I've been reading The Best American Comics, 2009 (last year's edition, guest edited by Charles Burns). I didn't pay much attention to Jessica Abel & Matt Madden's Preface until I was almost done. Here's some of their opening argument, which I thought was worth discussing:
"Flipping through a novel in a bookstore, it's impossible to glean a real sense of the book's content, much less its style or attitude. You'd really need to stand there and read at least a few complete pages. Comics are different this way. Many of us can remember an instance when we took a comic book off the shelf or out of a bin and knew the instant we opened to a random page that we were in love...However, comics are a narrative art form and to truly understand and appreciate them you have to read them--drawings, words, panel borders, and all. Only then can you really judge the work fairly. So the despairing cartoonist finds her saviors in the devoted and open-minded readers who overcome an initial dislike of the art to see what she has done with the art...When we overcome an initial reluctance to read a given comic only to find an unexpected power and richness to the work, then we know we are truly readers of comics."
I'm sympathetic to their view up to a point. I certainly have gotten past my initial dislike of art to find a powerful story on occasion. This happened most recently with Elk's Run, and I could trace the experience back to my first exposure to The Sandman, which finally became my favorite comic. But as a practical matter, once you go down that road, where does it stop? There will always be some drawing styles I like better than others. That's personal taste, and it certainly affects my enjoyment of any given comic. There are cartoonists in this volume that I have never cared for, and reading them again did not change my mind. Peter Bagge and Gary Panter are two good examples. Their styles are quite different--Panter's drawing is far cruder--but I don't like either of them. I did read their stories all the way through, so maybe I just don't like their storytelling. Or maybe I also don't like their storytelling: I already knew their art didn't appeal to me. I think reading them and giving them a chance makes me a "devoted and open-minded reader." Surely I am allowed to not like them! But the statement above makes it sound like I should find some way. It's like expecting someone to listen to opera over and over until they like it. If there's no appeal, a listener could eventually develop an appreciation for the form, but they might never like it.