18 May 2009

Comic Books: All Grown Up (Part 1)

Now, comics are not necessarily comic books, and comic books may be in fact be graphic novels, and comics may be made into cartoons and cartoons into comics, but they are not the same thing. It's all a bit confusing, so I will explain a little.

First, there are comic strips (think, Peanuts), a newspaper staple that, like all things newspaper, are in decline and fighting to survive. But they are finding a second life online and loads of them may now be found on Comics.com.

Comic books are more than long-form comic strips, and most are not funny at all. And, while they used to be directed exclusively to preadolescents and adolescents, they now are published for an older demographic and are very diverse in style and content. Many are not about superheroes at all, or are even anti-superhero (The Watchmen), and most people have probably seen movies based on "comic books" and had no idea that was the source. One director even made a movie based on a comic and did not know that fact at the time (David Cronenberg and A History of Violence).

Since "comic book" is a misnomer and (often wrongly) connotes juvenile pulps, many of these modern, serious and mature works (at least in collected or longer form) are called "graphic novels." But that term is clunky and a little controversial, as much an effort to sound serious and mature, and a marketing ploy to reach mature readers, as anything else. So I just stick with "comics," by which I mean all illustrated serials and novellas, ranging from Maus to Spider-man to Archie. Illustration is really their only commonality—"comics is a medium, not a genre."

Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer-winning Maus, a biography of his father's survival of the Holocaust, is a stellar example of the modern "graphic novel," which unites the countercultural and mature subjects of underground and independent comics with the more popular style of mainstream comics.


No comments: