Monday, May 29, 2006

Where to Start with Graphic Novels

In a recent email exchange, one of my cousins expressed an interest in reading more graphic novels. I offered to make suggestions, and he responded with the following:

Let me know which comics or graphic novels I should check out. I've only read the obvious(Watchmen, Dark Night, Sin City). I occasionally stumble into a comic book store, but get sort of overwhelmed with my ignorance and run out empty handed... I'd love to hear what you recommend.
Since this is an inquiry of general interest, I thought I'd post my musings on this topic here, where they can last forever to the enlightenment of future ages. Or at least the two or three people who might happen to stumble upon them while desperately googling "graphic".

By far the most important thing to say in this context, I think, is that there no longer is a general answer to this question: and that that is a good thing. You see, two decades ago, there were a few obvious answers -- because there simply wasn't a lot more that was both good and readily available. The medium was still arising out of its ancestors (comic books both mainstream and underground; comic strips; manga and bande dessiné; and other influences) and while one could point to older stuff, it wasn't generally graphic novels as such (by which I mean longer comics of serious intent), was usually hard to find, and wasn't very accessible, or simply not very good. So you pointed to the obvious stuff.

That isn't true any more. Thanks to the explosion of graphic novels -- new, reprinted and translated from other countries where these things have always been taken more seriously -- there now is simply a lot out there. At this point, asking 'what graphic novels should I read?' has become a question equivalent to 'what movies should I watch?'. There is no general answer to the latter question, not only because there is simply too much good stuff out there, but also because it depends on your taste. Where do you start with movies? 8 ½, Citizen Kane or Casablanca? Or with the latest blockbusters, the latest Oscar winners, the latest art films? Depends who you are and what you want.

So that's the most important thing to bear in mind. Graphic novels are a medium, and as such, there's stuff to anyone's taste -- and good stuff that is not to your taste, whoever you are. And, therefore, anyone can be at best only an imperfect guide for you.

Now, everything I've said before is true -- indeed, increasingly true. But it's only recently true, which means that there are still, to a greater extent, 'classics' that everyone should read -- simply because of the youth of the medium. So there are three books I'd recommend unreservedly to anybody. My cousin mentioned one above, Watchmen, which is not only one of the greatest graphic novels written, but is -- I'd say inarguably, save that so many people have tried to argue it -- the single greatest superhero story ever written, and a work which can be enjoyed even by those with no particular interest in or taste for the odder aspects of the superhero genre. So that's a good place to start. I'm assuming that we're all beyond the gosh-gee-graphic-novels-don't-have-to- be-about-superheroes-any-more stage, but since that association is still strong, we may as well point to Watchmen -- particularly since it is good enough for anyone to like.

Two other classics of the same stature should be mentioned here. The first, Maus (which is published both in two volumes, as Maus I and Maus II, and in a volume entitled The Complete Maus) came out (or at least the first half of it did) around the same time that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns did, and were one of the first wave of graphic novels to get and deserve wide and serious attention. And, like Watchmen, Maus is one of those works which deserves it. Because it too is so good that even if you have no particular interest in its subject area, you should read it and will like it. It is -- as I assume most people know -- a holocaust memoir, the story of the father of its creator, Art Spiegelman, and tells both the story itself and of the relationship of Art with his father. There can be a tendency to over-praise works on the Holocaust because of the importance of the subject rather than the quality of the work itself -- but this is very much not the case with Maus. It's an amazing book and everyone should read it.

The other classic to mention is Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics. It's a book of, essentially, art theory, talking about how comics works (which will tell you, among many, many other things, why the phrase preceding this parenthesis is, in fact, grammatically correct.) Art theory, but also itself comics -- sequential art with both words and pictures (to combine the two most famous definitions of comics.) And I always hate to describe it this way, because it sounds academic and dry and dull, but good lord is it anything but -- it's absolutely captivating and witty and engrossing and really wonderful, and, like Watchmen and Maus, I recommend it unequivocally to everyone, whether or not you have an interest in its subject matter -- which just happens, in this case, to be comics itself.

Okay, those three are foundational -- and, among other things, a very good sample of the diversity of the graphic novel medium: a superhero story, a realistic historical memoir, and a non-narrative nonfiction work. But where do we go from here? (The battle's done, and we've kind of won... sorry, wrong topic.)

Well, here all the stuff I said above about how it depends on your taste comes into play. Because there is such a diversity of material. So from here on, I'll try to describe things by genre or feel or type, and point you towards a few good things in each category.

