>In modern culture the blurring of lines between genres, or indeed the format they’re distributed in, is not only prevalent, it’s increasing.
The advent of the graphic novel elevated comics away from the ‘Zap’ ‘Pow’ world of underpants worn on the outside, and childish visions of superpowers solving the world’s problems with a wave of an atomic fist. Books like Maus and Palestine were unashamedly political and sombre in view, mixing humour and pathos together as life is want to do, and never once falling into parody or over-sentimentality.
Whether comics are literature is a difficult question to answer, as literature gets a very broad sweep of the brush sometimes, as if it’s true to say that any text-based book is literature. Clearly this isn’t true. Many books are total rubbish, even those purporting to be literature are quite clearly not so. Not as far as the common usage of the word goes anyway. Ideas of literature are fairly generalised nowadays, but intrinsically the word is bound up in an image of Dickens, Steinbeck, Lawrence, Kafka, Murdoch, Hemmingway, Kipling, Kerouac etc etc, all sitting around drinking coffee and being awfully clever to one-another.
So, can comics echo this? Or rather, can they do as good a job, or better?
I’m yet to see a fully-blown argument which effectively presents both sides of this quandry. A quandry which really only exists for comic fans who feel let down by their intellectual enemies, or friends in point of fact, who won’t regard comics as anything other than the underpants and zap-pow brigade of unimportant cartoons that don’t move. But a quandry nevertheless, especially when you’ve got Watchmen being feted as one of the best 100 novels of all time by TIME magazine, not graphic novel mind you, but novel.
I know that younger readers, as with young readers of anything, won’t pick up comics because they’re cerebral, but then comics can be more ‘outthere’ at the same time because they’ve got a less intellectually critical audience. Not that comic readers are stupid, far from it, but they don’t all approach comics for that intelligencia hit, the one that people who read Gravity’s Rainbow get when they don’t even understand the looping, wandering text. Comics have the added advantage of starting and finishing plots quickly, and having pictures to chivvy things along, so they’re less of a bore if things aren’t happening at the speed you’d like. And, they’re easy to revisit if you didn’t quite ‘get it’ the first time round. Try reading Ulysses twice in a fortnight, you can do it with The Authority.
I love books. I’m a book fiend. I own thousands of books, literally. But I will stare down anyone who claims comics are trite and unimportant. I say that that person hasn’t read one for a long time, if not ever, and should really give it a go