Thursday, September 07, 2006

Earning Respect

No matter how much they get mainstreamed, graphic novels still have a long way to go when it comes to being respected by the general public. Sara Nelson's "Foreword" aka editorial in Publishers Weekly's August 28, 2006 issue made that point.

The graphic work in question is Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon's The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation and it hasn't been without controversy. In Nelson's words, re: the creators's appearance on the Today Show:
"...A setup to their interview showed a relative of a WTC victim declaring the book 'inappropriate." The comcic-book format, she and others went on to say, was just too flimsy or silly or unserious to cover this ultra-serious and very tragic event."
Nelson goes on to mention the ultra-seriousness of another topic, the Holocaust, that formed the basis for Art Spiegelman's Maus which won the Pulitzer Prize.

I didn't see the Today Show with Jacobson and Colon (I don't ever watch the show as I need to travel to work while it's on), but Nelson tells us that they explained their purpose was to make the 9/11 Commission Report, a rather weighty report, accessible to younger people and anyone else put off by the sheer size of the thing. She can't argue with that thinking and neither can I.

Why does it remain a part of the public psyche that if it has pictures and is on paper, it's less than serious, less than important, less than meaningful? Why do people persist in the old way of thinking that comic books are for kids, mainly kids who haven't "graduated" to picture-less text?

Nelson calls the graphic adaptation "bold, factual and extraordinarily creative," saying "It's a step forward in an industry that should welcome all the newthink it can get." I say, I agree. And I hope it continues the work Maus did in bringing the graphic format to a wider audience.

Comics already have to battle for an audience. With so much competition from online entertainments, movies, DVDs, gaming, and the like, comics -- the ones still printed on paper -- have to find new readers. There are two good ways to do that. Get younger readers hooked for life and hook the older reader who either used to read comics or never cared for them to try a more adult title and hope they like what they read and see enough to keep buying.

I never outgrew comics because I've always loved visual media. TV and movies and comics fit that description. I'll always love text only books, but there is nothing quite so thrilling as a story told in a perfect blend of words and pictures. If only more people can come to see their beauty, too.


  1. I think this has something to do with a lack of respect people have for illustration. They think if soemthing ahs pictures in it, that those pictures are only there because the reader has trouble with the words.

    I remember an Army Tech Order we had in one of the USAF offices I worke din. It had instructions in comic format. Everyone took it as an opportunity to make fun of Army grunts, rather than point out just how smart it was for their leadership to design instructions in such a clear format.

  2. Right. And I think a lot has to do with illustration being a way to teach reading, via picture books and the like. As if pictures are training wheels for actual reading.

    And yet, people have no problems with magazines and they're full of pictures.