Realistic fiction. The gold standard here is probably Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan. It's an extraordinary work, complex and rich and wonderful. The problem is that it's also an extraordinarily bleak, depressing book: Chris Ware makes Beckett look like a cheerful guy given to action tales. So while it's really, really good, it will not be to everyone's liking.

Fortunately there's a lot of other great stuff too. One of my personal favorites is Howard Cruse's autobiographical novel Stuck Rubber Baby, which I actually taught in my historical fiction seminar at Cornell this past year (twice, once each semester). It's the story of a white, gay man growing up in a southern city (a fictionalized Birmingham, Alabama) at the height of the Civil Rights Movement (and, therefore, before the Gay Rights Movement began in any but the most rudimentary fashion). It's absolutely terrific, although Cruse's drawing style take some getting used to.

Other stuff. If you like comedy, read Kyle Baker's Why I Hate Saturn. Will Eisner did a wonderful novel about life on the lower-east side back in the 1930's known as A Life Force. Craig Thompson's Blankets is a coming-of-age graphic novel. Alan Moore did a long historical novel about Jack the Ripper which is wonderful and sophisticated and every bit as violent and sex-filled as you'd expect a novel about a prostitute-killing serial killer to be (fair warning), called From Hell. There's a postmodern mystery novel (okay, I'm pushing the boundaries of "realistic fiction" here, but it's good) adapted from a prose novel by Paul Auster (and which I actually think is (gasp!) better than the novel, although the latter is quite good), called Paul Auster's City of Glass, by David Mazzuchelli. There's a early twenties, down-and-out-and-don't-know-what-to-do book by Alex Robinson called Box Office Poison that I liked a lot. Neil Gaiman, better known for his fantasy comics (see below), did some great more-or-less-realistic graphic novels with artist Dave McKean, Mr. Punch and Signal to Noise. I haven't read as much Love and Rockets as I should have (I'm working on it!) but most people who have read it think it's among the best there is; the two big collections are Locas by Jamie Hernandez and Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez.

Memoir and autobiography. Here I'm tempted to recommend Alison Bechdel's Fun Home on the strength of her ongoing comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (for more, see here), but since I haven't read it yet, I suppose that would be irresponsible of me. (My copy's on order; ask me again in a week.)

Okay, other stuff which I've actually, y'know, read. Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran, Persepolis, is wonderful. Samuel R. Delany (best known as an SF writer) did a marvelous, very brief memoir of how he met his (still-current, I believe) lover, Dennis -- who was homeless at the time -- called Bread and Wine. Katherine Arnoldi's The Amazing True Story of a Teenaged Single Mom has very simple art, but is a great story. Harvey Pekar has done very brief, slice-of-life pieces for many years in a comic known as American Splendor. Start either with the collection of works he did with cartoonist Robert Crumb, American Splendor Presents Bob & Harv's Comics, or his book-length work about the year he had cancer (co-written with his wife, Joyce Brabner), called Our Cancer Year. And there's a book by Chester Brown about his teenaged obsession with pornography called The Playboy which is quite good too.

Science-fiction and fantasy. Here the place to start -- one that is almost as central as the works that my cousin mentioned -- is with Neil Gaiman's Sandman. The problem with Sandman, though, is that the first volume is distinctly inferior to the others (ten in the main series, plus four auxiliary volumes by Gaiman and various spin-offs by others). And while it's easy to say, yeah, yeah, I'm interested enough to get through that, you may end up doing what I did and reading the first and thinking 'ehh' and putting it down (in my case, for at least a year). So I recommend starting with volume two, The Doll's House. All you really need to know to do so is this: that there are seven beings, older than the gods and not worshiped by humans, named Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair and Delirium (and one other whose name is revealed later); and that Dream, the hero of the series, was recently held captive for seventy years, and has just returned to begin repairing his domain, the realm of dreams.

Grant Morrison has also written a bunch of wild SF; here I'd recommend starting with The Filth, since it's one volume and will be a good indication of whether you like his particular brand of lunacy. If so, you can go on to The Invisibles (seven volumes, the first is Say You Want a Revolution). Further good SF/Fantasy includes Brian K. Vaughn's thriller Y: the Last Man (seven volumes and still ongoing; the first is Unmanned). Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is a mix of horror and fantasy and some superhero elements, and is terrific; the first of six volumes is Saga of the Swamp Thing.

