Graphic Novels for Snobs
April 25, 2005 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm a snob. What graphic novels should I read?

Okay, I'm poking fun at myself (and hoping not to offend -- I can't help liking the things I like).

People keep telling me that certain graphic novels are masterpieces, but when I read them, I don't like them. I keep wondering what their criteria are for judging a book a work of genius. Do they mean "it's a masterpiece compared with other comic books" or "it's a masterpiece compared with any work or literature"? Because I don't care how something ranks within the comic-book world. I just want to read good stories. I'm convinced there MUST be good stories in graphic novel form.

The art is important to me, but the story is more important (by story, I mean plot / character / writing style). One thing I HATE: when the art simply illustrates the prose. If a character says, "look, there's a giant monster," then the artwork better give me some additional information -- not just show me a giant monster. The art and prose must play off each other to form a whole. They story should be impossible to follow if you take either away.

I know about (and like) Ghost World, Lynda Barry and Chris Ware.

My literary tastes include classics (Shakespeare, Chekhov, Jane Austen), really well-written genrea novels (Hammet, Kim Stanley Robinson), and well-crafted "middlebrow" novels (Margaret Atwood, Ann Tyler, John Updike). TV I watch includes "Deadwood" (my favorite), "The Sopranos," old British series like "Upstair Downstairs" and "I, Claudius" and "Freaks and Geeks."

I dislike camp.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (67 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Palestine by Joe Sacco
posted by chrismear at 1:35 PM on April 25, 2005

Or, if you're looking for a more traditional 'story'-type story, Blankets by Craig Thompson.
posted by chrismear at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.
posted by lalalana at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2005

Meant to add that From Hell the graphic novel absolutely should not be disqualified because of the terrible movie adaptation of it.
posted by lalalana at 1:39 PM on April 25, 2005

I think you'd really like Alex Ross and Mark Waid's "Kingdom Come" and possibly Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's "From Hell".

My assumption here is that you've already tasted and not been impressed with "Watchmen", "The Dark Knight Returns", "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", etc.

Upon preview, second lalalana's recommendation of "From Hell"
posted by willmize at 1:40 PM on April 25, 2005

The Sandman is worth a look at even if you're not into it's particular genre. I also liked the Sin City series.
posted by Staggering Jack at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2005

High Society
The second installment of the Cerebus series by Dave Sim. This is where the comic really hits its stride. Very satirical, very humorous.
posted by cyphill at 1:46 PM on April 25, 2005

"300" by Sin City author Frank Miller
posted by HuronBob at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for recommendations so far!

willmize, I know I've checked out some of those (Watchman, etc.), but it's been a long time. If you think I might like them, I will try them.

I guess I should add that, as I'm nearing 40 (November), I find I don't have much of a "teenage male" mentality any more. I think this is why I don't relate all that well to superhero books -- even if they are well executed. I really don't care much about big explosions, guns, etc. If it's COOL, I probably won't like it. (I'm not ANTI guns or whatever, if they help tell a story about interesting character. But "cool" stuff isn't enough to sell a book to me. I hated both Jurassic Park and Titanic -- in spite of the incredible special effects.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2005

Clumsy and Unlikely are both very emotionally engaging little books about dying relationships. The art is sort of crude, but it works really well with the stories.

And it's not so much a graphic novel, but if you liked Ghost World you should check out Clowes' Twentieth Century Eightball; it's really funny if you can handle super-scatalogical humor.
posted by COBRA! at 1:51 PM on April 25, 2005

you list stuff you like but not the stuff you found lacking... I was going to come in to suggest Neil Gaiman / the Sandman series too, just because I liked it, but I don't really know how to judge if that meets your criteria or not (never thought about whether the art or graphics supply different information, though both story & art are central just because they're both so well done).
posted by mdn at 1:53 PM on April 25, 2005

If you like well written genre work, I'd suggest the manga Planetes. It is great SciFi.
posted by gnat at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2005

A rather obvious choice, but I really liked Maus for being not just a story about the past, but a story about the way we think about the past, and family, and creativity.
posted by Jeanne at 1:56 PM on April 25, 2005

I second Maus.
posted by Specklet at 1:57 PM on April 25, 2005

"Epileptic" by David B. has the most complex, amazing art I have ever seen in a graphic novel, and the story is personal yet universal and heartbreaking. It's about a French boy whose brother is diagnosed with violent epilepsy and is dragged around the world by his desperate parents as they search for a cure. Excellent book.
posted by GaelFC at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Beg The Question by Bob Fingerman.
posted by dublinemma at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2005

Usagi Yojimbo


posted by jazon at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2005

Many good recommendations! I think you might indeed enjoy both League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (at least volume one) and From Hell. Watchmen might be problematic for you because it depends upon a certain amount of knowledge of the history and tropes of superhero comics, though what it does with them is certainly not ordinary.

