Tardi jacques adele blanc sec~300~10051 20100605 1770 591“I think a solid core of high-selling mainstream-y genre comics would be nice, but it really hasn’t happened (except for arguably the manga phenomenon, and I don’t get the impression that the success of manga has bled back into non-manga comics) and “art comics” have achieved enough big successes now (Persepolis in particular) that we may be stuck with the image of book-sized graphic novels as being serious literary work… or archival collections of initially mainstream work that have since acquired the patina of art. (It’s weird to see the Onion AV Club list reprints of comic strips like Peanuts and Popeye in their “art comics” review section given that these strips were originally read by an audience two or three orders of magnitude larger than whoever is reading the “mainstream” comics. But that’s one of the paradoxes of culture for you.) I don’t think American comics will ever have a Stieg Larsson or Stephen King. I know even Art Spiegelman is now pining for more vulgar, populist fare to shake out some of the graphic novel stuffiness (which he realizes he himself is to a large degree responsible for!) but it may just not be in the cards. We may be stuck with comics as art.”
–Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson in a thorough, similarly frank, and informed interview at The Comics Reporter


  1. Persepolis isn’t an “art comic”, it’s a “literary comic”. Persepolis isn’t interested in using arty techniques to tell the story, it’s a story using abstract artowrk to service the story.

    Art Comics are almost a cliched category, just like bio-comics were a decade ago. I completely support everyone making an art comic, but most of what I see at SPX and the America’s Best Comics anthology do not interest me, either in art or story.

    I think we could have a bestselling graphic novelist, but judging that becomes more difficult as the paradigm shifts.

    Readers, if you had to create a graphic novel subcategory under “Fiction” at a bookstore, which titles would you select? Love and Rockets?

  2. Torsten,
    “Art” is an extremely loaded word, as it can mean “that stuff you produce with pencils and brushes etc.” AND “the stuff that’s better than mere junk” AND “the totality of human expressive endeavor.”

    If I had to guess, I’d hazard that the above use of “art books” is in category #2. POPEYE and PEANUTS do demonstrate the mutability of the art/junk categories, though.

    One big problem in marketing comics to a big audience in the current culture is that as yet it’s hard to sell them as communicating something that potential audience-members can’t get elsewhere. If you emphasize the “visual art” aspect of comics, most people get their visual fix from films. If you emphasize the “literary art” aspect of comics, most people get their literary fix from books.

    That a “mature graphic novel” market even exists bids the eyebrows raise. But the main reason that you won’t see a Larssen or a King in comic books is because authors of such talents can make better money elsewhere.

  3. How well have adaptations of prose stories succeeded at reproducing the content of the originals? Have any adaptations ever been better than the originals by, say, avoiding stylistic problems? If a comics-format story works, there’s no point in translating it into another format — the balance between the artwork and the text couldn’t be maintained.


  4. Well, is literature an art?

    I suspect that the general public, they consider good storytelling which expresses universal experiences to be “literature” and not “art”.

    With comics, which use words and pictures, it can be Art and Literature at the same time.

    So there can be Literature comics, which strive via storytelling.

    There are Art comics, which strive via illustration.

    Both subjects tend to be ignored by the general public. The public doesn’t understand them, or it’s too strange a topic. A masterpiece will take art and literature and hide it behind an immersive story, unnoticed upon the first experience.

    There are books which try too hard to be literature, and these end up on the discount racks. (Most novels of the past twenty years or so.) Look at most of the Nobel laureates. How many are still read or sold? But then, the same can be said of bestsellers, many of which are read and forgotten a year after the movie adaptation screens.

    There are art exhibits which the critics love, but few go to see. Then there are the popular exhibits designed to bring people into the museums. Both serve the general mission of the museum.

    I think the same can be said for comics. Fantagraphics has all three categories: crowd pleasers (Eros), art/literature (Tardi), and popular masterpieces (Schulz, Barks, EC). Perhaps the art and literature comics will gain acceptance years later, just as the popular comics stories of Barks, Wood, Schulz have been appreciated for their mastery.

  5. Torsten, if you’re ever wondering if the comic your holding is “art” or “literary”, try to remember this; which is more important, the story the cartoonist is trying to tell or or the concepts the cartoonist is trying to visually represent.

    Or, (to make it easier), if It’s an off size and carried by Barnes and Nobles than it is probably a literary comic.

  6. I would be nice if comics had the neat distinction between literary fiction and commercial fiction, aka genre fiction, that the prose world does. The increasing number of adaptations and the rare OGN by a best-selling prose author might help bring that about. Otherwise, there aren’t enough commercial fiction OGNs aimed at adults for a good-sized market. The problem with generating a market for commercial fiction OGNs might be explaining to an accomplished prose author how the artwork benefits his storytelling. If a reader’s reactions to the artwork are separate from the reactions to the other elements of the story, how does the prose writer adjust to that, if an adjustment is necessary?

    Many people tend to regard appreciation for the artwork as a reason in itself for reading something, so people who are complaining about poor superhero stories will be advised to read _____ or ______, which are as unrelated to superhero comics as the most exotic literary fiction would be. But if appreciating the artist’s work requires education in art or great familiarity with graphic fiction generally, the work will be as remote as many literary fiction works are.


  7. Whatever they are considered by the comics academia does not remedy the fact comics are a still a niche to the general public and digital sales will only be proportionate to book sales.
    most of the comics that have been released this decade were for comics-lovers and the many times I tried to get people to read a comic it was hard to suggest Asterios Polyp, Essex County, or even Habibi(in all its cotton candy glory) to someone cause its so vastly distant from what people like to read/understand. Part of the problem is imo the moronic push for “Mature Graphic Novels” over Children and Genre comics, what the medium in its “glory days” was all about. in the last and recent decade of film the highest grossing films were genre, people know what to expect in a genre piece and are less apprenhensive to buying it cause “Oh it’s a western! I like/don’t like westerns!”.
    When people hear Steig Larrson they think “thriller” and King has been dubbed the “Master of Horror” even if they worked in other genres. Can we rly say Craig Thompson=Love Stories? No.
    One genre which I think has alot of untapped potential would be Sports. I can see a well marketed football comic selling in droves or even a sports comics anthology. Its a matter of looking at what people enjoy in their daily lives and the art will follow.

  8. Kids graphic novels will explode in the next few years, driven by librarians and educators. I’d love to see a series of graphic novels like Matt Christopher’s sports titles. (And they do exist, over in manga… Geez… Hikaru No Go is up to 23+ volumes in the U.S.)

    Sports Illustrated Kids has a series via Coughlan, which are enjoyable, but not big sellers.

    Kids GNs is where you’ll see the genre stuff emerge. Librarians and kids love genres… “I liked this book, do you have anything similar?” Remember Harry Potter? Remember how that genre exploded while kids waited for the next volume? That happens everyday, in a lot of small, one-on-one recommendations.

    Same thing happened with A Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

    Harlequin romance manga is selling well as e-books via Digital Manga Publishing. (Harlequin is a master of genre, and marketing books to specific demographics.)

    With the new market for digital and tablet comics, you’ll see an explosion of genre as people produce comics they want to read. Some might be fanfiction, but look at Comiket… and how many professionals came from those comic circles. If Jeff Kinney can do it…