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Comic books: "serious art" or "fast-food entertainment"?

#1 · Posted: 1 Apr 2008 11:38
While reading this article and a few reader comments, I once again noticed the same old arguments used to undermine graphic novels. Charles Bremner admits to being a Tintinophile (not a tintinologist though!), but he still finds "it hard to take the bande dessinée as serious art" and "still see them as fast food beside entertainment that takes more mental effort to consume". Fair play to Bremner, he leaves the door open for differing opinions and notes that BD is considered the ninth art in French-speaking Europe. I'm sure other people will answer directly to him, so maybe I'll start a discussion here.

Firstly, graphic novels are often labeled as "fast-food" entertainment. Yes, indeed it's quicker to read a Tintin book than a thousand-page novel. So what? Photographs, paintings and sculptures only rarely take anyones attention for more than ten minutes at a time, yet I never see them accused of being superficial. The more I think of it, the more convinced I become: the ability of presenting your ideas in an easily digestible form shows the strength of the artist. Good work of art leaves a mark that stays in your mind and the process of "understanding" the piece continues long after you've actually seen it.

Secondly comic books are often said to be for children. Again, so what? Is A.A. Milne ever dismissed because he wrote for children?

And if not for children, maybe comic books are for other people deemed not able to concentrate on "serious" art. As Charles Bremner puts it, serious art "takes more effort to consume". Now that is surely a question about quality, not about art form? World is full of cheap novels but does that mean all literature is useless? Yes, quite a few comics are poor quality, but does that somehow diminish the value of the gems?

I could go on showing the fallacies comic-book-dismissers too often use in their argumentation, but that's not necessary. I do think that this quote from the comment section tells more than I could say in a trilogy of graphic novels: "I admit I have never read any of them, though." (the comic books, that is). Well, I'd have appreciated if this commentator had told us what kind of shit literature (s)he's been reading, because I'd like to avoid anything that might teach me such narrow-minded, prejudiced line of thought.

Oh, and in case a graphic-novel-hater reads this I should probably explain shortly why graphic novel is an unique art form (I'm sure other members of the forum can add to this, rather bare-boned, explanation). In a sentence: it combines the text and the picture. Visual arts have their strengths, literature has it's strengths. And when combined, the artist has a whole new set of tools to tell his/her ideas. I admit that reading both the text and pictures at the same time might be bit difficult at times, but that's a skill you can learn. Just like you can learn to understand literature, abstract painting or cinema.

To conclude, comic books as such are not "high" or "low" art. It's an art form, which has it's masterworks, average artists and rubbish. If it's necessary to separate the "serious art" from the "rest" (or whatever term you prefer), then I suggest this separation is made by critics who do understand their field.

ps. As a personal opinion I would like to add that the most interesting art is done in both extremes of high-low scale: underground and the elite are the places where you can push the boundaries and invent new things. It's the middle-section that produces average, predictable and, frankly, useless art. And this applies to each and every form of art.

pps. obviously I found the article through the link Jock posted on this thread, thanks.

edit: typos, grammar mistakes etc. And well, all this must be way too familiar for all of you, but I just needed to get this out to clarify my thoughts on the subject.
#2 · Posted: 1 Apr 2008 13:54
The Tintin books are mostly very good, so I'd probably class them as high art if anything deserves that name.
You look at Superman, Spiderman and even Batman comics for example. They were pumped out so regularly and weren't very good quality but there were some gems. Same as with almost any media - there will always be crap comics.
#3 · Posted: 4 Apr 2008 12:53
Both. I appreciate the story plot and settings, and the ligne claire technique of Herge while I'm eating. :D

Seriously, I haven't seen any other comic book comparable to Tintin, not even Asterix. Herge's classic is the most outstanding for me, for it shows the real world without mutants with exagerrating powers.

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