"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In Defense of Comics

Within the past few weeks, I have had a couple of conversations concerning the merit of graphic novels. Some people seem to think that they are worthless, mind numbing nonsense. Sure, there are plenty of silly comic strips out there, but there are also some really beautiful, thought provoking and informative ones as well.

The stories in comics, if done well, transport you inside of the cartoonist’s psyche. You step inside the writer’s brain and experience their unique perspective of the events at hand. They combine visual and literary disciplines to create an almost cinematic experience for the reader.

Maybe it’s the 5 year-old inside of me that refuses to grow up and out of picture books, but I believe that some of the comics and graphic novels out there today are so sophisticated and well crafted. Try picking up a book by Chris Ware and not be moved by the melancholic, achingly lonely characters, not to mention the geometrically precise, spare compositions and gorgeous color palette. Or try picking up any R. Crumb comic and not fall in love with the geeky, hysterical, sex-obsessed cartoonist. See if you can read any Alison Bechdel books and not be impressed by her intelligence and her keen sense of detail and historical accuracy. These writers inspire me to make art, to put something beautiful out in the world and I am immensely appreciative of it.

And if you still doubt the quality of these books, look back to William Blake, illuminated manuscripts, or, hell, even the cave paintings in Lascaux. Since the dawn of time, humans have created images that portray some sort of narrative. These artists, like modern-day cartoonists, felt a strong inclination to describe events with words and pictures, and I believe that it is a wonderful means of expression and a worthy art form.

In a related note, we have two fantastic books by Art Spiegelman in the store. “BREAKDOWNS: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!” is a delightful collection of comics from the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of Maus.
We also received a new collection of Spiegelman’s books, “Be a Nose”, recently published by McSweeney’s. These little books contain some really great sketches from Spiegelman’s personal journals. Check them out!!!


Caroline said...

Thank you Hilary! This is a great post and a great intro to graphic novels. I think most people who are critical of the medium have not read it recently. I am currently reading Watchmen and am really enjoying it. I love Bechdel, too, and was very moved by Blankets- by Craig Thompson. Really beautiful work.

Anonymous said...

Love your post, Hilary. I've been a fan of comics my whole life & think the variety available now is mind-boggling. Pogo is still one of my heros, and his creator & illustrator Walt Kelly's comments on society were funny, literary, and sometimes a bit sad. I might even go a bit further with what you wrote and say that silly isn't bad either. Sometimes sill is exactly what the world needs. Krazy Kat, for example, is amazing! (Fantographics has some fantastic, beautiful editions, btw).

Will Magid said...

Awesome Post Hilary!