In a late, but worthy, response to my Comic book contest. I asked for a comment or post on “why you think comics are an important art form.” And Ethan offered the following:
I certainly consider comics an important artform. In fact, I find it rather difficult to explain exactly why, because they do not strike me as particularly in need of justification. The illustrations are some of the most vibrant yet accessable visual art being produces nowadays, which shouldn’t be too surprising given that the comic industry is driven by commercial popularity rather than the ideological obsessions of academic art. I think the fact that the visual element in comics is further constrained by a narrative structure also contributes to the vibrancy of the comic art medium.
As to the narrative artistry of comics, it’s nice to see a medium unafraid to draw inspiration from genre literature and other marginalized sources. Of course, this can sometimes have the effect of limiting the narrative possibilities of the medium, but many comic writers avoid this pitfall by also drawing from classic “high” literature. I’m less impressed by the “pulpification” of classical myth in something like Frank Miller’s 300 than I am with the serious Shakespearean thematic elements of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman,, but works of both types inject a much-needed sense of historical tradition into the comic medium. They also valuably remind us that old stories aren’t great because of their inaccessibility but rather because they continue to speak across different times and cultures.
I’m encouraged by the maturation that I think is occurring in the field of comics, including everything from the formal complexity of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, to the critical analysis of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, to the incredible proliferation of amateur and professional work on the internet. I’m waiting expectantly for a great work of comic art to break out of the confines of the dedicated fans of the media and achieve wider popularity, but if the ranks of comic fans continue to swell as “geek” culture gains prominence in American culture, that may not even prove necessary.
Thanks, Ethan, for your comments and your kind words about this blog. The comics are on there way to you as we speak.