Superhero comics. My cousin mentioned The Dark Knight Returns, which is good, but which I wouldn't recommend to anyone without some prior interest in superhero comics and a bit of knowledge of Batman in particular. But if you are interested in this sort of thing, there's lots of good, recent stuff.

The first place to start is probably with Alan Moore's other superhero work, particularly the comics he published in his own line, America's Best Comics (and no other writer could get away with doing, under that name, an entire line of comics by one person. But Moore can, and did.) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2 volumes, plus one forthcoming) is probably the most broadly popular; it's a series which explores the roots of the superhero genre in nineteenth century pulp fiction, teaming up Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo and others. Then there's Promethea (5 volumes), which is my favorite: it starts off as a fairly standard superhero story but quickly turns into a lesson in Moore's own strange occult metaphysics.; Tom Strong (6 volumes, first is the best) is a deliberately retro exploration of the nature of superheroes; and Top Ten (2 volumes plus 2 auxiliary tales) is a police procedural set in a city in which everyone is a superhero.

Also noteworthy in the superhero category are many of the works of Grant Morrison -- start with Animal Man (three volumes, I've only read the last) and Doom Patrol (three volumes, more being reprinted), although he also did a run on X-Men if the movie has inspired you (more below). Further good stuff includes Kurt Busiek's Astro City (five volumes, still ongoing); Warren Ellis's Planetary (four volumes, one forthcoming) and -- less serious but lots of fun -- Warren Ellis's Authority (two volumes); and Brian Michael Bendis's Powers (I've only read the first few, but it's fun; a lot of his other stuff looks less interesting, though). There's a lot more where those came from, too, because while graphic novels have grown way beyond being just superheroes, it's still the dominant genre -- and while it probably passes the canonical Sturgeon's Law minimum of 90% crud (Sturgeon's law: "90% of SF is crud, but 90% of everything is crud"), there's still a lot of enjoyable stuff.

(Actually, my cousin mentioned comics he enjoyed as a kid -- Spiderman, Daredevil and X-Men -- so let me make some recommendations about those. First, as should be obvious, I don't think that those are the best stuff out there, even within the superhero genre. But I did enjoy Grant Morrison's run on X-Men, called New-X-Men and now collected in seven volumes (the first is called E for Extinction); it was followed by the almost-as-good run by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame), re-titled Astonishing X-Men, which is two volumes to date and is still ongoing; if you want to read X-Men, those are the places to start. Those also should be very accessible to those who enjoyed the movies and haven't read any other X-Men comics. Also good are the various volumes of Ultimate X-Men -- the first six by Mark Miller, the next two by Brian Michael Bendis, and then a bunch by Brian K. Vaughn. The classic Daredevil, of course, is by Frank Miller -- the best volume is probably Born Again -- I haven't read more recent stuff, although a lot of people like Brian Michael Bendis's recently-concluded run. Spiderman isn't as good, at least I don't think so, but if you want to read it the best thing to seek out is probably Brian Michael Bendis (yeah, the guy writes everything), Ultimate Spiderman.)

For kids. Wait, do kids still read comics? Do kids still read? Never mind. The following stuff is good for adults, too. (Phew!) The best that I know of, bar none, is Jeff Smith's Bone. This was originally nine volumes, was briefly available as the one-volume Complete Bone, and is now being reprinted as nine volumes again, this time in color (it was originally black and white); the first volume is Out From Boneville. Bone is a fantasy story -- think Lord of the Rings with a lot more comedy and humor. It's wonderful. If kids want to read about superheroes, a good teenage series is Brian Vaughn's Runaways, five volumes to date, the first is Pride and Joy.

Summing up. This post may have made you feel like my cousin: overwhelmed by choices. So let me sum up what I've said. Everyone should read:

Art Spiegelman's Maus

Alan Moore's Watchmen

Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

Then, by genre, I'd recommend:

Mainstream Fiction: Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby

Memoir/Autobiography: Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis

Fantasy & SF: Neil Gaiman, Sandman -- start with volume two, The Doll's House

Superheroes: Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

For Kids & Those Who Were Once Kids: Jeff Smith, Bone: Out From Boneville

-- and I'll leave it at that lest I overwhelm you again. But remember that just because you don't like one, it doesn't mean you won't like others: it's becoming a whole world, and there's stuff for every taste.