It seems possible to me that many of the books that people have recommended to you founder on this point -- they are not whiz-bang four-color teenager titles, but they draw upon and comment upon those traditions. A lot of excellent work being done in graphic novels is in "revisionist" superhero titles; I don't feel that these rely on having the mentality required to enjoy traditional superhero comics, but they do tend to assume that you are conversant with the genre and have some level of real interest in it. (Kingdom Come might also have this pitfall for you.)

I find that Sandman doesn't hold up for me as well as I would have thought it would.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:30 PM on April 25, 2005

epileptic by david b. this french book was just recently (fully) released in the US. it is a memoir about the author's childhood with his epileptic brother. the story is good and the art beautiful.

Your distinction of wanting just "good stories" is an interesting one. Perhaps you're simply not into the (partly) visual presentation of a story.

If the story is more important than the art to you, either A) you're maybe not into graphic novels/comics or B) you're not quite in the correct frame of mind, because often the art *is* the story. But I think you've likely got the right idea from your comment re: taking either aspect away.

For more about the reading of comics, try Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics which is now partially available in wiki form.

on preview: BAH! (nice one GaelFC)
posted by ArcAm at 2:30 PM on April 25, 2005

It took a lot for me to buy the idea that graphic novels could be as moving as literature, but a few have indeed moved me. Id like to recommend It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth and Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. I also like Jeffrey Brown (mentioned above)... Definitely pick up the extraordinary McSweeneys's 13, edited by Chris Ware.
posted by maya at 2:37 PM on April 25, 2005

I was gonna say Palestine by Joe Sacco also, it's great. Safe Area Gorzade by him is good also. If you like Ghost World Clowes did a lot of other stuff, and I think some of it is good. I rather like David Boring for example.

Jim Woodring has done some Fantastic Work. You can find his stuff at Many of his works don't even have text. It's strange mysterious stuff. I'm a huge fan. I think he's a lot busier now but back in the day if you send him a couple bucks and picture of yourself he'd draw you a picture of your soul. All the stuff I've bought from his website has come signed with a little doodle in it.

As mentioned above, Cerebus by Dave Sim is pretty good. They come in "phone books" which are basically big boosk, a couple hundred pages, combining several comic books into one. The first phone book, at least half of it, maybe more, is kind of week. It took Dave Sim a while to find his voice.

Scott McCloud's book "Understanding Comics" is great too. I now see that it was recommended above. It's a good book about art in general (for the non artist I guess. Most art students have probably already experienced a lot of the concepts in it)
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:59 PM on April 25, 2005

Through the Habitrails by Jeff Nicholson.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2005

I, too, would most highly recommend david b.'s Epileptic (the pantheon, or complete edition). One can see his influence on M. Satrapi's Persepolis books, which are also excellent (though I much preferred the first book over the second one).

Sacco, also listed above, is excellent all around and Palestine is really the best place to start to appreciate him.

I thought Louis Riel by Chester Brown was good, but not a masterwork. I think that Blankets by Craig Thompson gets points for being a sustained work of a certain quality but I thought his Goodbye Chunky Rice was more affecting (though I find him a tad too cloying overall).

Charles Burns's ravaging Black Hole is supposed to be out from Pantheon in October 2005, but you could probably still get the individual issues from Fantagraphics and read them in one sitting.

Gary Panter's Jimbo in Purgatory. Panter either works for you or he doesn't, but he should be mentioned.

Individual issues of Jessica Abel's great La Perdida is also available from Fantagraphics and will probably be collected and published as a graphic novel soon enough.

I know about (and like) Ghost World, Lynda Barry and Chris Ware.

There are a couple of talents that have garnered a lot of attention for being "like" two of the people you've cited an awareness of. Whether or not you find them "too much the same" is a judgement call only you can make, but if you liked Ghost World then you might enjoy Adrian Tomines's work and if you liked Chris Ware's story (no one can touch his art, pacing, layouts, etc. though) then you might enjoy Paul Hornschemeier's Mother Come Home. I happen to like Tomine's early work collected in 32 Stories, but haven't been much of a fan of his later stuff. I also prefer Hornschemeier's shorter works as well (frankly, they are more adventurous and rewarding because of it).

For other folks, I feel compelled to note that Dan Clowes offers other rewarding reads besides Ghost World. I'm particularly fond of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron for example.

posted by safetyfork at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2005 really is Tomines (or Tomines') but most certainly not Tomine's. My apologies.
posted by safetyfork at 3:15 PM on April 25, 2005

Tomines's, ugh.
posted by safetyfork at 3:16 PM on April 25, 2005

I join with those recommending Maus and Joe Sacco; for what it's worth, I have zero interest in the tradition of superhero comics (I enjoyed Superman et al when I was 12, but that was a long time ago), so like you I have to have actual literary/artistic value, not just cool tweakings of tradition.
posted by languagehat at 3:20 PM on April 25, 2005

Anything by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the mad Chilean writer and director, especially his collaborations with the great French artist Moebius (real name Jean Giraud), who draws the most beautiful graphic novels.

