Paul Pope blogs at the First Second website:

Each facet of the comics medium is important and deserves its own special consideration, but it’s the writing in comics I’m thinking about right now. I often wonder why we don’t see more literary quality in the comics being published today, why we don’t have a John Steinbeck or Robert Penn-Warren in our medium, authors who can unfold a filagreed theme across an extended storyline and touch on that ineffable shade we call “the human condition.” Where are our Sam Hamiltons, our Willie Starks, our Jack Burdens, our Cal Trasks? It may simply be that good writing is rare. It is also entirely possible that most comics creators are simply unconcerned with developing literary themes in their work, favoring instead sweeping epics of good versus evil, populating their paper worlds with colorfully costumed heroes and villans invested with very little psychological complexity or self-awareness. It may be that most people who are attracted to the medium want very little more out of life than to draw pretty pictures, tell exciting, splashy stories, and get paid for it.


  1. its so easy to sit on your ass and aks why dont we have dis or dat
    either do something if you have the ability or stop bitching about it jdt
    no shit there are few if any good writers
    why dont you read a book an imagine the wittle pictures if you have to
    maybe good writers dont feel the need for pictures
    never have i heard such an elitist spoiled bitch consumerist rant
    poor poopie

  2. Pope writes: “It may be that most people who are attracted to the medium want very little more out of life than to draw pretty pictures, tell exciting, splashy stories, and get paid for it.”
    Well, what’s wrong with that? Last I heard, Paul didn’t do his Batman books for free.

  3. Heh, irony.

    There _are_ a few good writers in comics, but just a few.

    I think part of the issue is a lack of good editors in comics. There are some half-decent writers out there who might be a lot better out there if only they had someone to help them hone and polish their work. However a good comics editor can’t merely be concerned with words, but with the entire special language of comics. That’s a rare skill set.

  4. There are definitely great _storytellers_ in comics. They just have yet to be elevated to the same level as the authors he mentions.

    A guy who designs store displays for Fashion Week shouldn’t whine too much about people being attracted to the superficial glamour of comics.

  5. In regards to : Pope writes: “It may be that most people who are attracted to the medium want very little more out of life than to draw pretty pictures, tell exciting, splashy stories, and get paid for it” followed by, “bitch bitch bitch”.

    How many of you read the rest of the article, th whole thing?

    He states, in the very next sentence (follow the link), “There is certainly nothing wrong with those interests (I wholeheartedly share them myself)”.

    Not quite on target, but applicable I think: “How can it be bullshit to state a preference?”

  6. Comics are inherently about visual-storytelling. This best suits a certain type of story.

    Some of the best science-fiction in the last 10 years is the work of Comic writers. Some excellent crime fiction is being published in comics this year, as well.

    Comics are NOT literature, and people need to stop trying to compare them. They are their own art form. They’re written and read in a way unique to the medium. Written prose still moves me more than any other form, but comics are something entirely different. (and something AWESOME lol)

    I guess some people still want more psuedo-intellectual “indie” comics featuring two slackers sitting around in their Brooklyn apartment, smoking cigs, talking sophomoric existential ideas. Many of these “smart comics” turned out to be, well, not so smart. I certainly don’t miss the “my friends are so cool and interesting” comics that flooded shops in 99-00.

  7. Moby-Dick is literature, too. So is War and Peace. Both feature lots of action. Not all literary fiction is imediately recognized as such.

  8. Comics don’t deal with literary themes? Really? Really?

    I mean, I’m sorry if every issue of Detective Comics doesn’t have Batman saving the works of von Mises, but there’s still a decent amount of fertile intellectual ground being plowed by comics of all kinds (superhero, sci-fi, crime, autobio, general interest, etc.)

    I don’t really see where the Invisibles starts and House of Leaves ends on the pretentious-lit-o-meter.

  9. Donny:

    It is actually NOT debatable whether comics are literature. They are.

    Literature includes:

    Poetry (epics, sagas and verses)
    Drama (ie, theatres, plays, scripted acting)
    Prose (novels)

    Comics fall under the “prose” category, I would think, but they’re a mixed breed. Prose written in the fashion of “dramas,” I think. This part is difficult to pin down and I won’t pretend to have it right, but it’s absolutely insane to say that comics are “not literature.”

  10. It seems to me that Paul Pope isn’t reading the right comics. Walt Kelly and Carl Barks touch on the human condition consistently. David Sim unfolds filigreed themes throughout Cerebus–just not themes that a lot of people find palatable (and Dave Sim, though an excellent cartoonist, writes deplorable prose). From Hell by Moore and Campbell certainly sustains a theme and atmosphere. And if you want the “human condition” you don’t have to look any farther than the Maggie stories by Jaime Hernandez.

