Making space

I funded this wonderful independent project on [insert name of well-known pre-funding site], and then when the slim volume arrived it somehow got mulched in my enormous piles of books and I never read it. I recently found it (hooray), and also found out it had a follow up (hooray) which somehow I never became aware of, so didn’t fund, and didn’t get a copy (boo).  I would recommend it, but I’m not sure there’s any point as I don’t think copies are available, but do read it if you ever get the opportunity.

Critical Chips is a very short book, beautifully printed, containing ten short essays on comics, from critics situated somewhere outside the mainstream. Some are theoretically informed, others are straightforward personal responses. Some tackle particular themes with currency in the medium, others the social space of the field of comics, others analyse specific works, or excavate particular threads of meaning from them. Some are prose, and some are comics themselves. It is a diverse selection from a diverse group of writers. I hesitate to talk about quality – I mean, it is all ‘good’ writing, but these essays do not  embody a single understanding of what critical writing should be, and I don’t wish to impose my own (privileged, identity un-marked) notion of where the goalposts are located. Some seem to invite criticality in response, while others simply say ‘here is my experience’, and while I certainly read Critical Chips with both critical and emotional engagement, I feel it would be overkill to fashion a detailed response – especially given that I am not actively engaged in critical discourse on any of the topics chosen by these writers. I took this book as something to be enjoyed, which I think is one of the many things that critical writing can be, and is always a facet of the criticism that makes me think ‘yes, this is ‘good’’.

It is edited with an admirably light touch by Zainab Akhtar. One might think that ‘compiled’ or ‘curated’ would be a more appropriate term for her work, but apart from the fact that she did all the work normally carried out by a publisher’s employee with the job title of ‘editor’, there is also intellectual work involved in producing a collection like this, that is equally present between its covers whether or not it involves detailed involvement in the writers’ critical production (which as far as I can tell, it did not). Akhtar’s editorial discourse emerges in the (sometimes considerable) space between the essays. If there is an argument here, it is firstly that the critical space around the medium of comics is important to the medium – something which I would argue is true of all arts and media, but which is often under-appreciated, with criticality assumed to occupy an ancillary or auxiliary role; and secondly, that the critical space is precisely the space in which the editorial discourse is located – the space between perspectives. Even with its particular disagreements, a solely academic, or a solely intuitive, or a solely anything discourse would be a sterile one, unable to accommodate many of the perspectives that need and deserve a home. The diversity of ways in which comics are understood in this mere handful of very short essays outlines a whole field of discourse, a space in which not only to write about comics, to read reviews, to reflect on ones responses, but also a space in which creators reflect on and refine their own practice. For that reason this small book, which reached a tiny audience of a few hundred funders, is immensely, immeasurably (but not uniquely) important.

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