Their masterpiece is the Incal cycle, which is currently being republished in the US in a "remastered" edition by Humanoids Publishing. This is cyberpunk scifi at its best, by turns gritty, epic, literate, compassionate, nihilistic, cynical, satiric and always hilarious. Jodorowsky paints with a huge canvas -- it's a story about the entire universe. Scans of the first two volumes, as originally published, are available here.

Note that The Incal is currently being extended by Jodorowsky with prequels (which have been published) and sequels (which are forthcoming); this, and the various different out-of-print editions, makes it harder to figure out the order of the books. If you can, use something like ABE to dig out the originals, which may be preferable to the new editions, which are published as smaller trade-size paperbacks, not a great format for Moebius' panoramic imagery. If you can read French, go for the original French editions.

Jodorowsky's Metabarons series, which takes place in the same universe, is also brilliant.

Anything by Moebius is generally recommended, especially his World of Edena series.
posted by gentle at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2005

As a Rabid Gaimanite (TM) I must say that Neil is the bee's knees. He's done Sandman, yes, but there's a lot that's come after it, and there's more to Gaiman than graphic novels. I love, love, love his The Dream Hunters -- it's basically how I "met" Neil Gaiman, and I've now devoured his work from children's books (Wolves In the Walls, Coraline) to graphic novels, comics (recently, 1602),and novels (Neverwhere, Good Omens, American Gods). I know you said graphic novels specifically, but if you are looking for an author with some depth and breadth beyond just the graphic novel, I have to say Neil's your man.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2005

Also consider Jeff Smith's Bone [sample artwork]. Heavily influenced by Carl Barks both in drawing style as well as plotting, it's a visual masterpiece, and a very touching one, too. Don't be fooled by the super-cute Bone character; this is an epic story on a grand scale. In fact, one of the wonderful and unique traits of Bone is how it counterpoints cuteness and comedy with serious and sometimes violent drama, or perhaps the other way around: it's a little like Huey, Dewey, Louie and Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck accidentally stumbling into The Lord of the Rings. One of my favourite graphic novels. It's was recently published in a single volume.
posted by gentle at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2005

Wow, this is a great thread. For what it's worth, I am also a 'snob' (haha) and I liked Maus very, very much. I'm going to check out some of the other widely recommended titles in this thread now too.
posted by josh at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2005

Gilbert Hernandez's work (half of the Love and Rockets team) is often compared to Garcia Marquez. Both of the Bros work with very complex narrative plots over very long periods of time.
posted by matildaben at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2005

If you are/were a fan of Hunter S. Thompson, maybe you would like Transmetropolitan. It's a futuristic (wikipedia calls it postcyberpunk) take on Gonzo journalism and the American way. I guess it is technically not a graphic novel, but it is available in a series of trade paperbacks.
posted by schyler523 at 4:36 PM on April 25, 2005

One of my favorite graphic novels, well, collection published as a graphic novel would be Marvels.

I would also suggest trying out Preacher. Start with, "Gone to Texas" to see if you like it.
posted by punkrockrat at 4:45 PM on April 25, 2005

I'll echo Moore (especially From Hell, Watchmen, V For Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen [I like both volumes], and Promethea) and Gaiman's Sandman series.

Also, Moore's run on Swamp Thing is very good, as well-- I was a little wary going in but enjoyed it.

Miller's Sin City is also good, as is Maus.

A currently running series you may like is Brian K. Vaughn's Y: The Last Man. There are a number of trade paperbacks out, and a new one being released in July, I think, so you could get caught up fairly easily.

Hmmm... There is also In the Shadow of No Towers, Persepolis, Bone... I am always a bit reluctant to recommend Preacher to anyone I don't know because Ellis and Dillon do some very graphic stuff. I love it, but it is not for everyone.

There's also A Contract With God by Eisner.
posted by synecdoche at 5:17 PM on April 25, 2005

I third (fourth? fifth?) Sandman. Gaiman [among other things] seems to have a range of interests not unlike yours. You'll find allusions to all kinds of classical stuff, woven beautifully into the story. And characters are very important - the story's an immense tragic arc, and many of even the most incidental characters are well-fleshed out. [He may have first become well-known for his graphic novels, but nowadays it's his books, American Gods in particular, that're getting attention. Gaiman himself is first and foremost a storyteller] I find that there's a very good balance between artwork and text - it's certainly more than a glorified picture-book, which is what you seem to be objecting to.

I'd second Transmetropolitan. A totally different tone, though, and if you can't deal with the kind of outrageous man-on-a-mission style that Thompson wrote in, you'll probably not enjoy it. On the other hand, Ellis [the author of Transmet.] has a pretty unique sensibility as a storyteller/comics author, and under the inspired lunacy, it's a great story. Damn near inspiring, in today's political atmosphere - the story of an "outlaw" journalist and his search for truth and justice.

You may want to check out David Mack's Kabuki. The first book is more of an action story, but the series as a whole focuses a lot on the psychological development of the main character as she takes escapes an old way of life [member of a team of female ninja-type warriors called the Noh] and redefines herself. Mack's artwork is visually stunning, involving collage, calligraphy, watercolor, oils, pencil-and-ink, you name it.

