guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

Guttergeek, A Brief History in Discontinuity

Guttergeek began almost 10 years ago in a fit of pique— with what, exactly, I can no longer. The chummy, back-slapping nature of the comics press (online and in print… because yes, there was still print comics journalism back then), I suspect. A decade later, I am much more appreciative of the chumminess I found then so frustrating because I am, in fact, friends with so many cartoonists and publishers—and towards those I do not know personally I tend nonetheless to feel a fondness that is both familiar and familial. This is why I started drifting away from being a reviewer in the traditional sense over the last few years. I love comics people too much to be the snarky, biting, and sometimes cruel reviewer that, frankly, any art form genuinely needs. I leave that task to those younger and more sharp-edged than I find myself today.

That said, I read comics more than even—and a more diverse array of comics than I did ten years ago. And while I won't claim that all my reading experiences aren't personal (they are), I think my personal, passionate relationship with the form is worth recording—at least for myself, in the form of a reading diary. Going forward, Guttergeek will be that reading diary—but one devoted not just to comics, but also to TV, music, movies, novels, all aspects of the popular culture I study and consume voraciously. Comics will continue to be at the center of this former-review-site/now-reading blog, because I consume more comics than anything else and they remain central to my teaching and writing. But I will also let the blog go where it wants to go in terms of thinking about other media and forms.

For those looking for the old guttergeek, it is still here, in the archives—everything (or everything I could recover from various regimes and platforms over the years, including and The Panelists) from 2006 until a half-hearted attempt to revive the old site as a solo project in 2013/14. Even the old "manifesto" from Day 1 is here, faithfully (and embarrassingly) preserved below.


a guttergeek manifesto

(January 2006 )
"In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?," wrote a snide but reasonably honest British critic in 1820. Despite his admonitions to his transatlantic readers to wait until such questions could be "fairly and favorably answered" before pouring on the superlatives in defense of this fledgling but promising literary culture, his American cousins fairly predictably rallied to the defense of their nation by celebrating every book by a native author in the most purple prose imaginable. Who reads an American book? Why, everyone. They're absolutely brilliant, each and every one of them. But while the patriotic response of a defensive young critical establishment might be understandable, in the long run it did little to convince anyone that there were actually any American books worth reading. After all, as the Randian mantra of The Incredibles reminds us (over and over), in a world where everyone is brilliant, no one is.

Almost two centuries later, the American novel has found its readers, run its course, and now languishes in its endlessly deferred deathroes, kept on life-support by university writing programs unable to accept the world that has passed them by. In the meantime, several new narrative forms have emerged, including one in particular—comics, the graphic novel, or graphic narrative in general—that can now answer the question (unasked, because until recently no one would have thought to ask it): "In the world of people over the age of 18, who reads a comic book?" Indeed, there are reasons to believe (as we here at guttergeek do believe) that we are standing on the brink of a creative renaissance no less vital and exciting than those which overtook New England in the 1840s or Harlem in the 1920s. But before we can fully begin to measure the dimensions of that renaissance in the graphic narrative, we must first clear a space in which we can talk about these works free from the superlatives, hero-worship and defensive overexuberance. Guttergeek seeks to open one such space, where graphic narratives can be discussed honestly—independent of the culture of celebrity or the cult of hagiography that tends to gather around the most middling comics creator.

There are no axes to grind here: we are lifelong readers of graphic narratives, critics with experiences in both academic and commercial publications, and writers who believe that the job of the critic is to help the art discover its potential and its promise. As with all acts of genuine love, this job will often involve equal measures of praise and chastisement. We promise only that the praise will always be heartfelt, the scorn will always be well-deserved, and we will never lose our sense of wonder that we are working at a time when there are in fact so many books worth writing about. If you sense a laughter in the background of every review, that is its source.

Send on inquiries and contributions to [email protected] Our reviews run between 500-1500 words. Longer essays are probably best suited for other venues, although review-essays might be of interest (inquire first). We pay nothing, we promise nothing, but we are eager to welcome new critics into the guttergeek review.