Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Little hat syndrome

There's an old joke. A mother's at the seaside with her baby boy, who's playing in the sand by the water's edge. Suddenly a big wave crashes over the boy and sweeps him out to sea. The mother hysterically scans the ocean but he's gone, gone, gone, so she falls to her knees on the shore and sobbing, calls out to God.

"God, please God, I'll do anything, but you have to bring my boy back! Take me instead, strike me dead this instant, submit me to a thousand tortures, but please -- I'll give up all my money, everything I have in this life, I'll build a temple or a church in your name, whatever you want! But oh merciful God, I'm begging you, please give me back my child! "

There's a peal of thunder and a bolt of sunlight pierces the sea, and lo and behold, another big wave rolls to the shore and the baby boy is returned. Crying with joy, exclaiming a dozen thank-yous, the mother clutches her child to her bosom, and then holds him out for a loving look. She turns back to God. "God," she says. "He was wearing a little hat..."

Billy Mernit, who I stole the above quote from, talks about little hatting in creative writing, but it's equally applicable to comics criticism. I know I'm guilty of it, and I see it all around me. The better a comic is, the more any tiny fault stands out, and we end up focusing on that so much that any reader might get the impression that we absolutely hated something which in fact we consider a paragon, apart from this tiny thing that we feel the need to dwell on for three quarters of the review.

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