You might want to stay away from books like The Watchmen, Marvels, or The Dark Knight Returns. All of them do very interesting things with the superhero genre... but to get the most out of them, you really want a pretty strong background in traditional superhero comics. While they're great books, and they are psychologically complex [unlike most superhero books], they're still part of a genre that it doesn't sound like you have much interest in right now.
posted by ubersturm at 5:31 PM on April 25, 2005

Eddie Campbell's Bacchus.

And, certainly, Jaime Hernandez' Locas, the collected Maggie and Hopey stories from Love and Rockets - the first few have a little bit of superhero silliness, but that quickly falls away and the storytelling and characterization are sterling.
posted by nicwolff at 6:08 PM on April 25, 2005

I have zero interest in the tradition of superhero comics (I enjoyed Superman et al when I was 12, but that was a long time ago), so like you I have to have actual literary/artistic value, not just cool tweakings of tradition.

Well lah-di-dah. I suppose Beowulf is out, then.

I quite liked James Sturm's The Golem's Mighty Swing and Chester Brown's aforementioned Louis Riel, although in both cases being interested in the subject matter -- baseball in the early twentieth century and Canadian history -- helps greatly. I'll third (?) the recommendation for Bone, a wonderful melding of the contemporary fantasy novel and the Barks-style "funny animals" book, which fell into disfavor sometime around the 1960s. If you're looking for a graphic novel that requires no background in the literary tradition against which it plays, I think Stuck Rubber Baby, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, or Kim Deitch's The Boulevard of Broken Dreams may well be your best bets -- the last is a roman a clef about Walt Disney and the early days of animation. None of the three are genre works, either, which should shield you from derogatory comments about the artistic merits of your reading matter.
posted by snarkout at 7:01 PM on April 25, 2005

Oh, and I kind of hesitate to say it, because his straight crime novels aren't as good as his superhero comics, but if you like Hammet (particularly, say, Red Harvest), you might enjoy the crime graphic novels written by Brian Michael Bendis (my favorite being the true-crime Torso).
posted by snarkout at 7:10 PM on April 25, 2005

Not to derail the thread anymore with tales of my battle with the apostrophe in Tomine's name, not to mention how silly that would seem after letting slide other grammatical errors. But it is Tomine and the possessive is Tomine's. Now back to your regularly scheduled cool thread. :)

For a little bit of manga I'd recommend the visceral Uzumaki (Spiral into Horror) by Junji Ito -- don't let the covers fool you they're great books.
posted by safetyfork at 7:13 PM on April 25, 2005

It's helpful to know what you think about superhero-ish stories in general, but there's really no substitute for picking up a graphic novel and slowly reading the first few pages. If lack of realism bugs you so much that you can't appreciate supertypes, then you'll be missing out on much of what many others who enjoy comics consider the best of the medium. Alan Moore's "Top Ten," for instance, is a wonderfully written set of interwoven stories about a police station in a city where everyone has a superpower of some kind. More than "cool," it's surprisingly emotional stuff that should appeal to anyone who likes clever ensemble adventure stories like "Deadwood."

You should also try some non-U.S. stuff; don't overlook French Bande Dessinée. Lewis Trondheim in particular is a cartoony hoot. Fantagraphics has translated some of his work but some of his best - like "La Mouche," 100 pages of a fly's-eye view of the world - are wordless gems that are truly classics of the form. And Ralf Konig's "Bull's Balls" and "Maybe, Maybe Not" are hilarious German sexual comedies with a mostly queer tilt, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

Some mentioned above, but Hernandez Bros and Joe Sacco - YES, if you like your comics literate. "Safe Area Gorazde" and "Palestine" sound like they might be up your alley if you like non-fiction politics done in a unique, artful style. Craig Thompson's "Goodbye Chunky Rice" is great, too, in a somewhat more childlike storytelling vein, but with very poignant adult themes. Howard Cruse's "Stuck Rubber Baby" for a realistic story about coming of age and coming out in a small Southern town during the early years of the civil rights struggle. Brian Ralph's fantastic little myths are wonderful, too.

Oh, and Sandman really is as good as everyone says it is, picking up considerably during the 2nd trade paperback and taking off from there. The "Seasons of Mist" storyline, in which Satan quits and gives Sandman the key to Hell, knowing that every god in the universe will soon come demanding it, is particularly fun. It just gets better from there.
posted by mediareport at 7:26 PM on April 25, 2005

Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson is a lovely interlocking character drama and the art adds to it.

