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Unmasked

This story makes me think of a few things:

1. Chris Ware, like Earl Weaver, has the burden of going through life with the label “genius” affixed to his every endeavor. Ware really is good: he can tell a story in 4 pages where anyone else would need 20.

2. Ware’s cartoons are notoriously difficult to read. This one was a bit easier–perhaps he dumbed down his style for the New Yorker audience, or maybe I’m just getting used to it.

In any case, the difficulty of reading cartoons reminds me of a conversation I had once with in graduate school. We were talking about some news item, and my friend say that she never read the headlines; all she read were the comics. Her claim was that any important news item would make it into Doonesbury, so she was covered. I had the opposite reaction, though: To me, the news sections of the paper were light and pleasant and easy to read–from the first sentence of the article, you pretty much know what’s coming–while the funnies were much more effort to read, requiring a complete readjustment of one’s sensibility for each strip. I just never felt like putting in the effort required to read the comics; the payoff for getting the joke in Cathy or Doonesbury or whatever just didn’t seem worth the the trouble.

3. That said, I’m again reminded how low the standards are for storytelling in nonliterary media such as comics and popular songs. Ware’s story is fine, but as a story, it’s the sort of thing that John O’Hara was spinning off by the dozens and publishing in the New Yorker a half century ago. It’s got all the subtlety of a refrigerator on the side of the head. That’s fine–comics, like movies, are a visual medium and have other things going for them. Still, it’s striking to me how different the expectations are for stories in different media.