Jennifer de Guzman looks at the ongoing literary debate and calls for higher criticism.
We don’t see more literary quality in comics being published today because too few critics treat comics as serious literature and art, critically reading and judging them without reference to non-literary works who happen to share the same format. I’m disappointed when I see “cultural critics” like Jeff Jensen, who recently wrote an essay in Entertainment Weekly about his love of comics, elevating the very genre that keeps comics from being taken seriously: superhero comics. (I know, I know, we don’t look to EW for high culture, but, really, was that the best they could give comics?) True comics advocates are not glorified fanboys. If the image of comics in society is that of source material for the latest summer blockbuster, why would anyone who wants to produce something of literary and artistic merit turn to comics as their medium? We’re lucky to get the few creators we have who have looked for and recognize literary merit in comics and endeavor to emulate it. If we’re going to get more of them, we need comics critics who treat the medium seriously, who, instead of glorifying the comics of their childhood and adolescence, know how to read comics and write about from as real literary critics.
Actually, I think this is beginning to be remedied a bit, with regular, consistent and higher-level online comics criticism from the Savage Critic Gang, the ongoing explorations at Comics Comics, Tom’s regular reviews, and so on. Blog Flume has posted some very good in-depth looks at craft, and there are other voices beginning to emerge—I’ll refrain from making a list because I’m sure to leave someone out. As more and more comics come out, more and more people want reliable, informed judgments on these huge piles of comics. It seems the next step is for more trusted authorities to collate these views — or what we used to call editorial supervision.
On a related note, Mark Andrews analyses Dick Hyacinth’s Top 10 over at the CBR blog, and wonders why EXIT WOUNDS topped so many lists:
Well, it’s a great book, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the one I would have guessed would be received as THE GREATEST WORK OF THE YEAR by the critical hive-mind. It’s a different kind of good than the labyrinthian narrative wizardry of Fun Home, or the jaw dropping art of Black Hole. A quiet, distanced story like this one about the small battles played out against the sweeping tide of history feels like a completely different kettle o’ chowdah.
Tell you the truth, I’m kinda stumped why this book is so well received. Ask me again in ten years, when I’ve got some historical background. But, heck, it’s always nice to see really good books being celebrated.
My own guess would be that it’s because the book so clearly embodies the kind of literary qualities that so many seem to be calling for. Everyone more or less reached that conclusion on their own, as opposed to comparing it to some canonical chart, which isn’t a bad thing.
At any rate, this yearning for good criticism that de Guzman exemplifies seems to be one of the major streams bubbling around the water cooler-sphere these days. And many web sites seem to be joining the fray to become new collators of thought. No one has quite broken from the pack yet.
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