Other David Clowes works like David Boring are not much like Ghost World, but still have the strange emotional tenor that's so unique to Clowes' work.
posted by Gucky at 10:26 PM on April 25, 2005

late to the party, but i'll chime in with my token support of sam kieth (especially the maxx) and david mack (especially any color kabuki stuff). ashley wood's popbot is cool too but maybe not so much in a good story kind of way. alan moore and gaimain are probably your best bets for good storytelling in a comic though...but they sometimes get paired with some pretty shitty art imo.
posted by juv3nal at 12:28 AM on April 26, 2005

I'm amazed nobody's mentioned Harvey Pekar yet! Pekar is a file clerk in Cleveland who writes wry, well-observed vignettes based on his real life. Some of them were collected in American Splendor. Our Cancer Year has more of a storyline than his usual stuf, dealing as it does with Pekar's cancer.

If you've seen the movie American Splendor, you have a pretty good feel for the comic--it was the rare film adaptation that really captured the spirit of the original.
posted by yankeefog at 5:59 AM on April 26, 2005

Already mentioned:

Hernandez Bros. - American treasures. I tend to prefer the Palomar stories of Beto over Jaime's punk-rock pachuco world, but that's a personal thing. Beto is actually the one who gets the Garcia-Marquez nod, though, as his Palomar is pretty straight Latin American magical-realism.

Epileptic - With this book, David B. catapulted himself into the ranks of the greatest cartoonists who've ever lived. You can see the heavy influence he had on Satrapi's Persepolis, but I think his work is infinitely richer and more striking. One of his fellow L'Association guys, Joann Shar (who also launched the Donjon series with Trondheim) is another of the greatest artists working today.

New/Old Stuff:

Since you guys have covered so much great contemporary stuff, here's my plug for some older classics.

E.C. Segar's Popeye - Don't laugh. Segar's Popeye is inarguably one of the handful of best comics ever (and rather unlike the cartoons beneath the surface). His style was dynamic and full of humor and pathos, his stories whimsical, dark, riotous and always engaging the quirkiness of human experience and nature. Unfortunately it's quite hard to find the out of print Fantagraphics volumes. I guard the ones I have with a knife.

Krazy Kat - George Herriman's strip had fans like Einstein. There was a reason. The most poetic (visually and verbally) strip of all time. This series is currently being beautifully republished by Fantagraphics.

Anything by Harvey Kurtzman - Eisner may have had the Eisners named after him, but Harvey had the Harveys. The godfather of comedy comics. From the original Mad Magazine to a good chunk of EC Comics to Trump, Humbug and Help magazines. He gave work to such unkowns as Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, R. Crumb (whose works should also be devoured as if they were holy things) and Gilbert Shelton.

Corto Maltese - If'n you like classic pulp with a healthy dose of Jack London and amazing geographical settings, Hugo Pratt is your god. Inks to die for. One of the big inspirations to Frank Miller. The collection of Kipling poetry I have accompanied by his drop-dead gorgeous watercolours is one of my favorite possessions.

Alberto Breccia - Another Argentinian (yeah, Pratt was born in Italy, but spent most of his life in Argentina). Another graphics god. With Oesterheld he did the Che graphic novel, which had to be literally buried to keep it from being destroyed by the regime. His Perramus is one of the most mind-blowing GNs there is. His water-coloured horror and victorian adaptations are killer.

Jose Munoz - Was taught by Breccia and Hugo Pratt. Lucky bastard. With Carlos Sampayo, his Alack Sinner is IMO the best hard-boiled comic series there is. His art is second to none. You'll have to find these used if you want them in English. but they do exist.

Too many more greats to recommend, but you can get a taste of all these guys along with others at the wonderful Lambiek Comiclopedia, put out by a store who's former location was comix nirvana for me.
posted by the_savage_mind at 6:00 AM on April 26, 2005

Jew of New York and Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer by Ben Katchor are fairly remarkable. And, Berlin by Jason Lutes is also noteworthy.
posted by safetyfork at 6:20 AM on April 26, 2005

How could I forget Harvey Pekar (thanks, yankeefog) and George Herriman (ditto, the_savage_mind)? Heartily seconded.

Well lah-di-dah. I suppose Beowulf is out, then.

Unless you think Beowulf has no artistic value, that's an incredibly moronic and pointless comment. But I guess it shows how defensive you are about your tastes.
posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on April 26, 2005

Unless you think Beowulf has no artistic value, that's an incredibly moronic and pointless comment. But I guess it shows how defensive you are about your tastes.

I believe that the point was that you seemed to be artificially contrasting "cool tweakings of tradition" with artistic value. I do see that you qualified the "cool tweakings" with "just" -- but there are lots of texts in this world that probably won't resonate for you unless you are conversant with and invested in their source materials, despite having plenty of "actual literary/artistic value". The artistic value of Beowulf, like many other literary products, is in no small part predicated on the coolness of its tweakings of tradition.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:34 AM on April 26, 2005

Response by poster: [Sorry for the absurd length of this post. I hope that it adds to the discussion in a positive way.]

Wow! Thank you SO much for all the great suggestions. I'm going to spend a fun day in Barnes & Noble soon. I'll print out this thread, take a big stack of books to the cafe, read the first few pages of each one, and leave poorer (yet richer!).

