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Making Comics "Legitimate": Is That What The Community Actually Wants?

Joey Manley, over here, is talking about a post he made over here, about this book here. And having read all three of these things, I have come to an important realization about comics and why they are not in the "mainstream" even though people are working so hard to legitimize them.

The reason is that what most people to make our passion mainstream are actually doing is trying to legitimize them, and legitimize them within a small subset of the public, which Manley accurately labels as the "establishment" of literary fiction. Manley points out some people are uncomfortable with this because they are afraid of losing their indie cool. I have a better reason to be uncomfortable, or at least feel our. The "establishment" isn't mainstream. Its a ghetto. Sure, its bigger than our ghetto, and it gets talked about by a small subset of the public, (You know who you are. What was Diane Rheim's show about today? Hah! Gotcha! Your one of "them") but it isn't a meaningful part of our public life nor is it the nexus of most writers in America. They write genre fiction. Why? Because most Americans read it. America does not love Zadie Smith. It loves Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, Steven King, or even Dean Koontz. If we want comics to truly be legitimate in the eyes of the public as an adult art form, have alot of room for artists of all shapes and sizes, and influence the public at large we need to put out our great genre artist, not our great "literary" ones.

What books like The Best American Comics do, despite the best of Harvey Pekar's intentions, is help foster the perception that comics are for the elite, not the public. At the very least they don't help us much. Because the NPR types (like me) know comics aren't for kids. They read Maus and pretended to read all of Blankets. The New York Times told them too. But the guy who needs to here the message is Joe Republican, father of three kids who works in construction. He thinks comics are dumb kids stuff or boring whiney intellectual crap and hasn't bought one in 30 years. But he also owns an entire collection of B-Movie zombie flicks. We need to put a copy of The Walking Dead in that man's hands. We need to point that lesbian couple at the end of the block towards Queen of Wands. We need to get that 50 year old Harlequin romance novel reader to check out about half the manga printed. That is the America that needs our message.

Getting the comics to the

Getting the comics to the people is so much the point. Comics people live in this Kevin Costner-esque "if you create it they will read it" world. And it's an incestuous world too, for the most part. Because it's comic folks who are making comics essentially for comics folks to read. If comics as a whole don't start reaching beyond it's grasp and start actively going after--what was it?--"Joe Budweiser", the lesbian couple down the street, and the general public at large and re-opening their eyes to this forgotten form of literature that we are currently making almost exclusively by and for ourselves, the next generation of comics creators/readers will be born with 6 fingers on one hand. And it's VERY hard to draw that way. LOL! Dee G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It's like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

G.A.A.K: Groovy Ass Alien Kreatures It's like The Goonies meets The Invaders from Mars. Updates on Mondays.

Valorising comics

philigran@drupal.org's picture

While I agree that a comic has to relate to its audience in order to increase its chance at getting attention, I'm not so sure the best way to popularize the medium is through genres. I understand that, once people are familarised with the form, they will go for the sort of material they like, and it's important that their tastes be represented. However, I believe that we must first look at the reasons why we would prefer a comic book to a word novel or a moving images picture. Comics will sell only once we become well aware of the strengths this medium has over all others and we fully take advantage of it.

What are these advantages?

For one, people don't take them seriously. A bit like ice cream. You can't open up a newspaper without getting distracted by them. In this age of information overload, this is priceless. Graphic narratives brings out the eyeballs you need to grab your reader.

Images are dense and more able than words to concretely engage its readers. Visualising a good punch in the face isn't the same as reading "a punch in the face". The impact engages immediately "all" of the senses. Are we really exploiting the full potential of writing with paintings?

Comics are static actions in space. Let's take more advantage of the fact that a comics can do more, not less, than a movie in print. The grammar is richer than we know. Explore it, write with it, spread it out.

Comics are relatively cheap to produce and can be a good alternative to the written word, if you're willing to invest the effort. Parts of the production work can also be automated.

I'm surely missing a few others...My point is that comics will remain a secondary art form as long as your work doesn't embrace the medium until we reach the point where we couldn't think of it as anything else than a comic book.

Sure, there remains the matter of spreading comics literacy... To this, I will answer: use the medium, Luke.

The educated

Joey Manley's picture

The educated upper-to-uppermiddle class, though it may not be vast numerically, is disproportionately influential over the long haul. Our understanding of American history has been written by this class, for example, not by the Joe Budweisers; this is the class that makes the stock market run; this is the class that gets elected to high office; this is the class that signs a large percentage of Joe Budweisers' paychecks. So I disagree that they're not a meaningful part of our public life. Don't dismiss them altogether as a niche. I do agree that they're not the only demographic worth reaching with comics, though.

With two huge hit movies under his belt, both of them with his name prominently featured above the title, Frank Miller is probably in a perfect position to reach the John Grisham/Tom Clancy reader right now.

Joey

Education schmeducation...wait, how do you spell schmeducation?

