Comics – How “Barry Ween” Made Me Hate Judd Winick

“Barry Ween” is an exceptionally funny comic. For those not familiar, it’s written and drawn by Judd Winick, but amazingly lacks a character with AIDS. It’s about a ten-year-old with a 350 IQ, his boob-obsessed friend Jeremy, and his crush Sara.

It’s full of nerd jokes, one-liners, and other fun stuff, and just reading it on that level is pretty hysterical. Unfortunately, it also offers way too much insight into the psyche of Judd Winick. I love the comic, but where I found the author to be a bit annoying before, now I’m pretty certain that the guy’s an intolerable prick.

One could argue I’m reading too much into “Barry Ween”, but somehow I doubt it. Barry’s got all the signs of a classic Marty Stu (idealized author stand-in, for those not up on fanfic slang). Somehow, his extreme intelligence translates out into being great in a fist-fight, never mind that he’s TEN and fighting guys three times his size. He is, of course, ridiculously intelligent, to the point where he can get his parents out of the house with tickets to “The Music Man”. And for some reason nobody ever beats up this insufferable little snot; sure, he really is smarter than everybody, instead of just thinking he is, but he doesn’t bother to hide it either. Anybody who displayed their intelligence in high school knows that makes you a fist magnet.

It could also be that Barry Ween is just mediocre fantasy, which it is, but that’s kind of beside the point in this book; it’s a comedy and Barry Ween’s intelligence is just the engine for getting the gags rolling. Good fantasy is about people who think they’re powerless discovering that they’re not: mediocre fantasy is about people who have power using it. This is why, while we love Conan, nobody’s arguing it’s better than “Lord of the Rings.”

But there’s this itch I’ve got, this feeling that Barry Ween is based on how Judd Winick felt as a kid. And pretty much everybody who isn’t middle-of-the-bell-curve feels that way at some point, but we don’t all go out and write a comic book about it, let alone twelve issues, let alone sell that to the public. There’s also the unpleasant ramifications of the Sara character, namely, that if Barry’s a stand-in for Winick, then she’s a stand-in for Winick’s wife, so an undertone is that Winick thinks he’s vastly smarter than his wife.

There’s always been a tone of condescension to Winick’s other work. He actually refers to himself as an “educator” in the Barry Ween bio, and brother, does it ever show. For example, if he takes over a book, you can be fairly sure that AIDS is going to come up in fairly short order, even if it totally derails the character. A good example is Green Arrow, where Mia, having been established as a spunky kid from the streets by Kevin Smith, apparently got HIV as one of Winick’s first orders of business.

Part of this is just the fact that he’s going to ride the fact that he was in the Real World house and friends with a guy who died from AIDS until that horse drops from exhaustion, just like Jeph Loeb has pretty much made the entire comics community hate cancer kids. But I’m pretty sure another part is that he thinks his audience is genuinely ignorant. There’s a moment in Green Arrow where Mia explains to Oliver Queen, you know, the guy who sleeps around a lot and did so right up until he died in the mid-’90s, what AIDS is, and Ollie acts totally clueless until Mia enlightens him.

If that sounds just a wee bit insulting to the intelligence of his audience (and consider the audience is generally viewed to identify with Ollie), well, it is. But Winick does this shit all the time. He’s perfectly capable of writing a good comic; early issues of the Outsiders are a hoot. But eventually, even if it’s just his pet cause, he has to drag some issue out and ram it in there, even if it doesn’t really fit.

In the end, I love “Barry Ween”, and I think everybody should own a copy. But by the same token, I also think it proves Judd Winick needs to get the hell over himself. Love the sin, hate the sinner, I suppose.

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