Several of you asked me to be a bit more explicit about my tastes (I tried to respond yesterday, but was having connectivity problems). I don't know if it will help at this point, but here goes:

Do I like superheros? Well, I have nothing against them. I don't choose books by genre. I think any genre can produce good stories. But it so happens that the superhero stories I've read have been lacking.

For one thing, they've been written to appeal to the "young-male" mentality. They may have one or two strong characters, but clearly the major point is "wow, cool explosion!" or "awesome weapon!" That just doesn't do it for me.

Worse, they are rife with world-violations, plot holes, and implausibilities. Let me be VERY clear that I have NO problem with non-realism. I'm a big fan of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and I enjoy the occasional fantasy novel (I like George R. R. Martin's book). But the story MUST be self-consistent. I'm fine with, say, the fact that Superman can fly, but I'm NOT fine with Lois Lane delivering an entire monologue as she gets hurled through the air by the shock of an explosion. I've literally seen this sort of thing in comics before: "Oh my God! The car just exploded! Now I'm flying through the air and it looks like I'm going to crash into that jagged metal. I sure hope Superman gets here soon…"

mdm asked me what I dislike:

1) I dislike moralizing and didacticism. In spite of my love of serious literature, I prefer fiction that makes me feel to fiction that makes me think. So I tend to dislike social/political commentary in fiction. It's fine if the story is about slavery. It's NOT fine if there's an authorial voice telling me that racism is bad.

2) I dislike poorly constructed plots. I'm the annoying guy who can't watch time-travel movies, because he can't get over the paradoxes. In a realistic story, the author must (a) come up with an interesting plot and (b) simply follow the laws of the natural world. I love fantastic literature, but it's often poorly constructed. I think this is because the author has to take into account all the laws of a made-up world, and that is more difficult.

3) I dislike uninteresting and inconsistent characters. What's an inconsistent character? One who violates his own psychological rules. Also, language can sometimes be a problem. Stephen Sondheim has criticized his own lyrics to "West Side Story," mentioning that an uneducated girl would never sing, "a committee has been organized to honor me..."

If there are no sympathetic characters, then the plot better be really really really strong.

4) I dislike bad writing. This includes all the obvious stuff (grammar, etc.), but in comics the major problem is cliche. I realize that sometimes (maybe often) the author is aware of the cliches, and he's using them purposefully for an effect -- he's commenting on a comic-book tradition or creating a camp effect. I don't care for camp or commentary.

There's a thread running through all of my dislikes. All of them break the fictional bubble ("the fourth wall"). I LOVE fiction when it seems so real that I forget it's unreal. And I hate anything that reminds me that it's made up. A poorly constructed sentence can do this, because it makes me think of the author (which reminds me that it's fiction). Naturally, didacticism can do this (the author is trying to teach me a lesson). This is also why I dislike most post-modern experimentation.

ArcAm suggested that I may just not be into visual stories. I'm into ALL stories -- as-long-as they're well told. I love movies, so I don't see why comics should be different. But I like looking at story as an integrated whole. I don't like looking at its constituent parts. I've never found myself liking a movie that was visually strong if it had bad dialogue. I will also dislike a movie that has great dialogue, but is visually uninteresting. (Incidentally, I thought the "Lord of the Rings" movies were visually uninspired. I am amazed that so many people think they are masterpieces. To me, the images seem like the ones that would pop into my mind after a cursory reading of Tolkien's books. For instance, the books say Sauron is a big eye, so in the film he's a big eye. But he's not SCARY. They seem like images anyone could come up with. I wish Stanley Kubric or Ang Lee had made the films.)

A couple of years ago, Art Spiegelman wrote an article about comic books for the New Yorker. I disagreed with some of has assessments and wrote the following letter to him (he didn't reply, alas). It explains my prejudices about art in comics.


Dear Mr. Spiegelman,

As a child I devoured comics, but in my late teens I felt I had outgrown them. I wasn't trying to cast off childhood by escaping from something childish. In fact, I'm sure I would have continued to read comics if the stories had continued to interest me. But I got tired of the repetition and clichés. Style became important to me, and I could now see that much of the writing was trite -- and even more of it was terrible.

But I've always retained an interest in the comic form. I'm aware that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it. In fact, I'm convinced that comics have great potential, that the form could include masterpieces, and that a comic masterpiece would be totally distinct from a written masterpiece or a filmed masterpiece. But I haven't started reading comics again, because I need a guide to help me sort through all the drek and locate the pearls.

So I was excited to read your rave about Krigstein's Master Race in the July 22nd New Yorker. After reading your article, I searched for -- and eventually found -- a reprint of the comic and read it, hoping for the best. Alas, I can't agree with you that it's a masterpiece. I do understand why you love the illustrations and the layout, and I'm sure that the comic is historically important and influential. Certainly Krigstein had a deep understanding of the form's visual potential, and I think his observation about the import of "what happens between the frames" is key. But the work fails as a masterpiece, because the relationship between illustrations and text is uncomfortable and unilluminating.

