Friday, June 22, 2007

I'm a Grownup and I Read Comics

And not just those hoity toity "graphic novels," although that's my current medium of choice. I actually like a few of the strips (who doesn't love Bloom County, Outland, Calvin and Hobbes, Get Fuzzy, The Boondocks, and For Better or Worse?), and have a vague nostalgia for flipping through my brothers' superhero comic books as a kid (Spiderman, Batman, X-Men).

I read the strips only occasionally (don't subscribe to a local paper, and am trying to reduce the number of things I read online), and satisfy my nostalgia with the usually disappointing summer blockbusters. But yes, I am waiting for The Dark Knight. Beats waiting for the White Knight, and I'm too post-colonial for that. But I do like coming up with loser superhero names (Anti-Climatic Man!) and reading about failed superheroes.

A few (obvious) graphic novel loves for a girl who loves the nerdy underdog and such sad-sack narratives:

Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth.

Adrian Tomine: Summer Blonde.

Daniel Clowes: Ghost World.

The graphic version of Paul Auster's City of Glass.

There are many others, and I have some good collections, but I'll save that for another day. You know, after I have some more money to buy some more books and more time to write the book reviews.

Until then, here's excerpts an article from Salon, that makes me feel abashed at my high falutin', prissy elitist, bordering-on-hipster poseur proclaimed love for "graphic novels" (but really, I like the strips and books too!):

Comic Fans, Grow Up!

The class implications of "graphic novel" almost instantly led to the term's thorough debasement. As a ten-dollar phrase, it implies that the graphic novel is serious in a way that the lowly comic book isn't. That, of course, leaves it open to being co-opted by anybody who wants to dress up their inept little drawings in a jacket and tie, which is why shitty forty-eight-page superhero stories started to be sold as "graphic novels" within a few years of the appearance of "A Contract with God" -- 1983's "Super Boxers" could have killed off the prestige of any term attached to the form.

Even so, to this day, people talk about "graphic novels" instead of comics when they're trying to be deferential or trying to imply that they're being serious. There's always a bit of a wince and stammer about the term; it plays into comics culture's slightly miserable striving for "acknowledgment" and "respect." It's hard to imagine what kind of cultural capital the American comics industry (and its readership) is convinced that it's due and doesn't already have. Perhaps the comics world has spent so long hating itself that it can't imagine it's not still an underdog. But demanding (or wishing for) a place at the table of high culture is an admission that you don't have one; the way you get a place at the table of high culture is to pull up a chair and say something interesting.

What's actually happening in culture at large is more like everyone trying to jump on the comics bandwagon -- as a 2004 New Yorker cartoon's caption put it, "Now I have to pretend to like graphic novels, too?" The medium's new enemies are internal: the much less casual snobbery of the commercial mainstream and the art-comics world toward each other, and cartoonists' nostalgic yearning for the badness of the bad old days. Reading only auteurist art comics is like being a filmgoer who watches only auteurist art cinema, but more than a few art-comics enthusiasts wouldn't dream of picking up a mainstream comic book, even as entertainment. Likewise, plenty of superhero buffs can't imagine being interested in some actionless black-and-white independent comic.

Go to your nearest comic bookstore today! Mine is only a block away. Man, I love living in Liberal College City in Awesome Part of the Country.


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