Erg's picture

[quote=joeymanley]The educated upper-to-uppermiddle class, though it may not be vast numerically, is disproportionately influential over the long haul. [/quote] Kinda. No more so than what we would call the lower class. Lots of cultural trends, ones that inhabited a place more like comics than not, have trended up from minorities and the poor to the general public. Specifically I am thinking Hong Kong films, rap, alot of fashion etc. [quote]Our understanding of American history has been written by this class, for example, not by the Joe Budweisers; this is the class that makes the stock market run; this is the class that gets elected to high office; this is the class that signs a large percentage of Joe Budweisers' paychecks.[/quote]] But its still not the class that buys most of the books. Its not the class that started many of the trends that lead to the books that get sold today. [quote] So I disagree that they're not a meaningful part of our public life. Don't dismiss them altogether as a niche. I do agree that they're not the only demographic worth reaching with comics, though. [/quote] They are an important demographic. But not the only important demographic, and alot of times I feel like that demographic and the drooling fan boys are the only one we try to please.
[quote]
With two huge hit movies under his belt, both of them with his name prominently featured above the title, Frank Miller is probably in a perfect position to reach the John Grisham/Tom Clancy reader right now.

Joey[/quote] Definitely.

So many issues raised, so

So many issues raised, so little time ...!

I think you can square the disparate views on this if you accept that there are two distinct comic markets. As far as retail stores are concerned, there are the comics written for kids and comics written very self-consciously for adults.

Despite the fact that its readership may now be increasingly middle-aged the level of story-telling in most mainstream super hero fiction is still at the same level it was when it was an acknowledged kids' medium. The same is true of most Western manga. Conversely, attempts to champion comics as a medium which can be enjoyed by adults has focused on comics which have "something important to say" and which earnestly underline that fact by using an art style which is often very primitive and very ugly.

In terms of "legitimacy" the comics that are missing (the equivalent of the Tom Clancys and the Stephen Kings, if you like) are the comics which bridge that gap; the comics which have something of interest at the heart of their stories for those who want to look for it but which are not afraid to wrap it up in a fun-filled, action-packed adventure story for those who don't.

It's always seemed to me that this balance was the crowning achievement of DKR and Watchmen. It's not just that they examples of intelligent, adult story telling on a par with anything else in the fiction section of your local library. It's that they can also be read as slices of mainstream pulp fiction in what is widely regarded as the most low-brow genre of them all.

Comics which are fun to read but shallow and comics which are earnest but not entertaining are both equally destined to live out their shelf-lives in the ghettoes you describe.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

I'm not entirely sure what

I'm not entirely sure what you're pointing out here.I will say this though, it certainly seems like the market is shifting. I think as time goes on, demographics change,markets change. I think time will show more people reading comics from outside traditional target groups.

Actually, to take my own

Black_Kitty's picture

Actually, to take my own cue...

I think anime faces similar issues. For most people, if anime isn't about freaky tentacle sex, it's about cute fluffy animals or girls in short sailor skirts. (Although nowadays, you might be able to add "ninjas and samurai" to that too.) For most people, anime are cartoons and cartoons are for children and therefore they're going to watch CSI.

So how do you get people to understand that anime doesn't necessarily mean huggie bears or close encounters with an octopus? Well, one way is to focus less on the older generation and more on the younger generation. Instead of Pokémon, they can watch Naruto. Instead of Naruto, they can watch Gundam. Instead of Gundam, they can watch Hanbei Renmei. (And maybe they'll watch Twelve Kingdoms!)

The wonderful thing about webcomics is that they're free. The wonderful thing about childhood is that time is plentiful. So one way to get the average citizen to read more comics is to encourage younger generations to read webcomics. It's free, they're on the Internet all the time anyway, and there's some good stuff out there.

Another thing helping out comics in my opinion are movie adaptations of comics. People watch Spiderman the movie and maybe they'll think it's entertaining enough to go read Spiderman the comic. I remember reading an article in the papers a few weeks ago about how bookstores were noticing an increased interest in 300.

Just my two cents. :)

Manga

Erg's picture

I think this is what happened with Manga. Kids read it and watched anime at 8 and now are still reading because there is content they are interested in. getting kids is always important.

God, I know this is a bit of

Fabricari's picture

God, I know this is a bit of a tangent, but...

To further what you said, what we need is to get comics the fuck out of the "graphic novel" section and into their specific genre sections at the book store. You should be able to find romance comics in the romance section. Sci-fi comics need to be next to trek and star wars. And so on. Comics is NOT a genre. Comics is a medium. Not all comics are liturature. Some are for kids and belong upstairs at Barns & Nobles in the KIDS section.

And so on.

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

About categorization...

Black_Kitty's picture

I personally think comics in itself should be categorized (children, teen, adult) but I'm not sure about spreading them throughout the bookstore. In a way, the bookstore does categorize according to medium. Audio books for example are generally placed in a separate section. I forget if it's the bookstore that does this or the library but books with bigger print sometimes get their own section as well.

But speaking of the library...they categorize by medium as well. Even foreign books have their own section.

Categorization within a library/bookstore isn't a statement about the legitimacy of...well, whatever. Books are categorized so people can find them with reasonable ease. The library is not saying that Chinese books are not as legitimate as English books by categorizing them separately for example. They aren't even saying anything at all beyond "for people who are looking for Chinese books, go to this section."

And while exposing the average citizen to comics is a nice idea, I personally would like to know how this could be done.

Amen...

Erg's picture

Yeah, that.