In your article, you don't spend much time discussing the relationship of words to pictures, but surely this a key relationship in the comic form (exceptions are those rare stories by artists who "speak" only in pictures). For a comic to be a masterpiece, both text and images must contribute something unique to each frame. Remove the text, and you should be left with only half the story; remove the images, and you should be left with the other half. And there are all sorts of ways that image and text can play off of each other: one can hold back while the other explodes, one can take in the-big-picture while the other zooms in on a detail, one can act as an ironic commentary on the other, etc.

But the text should never simply describe the illustration. And the illustration should never simply depict the text. Which is what happens throughout Master Race (at least until the final sequence). As an example, take the panel reproduced in on the first page of your article. The text reads, "Look, Carl! Look at the face of this man sitting across from you in this now deserted subway car." And we see a picture of this very man's face. The text continues, "Remember the guards that gleefully carried out the sadistic orders on the master race... whipping... kicking... beating!... The guards that eagerly dragged the women and children to the waiting, smoking ovens!" And we see these very guards pushing these same women and children towards these same ovens." The pictures add nothing to the words.

Compare this to the two panels you include from Krigstein's Bradbury story. In the second panel, the text reads, "the executioner whirled his silver ax..." but we don't see the ax. Instead, we see frightened birds (not mentioned in the text), fleeing from the tree branches they had been perched on. Our minds are left to associate the sound of the ax with the terror of the birds. And we're also left to imagine the severed head rolling on the ground. To me, these two panels are much more of a masterpiece than then entire Master Race story.

Of course, I realize that Krigstein labored under a huge number of restraints, mostly economic and editorial, and that he didn't create the text. And I fear that many people would respond to this letter by suggesting that I have to understand the context or, even more likely, by throwing up their hands and shouting, "it's just a comic book for Christ's sake!" But we owe it to this unique form to judge it as an equal to literature, film, painting and music, and we should hold it to the same standards. Only then will excellence emerge.
posted by grumblebee at 7:37 AM on April 26, 2005

Response by poster: redfoxtail, your comment is complex and worth exploring.

I will admit that I tend NOT to like words that are commenting on a tradition (though I DO like works that are part of a tradition). I'm generally well-read enough to GET what the author is trying to do, but it's just not to my taste.

The problem with commenting (of any type) is that it takes place outside of the story-world. It REMINDS you that you're reading a story and that the story is part of a literary tradition. If you're into that, fine. But it's not why I read. I read to BELIEVE.

(I'm sure you could come up with a list of stories that I like in-spite-of the fact that they tweak traditional genres. I like these stories for OTHER reasons.)
posted by grumblebee at 7:43 AM on April 26, 2005

For a comic to be a masterpiece, both text and images must contribute something unique to each frame.

Oh well. So much for wordless comics.

I'm going to spend a fun day in Barnes & Noble soon.

That may turn out to be true, but don't be surprised if you don't find a helluva lot of the comics mentioned above at your local Barnes & Noble.
posted by mediareport at 7:54 AM on April 26, 2005

grumblebee, interesting response to Spiegelman (who's a problematic figure in comics from a 'political' sense).

I have to differ with you in a couple of your assertions. First, there is no requirement for comics to have an adequate verbal component. None. Comics do not in fact need to have any verbal component at all. Some of the finest comics ever published were completely silent. Comics are a visual story-telling medium first and foremost. The inclusion of textual language is in fact a late development if you look to certain medieval and ancient artworks as illustrated storytelling.

Even if you take a piece that has integrated text significantly, breaking down every case of the art to 50% text worth, 50% visual art worth is remarkably short-sighted. Artists don't tend to think that way when they create, why should you think that way when you digest the creation? Instead, decide whther the piece as a whole spoke to you, without requiring the text to 'live up' to the art, or vice versa.

Second, while I do believe the space between frames should be illuminating, they are in no way required to be comfortable. Art in general is not required to be comfortable and I would argue strongly that the best examples of various artforms are in fact quite uncomfortable to the general attitude. To enlighten radically is to shake someone's notions radically, and that is never a comfortable process. Frequently that means not only tweaking content to be uncomfortable but tweaking the actual form itself... making it jar or somehow shock the viewer out of their typical modes of analysis.

If you look to the avowed 'masters' of other media, you find much more acceptance of experimentation of form and content. In painting you have such widespread enjoyment or at least critical acceptance of movements such as Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract, etc. In writing you have your James Joyce and your e.e. cummings. In music you have avante-gard jazz among other forms. They didn't follow pre-set structural rules as to how a medium should be. Don't restrict the comic medium in a similar way, because in doing so you hugely restrict its potential.

Oh, and GOD do I love Kriegstein's art:)
posted by the_savage_mind at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2005

For those who are Kingdom Come fans, I think it would have been infinitely cooler if they'd gone with Alan Moore's original treatment.