In fact, what's really sort of amazing, I think, is that I haven't even begun to scratch the surface here -- there's more great stuff in every category, along with lots of categories I haven't even mentioned. Some people are going to say that I've omitted the very best work -- and they might be right (there's a lot I haven't read; in many ways the biggest entry barrier to graphic novels is money, since they cost a lot and read comparatively quickly (although the best can be reread many times with increasing pleasure, as Gene Wolfe said of great literature) -- but that's another post.) I haven't gotten into much non-fiction, or mysteries or any of the many other genres that are out there. There's a whole universe of stuff translated from the Japanese (where comics, known as Manga, have long been far more popular and respectable then they are here) about which I know very little, not to mention stuff from the French (where similarly comics are more respectable, known as bande dessiné) and other languages. There are collections of daily comics strips, which aren't quite graphic novels but can be wonderful. And on and on and on.

Other people's viewpoints. So seek out other people's views, too. For review sites, you could start here or here or here or here or here. Or, for best-of lists, you could start here or here or here or here or here. I don't fully agree with any of those viewpoints, of course -- that's the point! There are a lot of good review sites out there, with different views than mine.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men: the Last Stand: A Review

(First half spoiler-free; I'll post warnings before I include spoilers.)

Ehh. The first two X movies managed to capture the best spirit of Marvel superhero comics -- weeding out what doesn't work and doing very well what does. When I saw the first one, I remember sitting there as the movie went on, astonished that they hadn't messed it up yet. But they didn't. They got through two full movies doing well.

But not three.

What made the first two movies work so well -- just like what made the first two Spiderman movies work, what made Batman Returns work -- is that they took them sufficiently slowly. They built the characters, made them real and likeable. (Which, after all, is what Marvel comics legendarily did in the early 60's.) They remembered that what makes these movies work is, first and foremost, the people. Oh, that wasn't all. They also had smart stories and well-crafted screenplays, good special effects and all the rest. But real people behind the powers was the sine qua non. Whereas the third X-Man movie made precisely the same mistake that the Batman franchise did after the first two movies.

Don't hire the director who did such a good job for you on the first two films back to do the third?

-- well, er, yes. That too. But what I was thinking of was this: they forgot that people make the film. They crammed it full of fights and special effects, to the exclusion of all else.

This time out, they didn't work on developing an interesting story; they didn't work on writing good dialogue; they didn't work on capturing the sense of realism particular to superhero comics, namely, a background of fantasy but with realism in the foreground. And, above all, they skimped on the character moments, editing what they had down to weak lines that talented actors struggled in vain to make meaningful, revealing -- other than silly.

All of which is not to say I didn't like it. I'm an X-Geek from way back: I enjoyed it tremendously. But unlike the first two films, which captured what I liked about the X-Men comics back in my youth, this film captures the most common current experience of X-fans: seeing something they love done badly, enjoying it because of old affections for the characters (and simply at the level of spectacle), but knowing all alone that what they're watching ain't good.

So if you have a deep affection for the X-Men, whether from the comics or the cartoon or the first two movies, go: you'll have fun. Or if you want a silly, stuffed-to-the-gills action movie with good special effects but little else to recommend it. But if you liked the first two films and wonder if the third lives up to them, the answer, sadly, is no.

(If you do go see it, though, stay through the end of the credits: there is a brief scene which follows them.)

(Spoilers for what characters are included begin here.)

They made some obvious mistakes. One is simply including too many characters (which apparently Joss Whedon warned them about while the movie was in production (sorry, no link, I forget where I read that.)) I mean, sure, as an X-Geek from way back it was a lot of fun to see the Beast get a major role, to see Kitty Pryde upgraded to the level of Iceman and Rogue from the first two movies, to see real glimpses of Colossus and Angel and others. But it was too much; they didn't have time to develop them. Oh, I laughed when Beast said "Oh my stars and garters" -- one of his trademark lines from the comics. But it was the fun of recognition, not fun on its own terms.

(Spoilers for what the major stories are, and the first third of the movie generally, begin here.)

But the big problem was that they tried to do two stories. They tried to do both the Dark Phoenix storyline and a storyline based on the Cure (from Joss Whedon's still-ongoing run on the comics). And it was simply way, way too much to do. Oh, even with that decision they could have handled it a lot better than they did -- sacrificed some of the more gratuitous fight scenes. (Such as the danger room scene in the beginning -- oh, sure, fun to see a fastball special and a sentinel (or at least the head of one). But not relevant.)

