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December 22, 2008

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Reclaiming Comics

Gavin at Wordwright wants the word back:

“Graphic novel” is not any more descriptive, and worse in that it implies fictional content to the detriment of memoir, travelogue, reportage, etc., which is where you find some of the most interesting work being currently done—Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Lucy Knisley, perhaps?

I always thought that “graphic novel” was best used more as a material classification than a thematic one — it’s a standalone, extended-length treatment with a stiffer cover, while “comic books” are shorter and serial. But that doesn’t get around the valorization of fiction. Hmm. Could we just tack on the generic marker to the end, like “graphic memoir”? Of course, now it sounds like something by Anaļs Nin. Blėrg.

I like “comics” in part because I like the affinity between the comic book and the comic strip — and “cartoon,” which could either mean strips or animation, has its own problems. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that while I like comic books, especially the archetypal stories and characters they engender, I love comic strips even more. And “graphic strip” is even worse than “graphic memoir.”

At all points we’re besotted with and dumbfounded by language! In the end, I think we’ve got to give up attempts to engineer the thing, and accept that the terms we have are a hodgepodge with their own contradictions and unfair connotations, but a lot of wisdom too.

What do you guys think?

Posted December 22, 2008 at 9:26 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Comics


Ugh. What a bind. We really messed this one up from the beginning... thanks to the weird history of comics (sic) in America, we got a word like "comics," and its accompanying narrow definition. By contrast, Japan got "manga" and its accompanying broad definition.

Definitional trouble aside, I don't even like the word "comic," or the term "comic book." They're not, like, attractive in the mouth.

I agree that "graphic novel" doesn't cut it at all. Two words, total clunker, too narrow.

Actually, could we just call it all manga? It's a beautiful word, and it means exactly what we want it to mean: content made out of serial juxtaposed images.

Manga is a beautiful word.

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