Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Funny books

I've grown weary of the term "graphic novel".

The release of Watchmen seems to have brought out the overuse and the expression of it as somehow more "proper" than whatever other term someone might use.

Joe Hill recently posted a series of comments on Twitter about the general inadequacy of all the terms in popular use. As I recall, he began with the fact that not all "comic books" are comic. Of course, they aren't all "novels". In fact, not even all thick collections are "novels".

"Graphic novel" bugs me because of its inherent pretension... Manga, in some contexts, does the same... the suggestion that either the speaker believes that "graphic novel" means "better" or that they believe the person their speaking to holds the "graphic novel" in higher esteem or has a connection to the term on some level.

I'm not sure I understand that logic. Novels aren't better than short stories.

I mean, I think I personally have a general preference for novels. But that's not really the same. It's certainly not to say that novels are inherently better.

I mean, really, would you say, "Well, I haven't read that book... Oh, I mean, novel!", would you?

If you answered "Yes", please leave this blog and go drown yourself in a shallow body of water.

None of this iseven getting in to how many of the books people refer to as "graphic novels" manage to qualify as "novels" by any reasonable standard.

And until someone comes up with a general term for that kind of storytelling that's less unwieldy - more wieldy? - than sequential art - and doesn't that term close out The Family Circus and The Far Side as being a different "medium"? - then I'll gladly join in.

Until then, which I reasonably expect to be forever, I'll stick to "comic books" as a general term. I will use it much like I use "books" to describe all manner of books unless there is a need to clarify if this "book" is fiction, non-fiction, long, short, a collection of works or originally written and published in Japan. Luckily, most of the time, I manage to not confuse people when I mention the word "book".


Ed Howard said...

I generally just call 'em comics, though I think sequential art is a great descriptive term, even if it does separate strips from single-panel cartoons.

Graphic novel is a problematic term for all the obvious reasons, but it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, and if it helps some people feel better about reading comics, well, no harm done. Whatever.

Neil Sarver said...

I appreciate the notion behind "sequential art" and the quest for an accurate description, but unfortunately it, like most of the others I've run into, are only slightly more accurate and would leave one in the position of explaining what they're talking about every time.

I agree that "graphic novel" isn't going anywhere. And I, in principle, agree regarding people feeling better reading comics.

But then it also creates a bullshit impression. I mean, I just read the Young Liars: Daydream Believer and you won't be convincing me any day soon that it's better than Fantastic Four #51 or Four Color #456... just as, what is for me this moment, an easy example. So, while I'm glad to have new readers around and I'm glad they're reading things that don't involve superheroes and funny animals, as the medium needs a wider selection of ideas, they also bring some bullshit ideas with them.

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