Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The New Literature

How many of you out there read comics? What about newspaper cartoons? Graphic novels? Manga? Any sort of illustrated narrative at all?

After seeing the successes of Bill Watterson, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Harvey Pekar, I'm starting to believe that comics have a future as our new printed medium. It used to be scribbles on walls, stone columns and other frieze-type things. Then came scrolls, followed by hand-written hand-bound books. Eventually printing came about and since that time we've been cranking out page after page of type-set material to read.

The transmission of information started out as oral, but as technology progressed it has become visual. Now as we move into this new millenium pure text cannot convey enough anymore, fast enough anymore. We need more information, more associations. We need a new narrative.

I think that comics are it. The new literature has arrived.

Starting all the way back with Krazy Kat, comics have been influencing our culture until its culmination with Schulz's The Peanuts. Since then, the door has been wide open, from Calvin & Hobbes to Sin City or American Splendour. Even lowbrow manga and cartoons have become increasingly more responsible for the transmission of our world's myths and legends. Enculturation comes with panels instead of chapters now, folks.

Some might argue that comics (I use the term broadly to include all types of illustrated narratives) will NEVER replace classics such as the Iliad or Paradise Lost, and maybe not even less literary pillars like Catcher in the Rye, Crime & Punishment, The Great Gatsby, or Cat's Cradle. Comics are too mundane, too easily swayed by the demands of their audience. A graphic novel is just a fancy word for cheap newspaper pulp bound into a hard-cover with a dust-jacket. Manga, webcomics, and other cartoons are entertainment for the masses. They have no "artistic value".

But remember, the things that Homer wrote weren't even his stories originally. He totally stole them from a much older oral tradition before compiling them into two huge works. Note also that what Homer "wrote" was at the time ENTERTAINMENT instead of so-called "classics". Milton and Dante both wrote their work bordering on heresy. Something that academia seems to forget is that avant-garde becomes old-hat over time. What was once lowbrow is suddenly status-quo.

I say to them: read these.

Even webcomics have started to make an impression, both for their greater artistic creativity and content that reflects our modern, technologically-influenced zeitgiest.

(Sorry for the deluge of images, but I just wanted to give you as varied a selection of comics as I could find the patience to assemble in the two hours I spent writing this post.)

Anyhoo... so sure, maybe Tolstoy or Steinbeck are irreplaceable pieces of humanity's literature NOW, but give it a few more decades/centuries/millenia/whatever and then we'll see what's being called "classic" and what's nonexistent.

There may come a time when we'll learn about radical politics from V For Vendetta, and discover the struggle of man against fate from Berserk. Instead of the Aeneid or Theogony they'll use Neil Gaiman's Sandman to explore ancient mythology and legend.

I for one, cannot wait.

8 footnotes:

isityouorme? said...

comics definitely have a place in society as a whole. I don't know if they'd be able to replace regular books though. I like using my imagination. I used to be into manga and anime in high school. Now I mostly read for school with the occasional fun book thrown in. I have been reading Promethea by Alan Moore recently. I just ordered the next couple of books in the series. Can't wait for them to get here :)

Zek J. Evets said...

i'm not so sure. i mean, soon enough there won't be any BOOKS in libraries - just a bunch of electronic displays or computers. the novelty of having a bound book probably will be around for as long as we can use the paper it takes to make 'em, but i don't think they'll be the dominant form of visual/printed information/entertainment for forever.

that said, you need to read more books for fun! i always side with my own personal reading desires over those of school.

i haven't read promethea... is it good? i'm guessing so.

Jacque said...

Have you read Watchmen? It was better than most of the books I've read. Also Maus by Art Spiegelman. I think there's a huge difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. Graphic Novels are good, comic books are cheesy. So hopefully Graphic Novels becaome the new literature. (Sorry to knock comic books, but when I think of them I think of big-boobed super heroines and men in tights)

Zek J. Evets said...

i have read watchmen. (and not just because the movie is coming out soon.) maus was AMAZING. i bought the two-volume set after i heard umberto eco talking about it in some random interview.

the terms graphic novel and comic books seem to me to be the EXACT SAME THING. people didn't starting talking about "graphic novels" until frank miller's dark knight.

i understand why you'd make the distinction, but to me there's no difference between the two than there is between book that we read in classrooms and those that are on the new york times' bestseller list. they're just degrees of what's "good enough" to get a better nomenclature.

i'm old enough to remember when it was all just called comic books. maybe it means i'm too old-fashioned like that, but it's hard for me to COMPLETELY ignore the comic books by Bill Watterson, Stephan Pastis, Scott Adams, and Robert Crumb. I mean, not ALL comic books are just men in tights. Some of them wear jeans, y'know?

Jacque said...

But those people write comic strips. Maybe it's just me but reading a book of comic strips is different than reading a comic book. I like Calvin and Hobbes, The Boondocks, etc. I read online comics all the time. But when I hear "Comic Book" I immediately think of Batman and Superman. Just as your age makes you group them all under comic books, maybe my youth makes me categorize them. Or maybe I'm just being difficult?

Zek J. Evets said...

well, fritz the cat by crumb is actually a comic book, and harvey pekar's american splendour is too.

i mean, alan moore and neil gaiman have both talked about their scorn for the term.

as a term for works like persepolis or maus, it definitely applies in my mind. but as an all-inclusive category it sounds a bit pompous and misleading.

either way, you're not being difficult - just different, which is okay.

p.s. why can't people leave comments on your blog?

isityouorme? said...

Yeah everything will be electronic one day. I don't thing I'll want to change though. I <3 paperbacks.

I know. I used to read all the time. But reading for school has kind of burned me out. Plus I think my attention span has shrunk. I've got books I want read but I just don't have time right now. I have about 17 books I have read this semester.

Promethea is great! I finished the first book the same day I got it. I order the next three yesterday so they'll be here soon.

Jacque said...

I didn't know about the comment thing. It didn't even cross my mind. I fixed it, thank you.

Ew, Fritz the Cat is gross.
I understand what you're saying...but I'll stick to what I think. I hear you though.