TIM MARTIN shows that comic books are not just for nerds.
How Comic Books became part of the literary establishment
Like science fiction, this is a medium with its roots in pulp and the alternative: for every scholar who attempts to trace the history of sequential art back to pre-Columbian parchment or the Bayeux Tapestry, there will be 50 diehards who claim it all started with Superman. Like science fiction, comics have spent a long time keeping their distance from what is seen as the mainstream of literature: both disciplines have had their moments of self-consciousness and post-modern reflexivity, and have begun a cautious rapprochement with the mainstream.
The central misconception around comics is the idea that they’re a genre, not a medium. The roots of 20th-century popular comics may well be in genre fiction: we’re all familiar with the zap-pow-whoppery of early superhero comics, whose campy cadences were deftly caught in the old Adam West television adaptations of Batman, and with the use of “comic-book” as an adjective synonymous with primary-coloured morality and cartoon violence. But although superhero stories are still as active a part of the comics medium as its other ancestor, the “funny papers” strip cartoon, many creators and artists have devoted years of energy and talent to guiding the medium out of its generic constraints.
What Scott McCloud, the critic and cartoonist, attempted to categorise in Understanding Comics – perhaps the medium’s best work of literary criticism, and itself a comic – as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response”, now comprehends a rainbow of genres: history, criticism, biography, crime, sci-fi, romance, memoir, the classics, literary fiction, blogging, pornography and more. All in words and pictures.
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Image: From Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs (Credit)