The Iconoclast!

By | Thursday, February 16, 2023 Leave a Comment
Back when "Pinky and the Brain" was just one of the many funny segments on Animaniacs, there was an episode in which Brain tries to take over the world through marketing of a children's TV show, parodying the original Beany and Cecil. He originally announces himself as "The Iconoclast, an unconventional eccentric who marches to the beat of a different drummer" before being recast as Noodle Noggin by Pinky. When I first saw the episode, I was vaguely aware of iconoclasm from the handful of art history lectures in college that I didn't sleep through, but this was the first instance I'd heard the term used as a proper noun. "What a great handle," I thought. "That really is a great name for some over-zealous, trumped-up comic book villain." Research was needed.

The word derives from eikonoklasts which is ancient Greek for "breaker of images." It was originally used in a religious context, referring to people who had theological differences of opinion and consequently damaged the sculptures and paintings of other offending faiths. The meaning began to be used more metaphorically and, by the 19th century, broadened to more secular definition: a person who attacks established or traditional ideas or principles.

To my mind, it would be considered something of a compliment to be considered an iconoclast. Progress, it seems to me, largely stems from challenging the status quo and trying to improve on it. Why shouldn't women have the right to vote? Why shouldn't interracial couples be encouraged? Why should we continue to use a school system model designed for a long-outdated agrarian society? Why should online publishing models attempt to mimic traditional ones?

The down side, though, is that calling yourself an iconoclast is somewhat pretentious. It presumes that you've already done an infinite amount of social research to determine that your thoughts and ideas have not been thought of elsewhere, and that your advocacy of those thoughts is significant. But of course, that infinite research is essentially impossible and the significance of anyone's ideas can almost unilaterally be seen only in hindsight. That's why it's amusing to see Brain take on the name of his own volition, only to be bonked on the head down to the less auspicious Noodle Noggin.

No, the iconoclast nomenclature can really own be bestowed on you by others and only with some degree of retrospect.

The question that then arises here is: do we have an iconoclasts in comicdom? Comic creators who challenged the way comics were/are being created, and came up with a new approach.

Will Eisner is the first name that springs to mind. He was the guy who first set up the task delineation for comics that has since become the standard: writer, artist, inker, letterer, colorist. He standardized a lot of the early production processes, including the size/ratio of art boards. He was the first big proponent of owning the intellectual property of his comic creations. Not to mention his exploration of the medium itself.

Jack Kirby is another name that springs to mind but, despite a huge amount of respect I have for him, I don't know that I'd call him an iconoclast. Sure, he pretty much single-handedly invented whole genres for comic books, but he wasn't really an advocate for that; he just did his own thing, and it often just happened to be original. He wasn't challenging the status quo so much as ignoring it.

(It just occurred to me that I approach this blog the same way. I just write about what I want to write about, and sometimes it happens to come from out of nowhere compared to whatever else might be going on in comic news or blogging. That Kirby influences my daily blogging at a fundamental level like that amazes me to no end.)

Robert Crumb or Art Spiegelman? Or, for that matter, any underground comix creator? Well, they certainly had the whole breaking-traditional-ideas thing down! But so did a lot of hippies in the late 1960s, and it doesn't seem to fit calling the whole lot of them iconoclasts. But, if we really look at them, here again, the vast majority of them weren't challenging existing principles so much as creating alternatives to them. Sure, it was "square" to wear a suit and tie, and go to a desk job all day but, by and large, that was a choice that an individual had to make, and they were simply choosing something else. As long as they were free to do what they wanted, others were free to do as they chose as well.

Any other contenders? Steve Gerber for his I.P. rights fighting? Jackie Ormes for breaking both racial and gender barriers in comics? Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson for coming up with the idea of original content for comic books? Who am I missing? Is Eisner the only man we might dub The Iconoclast?
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