    Where the hell has Paul Pope been looking? No one’s hiding this stuff from him!

  11. People should really read Pope’s entire post before commenting on a single passage that is taken out of context. He isn’t saying that literary quality and great writing doesn’t exist in comics, just that he wants to see it more. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with that, especially since many of the examples listed above are comics that ceased publication quite a while ago. I think simplifying his argument into a “we need more pretension” one does him quite a disservice.

  12. C’mon people, i feel like writing a blog now against people especially professionals who SKIM and therefore miss da point… jeez, of course PP was being a bit dramatic and extreme to emphasize certain points, and he’d probably be the first to point out many other current graphic novels with literary quality or even race yo to it. The point is keep your eyes on the prize and all strive to raise the whole playing field. If everyone holds hands and hums, we could probably raise the entire field a half-inch… Heh. Anyhoo, Listing exceptions is an irrelevant defensive exercise in response to a call for excellence. That many are already heeding the call, is a good thing, besides the point, and not an effective rebuttal to a piece that was not a criticism but a reminder and call for greatness. No jazz musician gets insecure when someone asks where are the coltranes, where are the birds, its about remembering the heights and reaching for them

  13. I disagree with what Pope says. Yes, good comics are desireable, but to say that prose literature and manga are the answers to look forward to as a model? Well, that’s not only crazy, but contradictatory(sp) in my mind.

  14. Rather than resort to cheap ad hominems, jump to your simple straw-man conclusions, or put your words in my mouth, some of you might have sussed out my whole point if you actually read what I wrote. I clearly define “literary quality” in comics this way:

    “More stories with better art and better writing, always and forever more. Whether it’s a serious meditation on the private life of a family or a madcap ruckus with kooky talking animals, all I care is that it’s a comic story which is done well and it has lasting impact — that’s the literary quality I want to see in a comic.”

    There is a subtle reference to Carl Barks in that passage.

    And J trizzo, whoever you are, if you think I am sitting on my ass, you are out of your f’n mind.

  15. P’owned by P’Pope! Seriously, if one quote offends your sensibilities so much that you consider writing a scathing attack on the Intertubes then maybe you should actually read the damn thing to make sure what you’re taking offense at is really what was meant. It’s like if film critics watched 5 minutes from the middle of a movie and wrote an entire review.

    Maybe part of the problem of what Pope is addressing is that besides the aforementioned works of Barks (and maybe Frank King, Will Eisner a small handful of others), many comics artists from days gone by simply didn’t have enough time or space to develop a subtle and rich story that would qualify it to be considered literary. Most artists of the past were limited to 1-22 page stories which often featured a corporate character who was strictly controlled by editorial. As the medium has progressed I think we’re seeing a lot more of these types of works, though frankly many of the new works aspiring to be considered literature ring a little false like those films obviously designed to win the Oscar which are hailed by critics one year and all but forgotten a couple years down the road.

    While I’m here, I always wanted to let Mr. Pope how much I always wished he’d finish Smoke Navigator! “Clove cigarettes. She smoked clove cigarettes…” Beautiful stuff! And is the Car Crash story (either from DHP or Oni Double Feature, I forget which) going to be collected? I never got all the issues it ran in…

  16. Well, I do admit not reading Paul Pope’s whole blog. I just read the part on The Beat, so that’s what I replied to. I’m afraid I’m too busy trying to be a literary cartoonist to click the link and read it all.

  17. I think he’s mostly asking, why aren’t there literary writers in SUPERHERO comics from the big two instead of comics as a whole.

    The thing is, there are, and he’s too lazy to look for them, just like 90% of all american comic book readers with the same complaint. I never expected him to be that ignorant of what the medium has to offer.

  18. Then again, I should have read his whole blog and his response here before I commented. I’m clearly enjoying my toes now.

  19. The Beat Says:
    12/13/07 at 2:22 pm
    Moby-Dick is literature, too. So is War and Peace. Both feature lots of action. Not all literary fiction is imediately recognized as such.

    Heidi, did you ever read Moby Dick? 99% wordsmithery, 1% action.

  20. Oh, come on Tony. Moby Dick has at least 6% action, what with the long descriptions of the crew processing of blubber for oil and what not. That’s some riveting shit, right there.

  21. Weird to wonder aloud where the literary quality in comics is, and then go on to name a string of absolute literary mediocrities as your high-water marks.

  22. Dan Clowes
    Chris Ware
    Ivan Brunetti
    Kevin H
    Jaime Hernandez
    Gilbert Hernandez
    Charles Burns
    Chester Brown
    Adrian Tomine

  23. I agree with the writer of the blog piece. I think most of these comments are taking a very narrow sheltered view of literature and comics in general. Comic book writing is stuck in a weird puberty, unsure of what it wants to say and how to say it best.