make sense of the world we live in, and who we are in it, through creative pursuits; but do we automatically deserve an audience just because we’re choosing to do that?Do we have a right to be heard just because we decided to speak?
Does my speaking (as a white, straight cis male) stop other people from speaking, or being heard? Certainly, as the Twitter conversation attests, many makers have direct experience of criticism of their work based on their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, background, status and so on. Do I unwittingly take part in this? If I do, isn’t the way I talk IN my comics that does it, or the way I talk ABOUT my comics? Or is it both?
Should I be saying anything? Do I even have anything to say?
What about my style? How do you find your own voice in a medium so defined by the tightrope it walks between the profound and the redundant? If it doesn’t connect with people, are we more compelled to become critical of its failure to connect with us than other genres because of its intimate contents?
Does a lack of connection with my audience imply a failure of artist, or a failure of form?
Am I any good?
Am I doing it right?
Continue reading “Against getting it right: autobiographical comics”