Thursday, April 18, 2013

Art Envy And Validation.

By Jay Stringer

There's a phrase I've long hated in comic books. "Graphic Novel." I feel like throwing up a little each time I hear it.

I'm sure I will have made this argument at some point before in the (almost) four years of DOING SOME DAMAGE. (It would have been somewhere around April or May 2009 when Weddle said "I have this idea...") This isn't a post focusing on comics, but I'll make my point again to carry it through into an another argument.

Comic books are comic books. Some of them are amazing works of art, and some of them are terrible. What the best ones do, at their absolute purest and finest, are to show what the medium can be. They show the best of the format. But somewhere along the way, the industry decided that it was not taken seriously enough, and coined a phrase to compare itself to another medium. They'll stop laughing at us, they thought, if we come up with a wanky name that makes us sound like novelists. The correct response would have been to point out that, no, thankyou, we're comic books, and at our best we are amazing, and critics can like that or ignore it. People of DSD, I put it to you that Watchmen -one of the greatest works of storytelling of the 20th century- was a comic book. And it was supreme at being a comic book. It was designed specifically to be one, and told a story that really only works in that format.

I used to say that we don't see other formats doing it. That we don't see cinema call it's best products "filmed stage-plays" and the music industry doesn't call an album "Blind television."

Recently I realised that's wrong. We do it for everything. We've all had the conversation in which a certain TV show has been praised as being "more like a novel than television." The script for a movie tends to be called a screenplay.

It seems like the only way we feel we can validate something as having artistic merit is to compare it either to a novel, a play or poetry. Like, something is only important if it's written in the format that was used by Shakespeare, Dickens or Poe.

I overheard this conversation recently;

-"And then he said to me, Dylan wasn't a poet, and I was, I was all 'what?'"
-"He was the best poet of the 20th century. Every word."

It's in the same vein as people who feel the need to say that Bill Hicks was more than a stand up comedian, he was a preacher, a troubadour, he made great coffee. 

I call shenanigans on this whole bloody thing.

We need to start loving our art forms by holding them up for what they are, and start praising the best artists for what they achieve, not for how we perceive their work to still be ever-so-slightly inferior to the generic format of another  medium.

Bob Dylan is not a poet (ignoring for a moment that he is and that he has published poems.) What his songwriting does, in it's best moments, is to show the magic that can be achieved with songwriting. We don't need to think that the moment someone shows brilliance in songwriting they instantly morph into something else. No. He's a song writer, and he's a fucking amazing one at that. 

Bill Hicks was not a preacher. Not a troubadour. He was one of the best examples of a stand-up comedian. He was one of the people to raise the bar of that art form. Don't sully that by comparing it to something else.

Each time we do that, we cheapen the thing we claim to love. We're saying the best of comics can only aspire to being seen as novel. We're saying the best song writers can only aspire to being compare to every poet. That all stand-up comics can hope for, at their best, is to be seen as spreading religious dogma or travelling medieval Europe singing songs and limericks. 

Each great piece of art, and each great artist, has found a way to exist in that format that is better than most of everything else in the field. We should laud and celebrate them for that, and on those terms. 

To quote our man Chandler, "There is only art, and precious little of that."

1 comment:

Peter Licari said...

I enjoy your analysis on keeping everything in perspective. I also found it puzzling when I would read larger comic books and my friends who were more into it would insist they were graphic novels.

I also think the word poet is a bit over used. People think that poets are the default people for deep thought. But people need to realize that they can be poignant without being a poet. Great post!