A few weeks ago, Gentle Reader, the Glory that is Google Alerts clued me in to the following article in the Winston-Salem Journal by Colleen Long, that offers the opinion that more novelists are moving into comic books because comics are gaining respect in The Academy and in The Mainstream. First, I would be inclined to ask, “What is this ‘Mainstream’ of which I hear so much about?” but rather than consider the Distinction between Tastes (gratitude, Mr. Bourdieu), I rather would like to consider the Distinction people continuously make between Popular Culture and “Real” Literature.
Constant Readers (and you know Who You Are, and how much You Are Adored, Friends!) of Arrogant Self-Reliance know that this is A Hot Topic for This Humble Author. That is to say, I work in The Academy, and I exist in The Mainstream, and I couldn’t agree more that comic books, and thus by extension other hot items of popular culture such as television shows, movies, etc., are deserving of the same sort of criticism we direct towards novels considered “Literature.” Why, you may ask? Well, because writers like Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and Wilkie Collins were the Stephen Kings, Barbara Michaelses, and Neil Gaimans of their day. Because that which Entertains Us, Reflects Us, ad nauseam, all the time.
I have taught comic books, and yes, I mean both Graphic Novels and Super Hero Comic Books, and I have been taught comic books, and yes, I mean both Graphic Novels and Super Hero Comic Books. And I am A Fangirl, existing within A Fandom, adoring Super Hero Comics so much that I write on this blog faithfully about Said Heroes. I work in Both Arenas of Comic Book Fandom, and I feel that We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Fans, do ourselves a disservice every time we insist comic books are not to be taken seriously.
There have been myriads of dialogues opened the past few months, Gentle Reader, that have discussed the importance of race, sexuality, gender, identification, authenticity, age, image, presentation, etc. in comic books today. I am overwhelmed with joy when I see the wealth of discussion happening about comics, because that means comic books Are Being Taken Seriously. The moment we relegate our comics to “mere pop culture” is the moment we disengage ourselves from the dialogues they spark, the joy they produce, the value that we, as fans, have in our fandoms.
But still, I have seen some argue that comic books are fun, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. And since this argument seems to come up in response to dialogue sparked when a fan finds something in a comic book, or on a cover, in a marketable piece of fandom, or other such places Worthy of Discussion, both Good and Not-So-Good, I begin to suspect it is a way of divorcing our Entertainment from Critical Discussion.
I have argued this before and I likely will do it again, but truly, Friends, I believe, Very Strongly, that Our Popular Culture says as much about Us, As People, as our High Art, our Canonical Literature, our Orchestral Music. Particularly as the past 150 years or so have seen A True Rise in the Forms of Popular Culture.
There are so many reasons that my Major Field of Study is Victorian Literature and my Subfields of Study are Popular Culture, Science Fiction, Fashion, and Feminist Theory. I believe all of these fields marry, and marry in
And lest we forget, Friends, most of These Canonical Novels were Serialized, too.
Weekly or monthly serialization does not strip a title of its worth or importance. Otherwise, where would Charles Dickens’ novels be? Or George Eliot’s? Or Elizabeth Gaskell’s? What, then, will our Great-Great-Great Grandchildren think of Our Literatures? Certainly they will canonize graphic novels like V for Vendetta or The Watchmen, but, and I truly believe this, Gentle Reader, some Super Hero Collections will be canonical, too. Superman: Red Son, for example, or Identity Crisis, not to mention Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon, Green Arrow: Quiver, Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, or Hellboy: Seed of Destruction.
Let us embrace these dialogues that question and critique our popular cultures. Let us spark our own dialogues about the importance of fashion in the DC Universe, or the role of minorities in the X-Men. Let us enjoy all facets of Our Popular Cultures, even those facets that spark debate.
Perhaps especially those facets that spark debate.