16 February 2015

Why The Guardian's piece on comics is worrying

If you follow comic folks, creators or just about anyone with a passion for comics and graphic novels you might have seen them...vent (and that's putting it lightly)...about this piece from The Guardian by Jonathan Jones.  Basically Jones says that R. Crumb is the only true standard for comics, all current comics are bland, and all of the artists need to learn how to create art again.  

Excuse me for a second. I'm going to go curse, you go read the piece and then come back.

*clears throat* OK that feels a bit better.  Where was I?  Right why Jones and The Guardian's piece cause harm.  

Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way, Jones is writing an opinion piece.  He's entitled to his opinion that R. Crumb is only true artist and the gold standard for one. And if Jones were to go out and tweet that or post it on his personal blog, more power to him. He's standing on his own two feet saying it.  

The problem is here he isn't...he's standing on the coattails of The Guardian and using his position to say something as if it's fact.  And Jones does have a position that is listened to.  He writes The Guardians art section, he does reviews of books and shows, and he's served on national prize committees which doesn't just happen unless you have a voice that is listened to.  And Jones does.  He's done a cursory glance through the local bookstore, sized up what's on the shelf and said that this what's been doing everywhere in comics.  Let's ignore the fact that the local bookstore has probably done some selective buying, Jones hasn't bothered to actually look at the world around him and see what's really out there. To see the diversity and the range that exist, not just in published graphic novels at bookstores, but ones at comic shops, at conventions, on the web, hell even those just being handed out on the street corner.

I'm sure some of you are saying "Oh it's just one paper, what harm does one piece do?" The problem is in this day of social media and newspaper closings, that one piece suddenly becomes much bigger as its shared numerous times.  People will ignore the fact that its opinion and see something from an established paper and a known name and take it as fact.  Papers, news organizations, will run with it and claim that comics are banal and boring and not worth the time and energy.  Soon it will get tossed in with some of the other arguments against comics that we so often see as well. And that one piece will spread much further than it should.

While this may not be "that piece" the question remains what should we do about it?  While some prefer to ignore it and let it die, I feel the better solution is to talk about it.  Keeping silent only gives something power.  Speaking about it, presenting other opinions and sides, lets other voices be heard.  In this case Jones and The Guardian, since they published this piece they have to take responsibility for it as well, need to actually examine what comics are out there.  That comics are as diverse and numerous as the stars in the heavens, and that each person that creates them has their own style and way of telling a story.  Some of them are just beginning, some are at the hight of their powers, and some are nearing the end of their stories.  But all of them, no matter if they even look similar to another one, are different.  All of them have their own way of creating.  And while Jones and The Guardian may not like some of them, there are others out there they may.  And if they don't, if they want to continue to insist that R. Crumb is the only true standard, that's fine.  They are allowed that opinion.  But...and this is important, but they need to acknowledge that while they don't like something, while they think artists are bland and boring, others won't.  And it isn't a problem, it isn't something to moan about it, it's something to cherish that everyone can find something they enjoy.  

There's is a much wider world out there than what's found on the shelf of your local bookstore.  Comics are only bland if you move in the dark.  This is your flashlight.  Go forth and explore what's out there.  And share what you find. 

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