Posts Tagged 'Comics'

In Defense of Comic Books

Daniel Watson-Jones

The comic book, or “graphic novel” as it’s called in collected form, is a lot like Rodney Dangerfield. It can be rude, crude, and even downright offensive, but in spite of those qualities it demands more respect. Also like the late Mr. Dangerfield, when at their best, comics represent art of the highest quality. Many people still think that comics are limited to the pulp superhero and crime drama stories of the fifties and sixties, when in fact the field has evolved to produce and support material of a quality that’s almost unimaginable to the close-minded snobs who refuse to pay attention.

As with most art forms throughout history, it began crudely and has developed into something much greater than it was.  It’s easy to forget that ballet began as a way to show off prostitutes to the drunken aristocracy during intermissions at the theatre. Now no one in his right mind would argue that ballet cannot be high art.  Jazz, blues and rock music have had their critics, but the artistic merits of each have outlasted them all. The difficulty is often in recognizing good art when it’s being made, instead of years down the road after it has already suffered a period of being maligned. I would argue that comics need recognition now.

Take for instance Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which ran for 75 issues from the late 1980s to the mid-90s.  It was the only comic to ever win the World Fantasy Award (and likely the only one ever, as the rules were changed to exclude comics shortly after there was an outcry from authors of “real” fantasy fiction) and within the comic field it’s widely considered to be a masterpiece. The ever-shifting story arcs focus on the journey of the eponymous Sandman (the embodiment of dreams themselves) as he grows, changes, and makes decisions that affect the whole world. Seen as individual installments, the Sandman comics are entertainment at worst, and very well-done entertainment at best, but viewed as an entire collection (as Gaiman envisioned them) they become an astounding work of literature, the nature of which hasn’t been seen since the serialized novels of Mark Twain’s era.

This isn’t to say that every comic out there is groundbreaking work.  Just like rock music, impressionist painting, and art-house cinema, ninety percent of the genre is absolute garbage. Still, that top ten percent can be the cause of life changing revelations.  Or, at the very least, a few Dangerfield-esque chuckles.

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