It was too much. And it meant they didn't do either properly. I think that, in the end, they skimped more on the Dark Phoenix storyline than on the Cure storyline -- the former was a shell of what it should have been, the latter almost worked. But almost not because of interference from Dark Phoenix per se, but rather because the entire movie was so busy that it became -- almost -- boring. (If I wasn't an X-fan, I probably would have been bored; as it was it was fun but silly.)

I think I get why they did that. The problem is that there isn't a role for Magneto in the Dark Phoenix storyline.* And Ian McKellen's a major actor, and the Professor Xavier - Magneto dynamic was one of the cores of the first two films -- so they put in the cure.

What they should have done, I think, was just do the Cure. That would have let them complete the Professor X - Magneto trilogy with its focus on mutant rights and all that. Let Jean stay dead for this film, and then if you do a fourth film do the Dark Phoenix saga and leave Magneto out of it. Use the extra time in the film that you'd get from chopping out the Dark Phoenix parts to slow the thing down, bring back the character arcs, recapture the feel that made the first two movies work so well.

But they didn't. And what they got was, ultimately, a disappointment.

(I should say that it's not that I thought the first two films were the greatest films of all time or anything. It's just that they worked extremely well on their own terms: they did what they were trying to do -- be good Marvel superhero stories -- quite well. Just as the first two Spiderman films did. Just as Batman Returns -- and the first Batman movie -- did. (Well, okay, those two did a lousy job of being Marvel superhero stories. But they did a good job of being DC superhero stories.))

Those are the major points I wanted to make. The only other comments I have are random thoughts and quibbles.

(Spoilers for the ending of the film begin here.)

Why in the world did Logan kill Jean? Why not just stab her with one of the cure needles? A plot hole almost as big as the potholes on our street (and that's saying a lot, believe me). I know why it happened: they were following the source material -- at least very roughly -- and the Dark Phoenix storyline was twenty-odd years before anyone thought of the cure. But in this movie it was a pothole-sized plot hole. Even worse, it was an easily avoided one: just show Jean disintegrate the cure needle as Logan's trying to approach her, leaving him no other choice. (Except a fastball special with Leech. But I suppose they couldn't risk her zapping him before he got close.)

Using Leech as the source of the cure was a good touch: it gave a very reasonable explanation for how they came up with it (without invoking the parallel universes and alien races of the comic) and also a very good reason why it won't stick around if they decide to make a fourth movie (or if, as is rumored, they make a solo Wolverine movie): there's no more cure because the kid's escaped.

Usually superhero movies are a bit more brutal than pre-Watchmen comics: back then, superheroes were squeamish about killing people and I believe that, in the comics, Wolverine still does less of it than in the films (which, given the level of violence we're used to in action movies, doesn't even register -- and doing less would seem downright odd). But Phoenix, of course, did many orders of magnitude more harm in the comics than she does here.

Bringing back Professor X was totally obvious; I saw it coming as soon as they body with no mind was mentioned. But it was -- as one of the people in the movie theater shouted at the screen -- lame. (I think there should be a limit of one resurrection per movie (unless you are doing a movie specifically about resurrections.)) Moira McTaggert was a perfect example of their trying to cram too much !@#$% stuff in, incidentally.

Okay, that's all I have to say. A lot of fun, really. But not good, even on its own terms. And it's such a pity, since they proved it possible twice, and I was really hoping they'd go for three.

(Update: Minor edits throughout.)

* Although if you had to have one, you'd have him play the role of Sebastian Shaw, with Mastermind being a lackey rather than rival. But they don't do that or anything like it.

Friday, May 19, 2006


You know those motivational posters you see at offices? Well, via boing-boing, there's a tool which allows you to make your own. For example:

(Click images for larger versions.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Were you ever a Marvel Zombie?

You know who you are. (If you don't know, then you almost certainly never were.) You read a lot of Marvel comics. It didn't have to be for a long time. But it had to be a lot of them. D.C. doesn't count. Picking up X-Men just because Joss Whedon's writing it doesn't count. But if you know who the Silver Surfer is, if "Juggernaut" makes you think of a big, mutant brother of Professor X rather than whatever ordinary people think of when they hear that word, then this list by Andrew Wheeler, of the 50 Best Marvel Comics Characters, is very, very funny. As Alan David Doane (from whose blog I got the link) said, it's the descriptions that make it worth while. For example:

THE BEAST. Here's the subtle genius of Beast. He looks like a giant, fanged, blue-furred ape creature. But he's actually a brilliant scientist, a great wit and an intellectual. It's awfully clever. He's a reupholstered Teddy Ruxpin that's been loaded with Encarta. On the one hand, he'd make an eloquent dining companion. On the other, he'd make a terrific rug.

