Tony Long, copy chief at WIRED, comes right out and says it: comics aren’t good enough to get nominated for the National Book Award:
Gene Luen Yang is a teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who also happens to be a fine illustrator. He produced a graphic novel (or “comic book,” as we used to call them), American Born Chinese, which has been nominated for a National Book Award in the young people’s literature category.
I have not read this particular “novel” but I’m familiar with the genre so I’m going to go out on a limb here. First, I’ll bet for what it is, it’s pretty good. Probably damned good. But it’s a comic book. And comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards, in any category. That should be reserved for books that are, well, all words.
This is not about denigrating the comic book, or graphic novel, or whatever you want to call it. This is not to say that illustrated stories don’t constitute an art form or that you can’t get tremendous satisfaction from them. This is simply to say that, as literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories. It’s apples and oranges.
We’ll note that most “copy chiefs”–at least in our experience–are what are commonly known as “sticklers.” And sticklers like “rules.”
Neil Gaiman (where we first saw this link) has a response. Of course, who would take the word of a crummy, comic-writing Brit?
I suppose if he builds a time machine he could do something about Maus’s 1992 Pulitzer, or Sandman’s 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, or Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan winning the 2001 Guardian First Book Award, or even Watchmen’s appearance on Time’s Hundred Best Novels of the 20th Century list. Lacking a Time Machine, it seems a rather silly and antiquated argument, like hearing someone complain that women have the vote or that be-bop music and crooners are turning up in the pop charts.
I like the bit where he says that he hasn’t read the comic in question, but he just knows what things like that are like. It’s always best to be offended by things you haven’t read. That way you keep your mind uncluttered by things that might change it.