What is an expert? Well my Webster’s dictionary defines an expert as:
A person who is very skillful or highly trained and informed in some special field.
Who am I to argue with Webster? But in the field of fine arts an expert generally means something more. While reading about a debate concerning a particular Chinese painting I came across two statements about what an expert should be. Here is one quote, although I am ashamed to admit I failed to record who said it:
An “expert” should be able to convince a reasonably intelligent person of his opinion with specific references to other works as well as indisputable evidence, if any, such as photographs and provenance.
Embedded in this meaning is the idea that experts should be able to explain their ideas. Unfortunately comic book experts seem to have little interest in convincing others. Comic experts seem only concerned about making their proclamations. Ask them to defend some attribution and all you are likely to get is reply about how many comic books they have studied. But by Webster’s definition that would in fact make them experts. And as I said, who am I to argue with Webster.
But I still want a word that describes the type of person in comics that is the same sort of expert as I’ve seen in the fine arts. So I have chosen to use the word scholar. Webster’s definition for scholar may not be any closer to what I want then expert was but at least is it not as commonly used (or misused). Although the word scholar may not be used often in the comic world, that does not mean there aren’t any. Boy am I grateful that there are such scholars. It is possible to learn from a scholar even when you disagree with them. I don’t see how someone learns from a comic book expert.
Does that mean comic experts serve no purpose in this world? Well actually sometimes they do, when they compile lists. I don’t know who the experts were that helped to create the Jack Kirby Checklist, but they sure did me a favor. It is not that the JK Checklist is 100% accurate. Yeah there was a few times that when I tracked something from the Checklist I found Mort Meskin’s signature on it. Sure sometimes I think work in the JK Checklist was actually done by Joe Simon. What matters is that the Jack Kirby Checklist points the way as to what to search for in order to see Jack’s work. So what about experts who don’t make lists? Well I am sure they serve some purpose, I just haven’t figured out yet what that is.
By now I am sure you have figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a Simon and Kirby scholar. But don’t call me an expert, thems fighting words where I come from.