Thursday, April 16, 2015

Comics Are Overrated

I've noticed a disturbing new trend online lately: everyone is talk about how awesome comics are. See Vox's whole section on comic books, or Ta-Nehisi Coates big think piece on the medium, or the Twitter feeds of Jamelle Bouie's or Jeet Heer. Anyway you slice it, everyone is talking about how great comic books are these days.

Which I think is outrageous because the whole genre is massively overrated.

Full disclosure, I didn't grow up wasting time reading comic books, those are the sort of things for children to read. And while I might have been a 13 year old nerd, I was never a 13 year old child. Instead I would read big fantasy door stoppers by folks like Robert Jordan or dense history books that I often didn't understand but would solider through anyway. This is what serious people do!

To be sure this method of reading has it's draw backs. I didn't really understand that "literature" could be both important and a great read until my 20's. I suspect that this was largely a product of Southwest High School making me read "important" works that I found incredibly dull and not very insightful. I could make a list of these but but won't, instead I'll just say that I wish B.R. Meyer wrote more book reviews of what they made me read in the 11th grade. Anyway the point is that For Whom The Bell Tolls is an important part of the American cannon AND a one hell of a read. Many other books that are now "important" pass the former test, but not the latter.

I get the idea of making the written word accessible to everyone, and finding ways to get kids interested in reading. This is a good thing. But to me the whole medium is very frustrating. You have pay out a bunch of money to buy them on Amazon (or whatever) to get a product that from a time standpoint doesn't provide a whole lot of entertainment. Battle Cry Of Freedom takes a while to read. I can go through a 6 part Sandman paperback in about 45 minutes.

Look I get that everyone has a right to their own tastes in what they like (actually that whole idea is under assault right now but that's another story) but I still want to make the con argument here. Yes some comics can be cool, but a lot of them are just the same stuff happening over and over again (yes I've read some X-Men comics which is basically what they are). Likewise the greats of the genre, like the Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics (which I've gotten half way through), are pretty good but not life changing good. It's not like reading Gatsby in terms of thinking about yourself. Or reading What It Takes in terms of thinking about a field you're interested in. Let alone the emotional impact of reading Black Hearts. Which among other things entails reading about real heroes who are real human beings dying, and then learning that Jim Frederick the brilliant journalist who wrote this towering work of modern journalism about modern war himself is dead when you Google him so you can email him about how great his book was.

I never heard of a comic book doing these things. Maybe they do for some people, but they certainly don't do them for me.


  1. Not sure how you feel about graphic novels, John, but there are some good ones out there. Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The 9/11 Commission, etc. All tell fascinating stories and those stories are made even more incredible with the amazing artwork that accompanies the text. I'm not a huge comic book fan, but was drawn to them as a child, mainly because of the dazzling artwork.

    1. For what it's worth I haven't really read any graphic novels, but they don't strike me as being all that different than The Sandman comics which are basically published in big GN like chunks of six comics combined. And yes I think The Sandman comics are pretty good, it's just I would much rather read an actual book than the whole drawing and dialog format. Yes the art can be quite good and cool but honestly I just don't really get the appeal of the genre compared to reading an actual novel, where you can fill in the "picture" side of things with images from your own head.

      For example I accidentally ordered a Thomas Liggotti comic adaptation instead of a collection of his short stories from amazon last year. The art was great and it was kind of interesting to read but I think that Teatro Grotessco the story is better than the comic adaptation.

      Then again I can't totally knock the GN format because I've never read an actual graphic novel.

      Anyway thanks for the comment!