...and if that isn't funny to you, then you probably don't know who the Silver Surfer is, and you won't find the rest of the piece funny, either. Don't click the link. For the rest of you...

In other news, I know I haven't posted for a while. It may be a while more. April may be the cruelest month, but for academics with grading, May comes pretty close. I'll be back when I can. In the meantime, here's an image of Fin Fang Foom:

"...he's a giant lizard in purple pants. If you don't understand what makes this great, you probably shouldn't have any contact with superhero comics." -- At least ones not written by Alan Moore. Stick with other types of comics.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Best of the Blogosphere, Part 1: John Holbo reads David Frum

(First in an occasional and entirely whimsical series. (Update: Later entries here.))

Bloggers, I am convinced, have done some damn fine writing in the past few years. The nature of the medium being what it is, however, the products of the past are too often swallowed up in the same void that devours day-old newspapers and month-old magazines. On the other hand, the nature of the medium also means that the rescue is easy: the material is there. One just has to link to it.

So, from time to time -- and I really have no idea how often, I might not do another for year, I might do another tomorrow -- I want to link to an old post that is worth reading -- indeed, worth rereading if one has already read it. To make sure that instant acclaim is not the standard, I will limit myself to posts at least a year old. (I know, I know: a pretty short time to ensure classic status. This is the internet, people. Way of the digital world.)

And, thanks to the most recent post by Michael Bérubé (most recent as of this writing), we have our first contender. Dr. Bérubé links to an old post by John Holbo which I really liked when I first read it. I just reread it: it really holds up. So, the first official Attempts Best of the Blogosphere™ post is: John Holbo reads David Frum in "Dead Right".

The basic set-up is this. Thanks to a recommendation by Josh Marshall (the link from Holbo's post is broken; use that if you want to read Marshall, although it's really just a passing comment) John Holbo went and read David Frum's Dead Right. Holbo then discusses Frum's philosophy, filled with ample and not-terribly-clearly-formatted quotations (the latter is my only gripe about the post really). Holbo decides that Frum hasn't really thought his underlying political philosophy through very well, and thus he

...attribute[s] rather outrageous views to Frum, not because I actually think he holds them but because I think he does NOT. These outrageous views are the views he WOULD hold if, perchance, he upheld and investigated only the most immediate ramifications of the bits and snippets of philosophy he espouses.
Hilarity ensues. But the insightful sort of hilarity that really good, biting comedy gives you. -- Really. Go read it.

The post exemplifies a few of the literary quirks of the nascent blogosphere, and I thought I might mention them briefly. First and foremost, it features a lot of very long quotations -- clearly in a copyright-allowable-way (being criticism, and only a snippet of the entire book), but in a way that in a traditional formal essay would seem excessive. But this isn't done because Holbo has nothing to contribute. On the contrary: he has a lot to say, but wants to A) be fair (in a fashion) to Frum, and B) let Frum hang himself by his own words.* (The Donner Party comes up. 'Nuff said.) This is a style of reading which, when done in its entirety to a short piece is referred to in the blogosphere as fisking. This isn't that -- he's only doing a tiny bit of a full-length book. But it is done with all the snark a good fisking entails... but having a dead serious intellectual point behind it (as, indeed, the best snark does).

I really wonder if David Frum ever read it. Part of me is inclined to doubt it, since he hasn't given up being a pundit and devoted the rest of his life to standing on corners and cleaning car windshields for spare change, which would be a reasonable response to this essay, I think. Nor does a quick google bring up any indication that he did -- just other people praising Holbo's post. But part of me thinks he must have read it. It was too widely passed around at the time for him not to have caught wind of it. So what did he think? What could he possibly have thought?

Goodness knows. But you can find out what you think: read the post!

Much Later Update: I just recently found out (via this thread) that John Holbo actually wrote a follow-up post to the one I highlighted here. Like many sequels, it's not as good as the original, but still, if you liked the first, it's worth taking a look at.

* Although at various points he quotes a full paragraph from other writers too. The idea here, I take it, is quite simply that the point has been made well, so why not simply quote it? This isn't written for money or tenure or anything like that, but just to convey ideas. So there's no reason not to simply rely on the words of others if they do the job well.