Seriously, Alex Ross has heavily ripped creative ideas off whole-cloth over the years. In this case, he wasn't satisfied scavenging Twilight for just one title. Read Moore's character idea for Uncle Sam in the above link, and then take a gander at Ross' New Adventures of Uncle Sam. It's embarrassing. Not to mention I find him one of the worst artists in comics. His every panel is so painfully static. No flow, motion or dynamism whatsoever.

Which reminds me of some other comics recommendations! For the abosolute king of flow and dynamism, try out the incredible Plastic Man collections DC has been putting out the last few years. Jack Cole is one of the best ever, and he is the perfect contrast for Alex Ross: his stuff is cartoony and not very detailed, and yet in terms of telling a graphical story that has motion and energy he blows Ross out of the water.

Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge. Barks is worshipped in all the Scandinavian countries where his Duck comics still outsell everything else. In Finland the government has a weeklong Ducksburg holiday every year. Barks taught so many kids (myself included) how to read because his visual style was so expressive and alive. Jeff Smith's Bone owes so much to Barks.

Also recommended in the pulp section: Burne Hogarth's Tarzan, Alex Toth's Zorro.
posted by the_savage_mind at 8:27 AM on April 26, 2005

Response by poster: For a comic to be a masterpiece, both text and images must contribute something unique to each frame.

Oh well. So much for wordless comics.

I mislead you guys. I have NO problem with wordless comics. But IF there are words, they must be well-written words.

the_savage_mind, I don't think words must contribute 50% (or 10% or 80%). But if they are there, they MUST contribute. (As must the art.) Otherwise, why include them? We are in agreement that the best way (for us) to enjoy are is to "decide whether the piece as a whole spoke to you." To me, "as a whole" means the words and the pictures. If either fails, the whole is damaged.

This is incredibly egotistical, but as for the rest of the stuff you write -- I don't care. I don't care what "avowed masters" do. I don't care whether or not I "restrict the comic medium." I don't care about shocking viewers "out of their typical modes of analysis."

I care about stories. I care about feeling. If those aspects you site will make me wonder "what's going to happen next?" or remind me of my grandmother or make me cry, then I'm all for them. Otherwise, I couldn't care less.

"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 AM on April 26, 2005

My bad. Should have dug a bit deeper into my last link. Real link to Alan Moore's Twilight of the Superheroes, aka the real Kingdom Come.
posted by the_savage_mind at 8:29 AM on April 26, 2005

Did mediareport and the_savage_mind both skip right over grumblebee's caveat (exceptions are those rare stories by artists who "speak" only in pictures)?

I have to agree with the 'bee. When a story has both words and pictures, both must be equally compelling, revealing the story in a complementary fashion. A story does not need words, but when it does they must have purpose.

(OK, already covered on preview, but I figured I'd lend support anyways.)
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:45 AM on April 26, 2005

Unless you think Beowulf has no artistic value, that's an incredibly moronic and pointless comment.

I was amused by the assumption that the only value of a work about a superhero could be in "cool tweakings of tradition" given that Beowulf is probably a great deal closer to superhero comics than they are to a Trollope or Waugh book. (For that matter, what's Achilles if not a superhero, with Homeric epithets replacing constant repitition of "caped crusader" and "stately Wayne Manor"?) And in point of fact my comment was premised on the fact that there is a graphic novel adaption of Beowulf that I think works rather well. As Redfox said, I think representing "cool tweaking of tradition" as oppositional to "literary value" is bizarre, but perhaps that was an uncharitable reading of your comment.

I think Moore and Gibbon's The Watchmen really is one of the best examples of the graphic novel out there. I don't want to make any absurd claims for it; I personally think hovers somewhere around a good Chandler novel or a second-tier Hawks movie on the "pure artistic merit" scale, but it's not like there's not a fine tradition of creating art in the cracks of explicitly commercial ventures. And I think The Watchmen very much does what Grumblebee asks for in terms of unifying the art and the prose.

Knowing the specifics of what Moore's script plays off of -- a bunch of characters created by a no-hoper company called Charleston Comics, which in turn were faintly disguised knockoffs of more successful DC figures -- makes everything richer. The simple familiarity with Superman, Batman, and the trope of the superhero team that living in the United States gives you is probably enough, though, just as one doesn't need to be a student of the nineteenth century novel to appreciate The Baron in the Trees. That said, if superhero comics just aren't one's thing, the way some people don't like Westerns or hip-hop, you're not going to be able to get around the genre, but this strikes me as entirely separate from the matter of whether a work playing off its antecedents can be rewarding to someone unfamiliar with or uninterested in them.

(One response to Languagehat's recommendation: Herriman's Krazy Kat is absolutely wonderful, but not actually a graphic novel in the sense in which I understand the term. It's an episodic newspaper comic, like Peanuts or Little Nemo.)
posted by snarkout at 8:58 AM on April 26, 2005

Has Raymond Briggs' Ethel and Ernest been mentioned?
posted by snarkout at 9:09 AM on April 26, 2005

I agree with Grumblebee, and I'll note that his comments apply equally well to any other medium that marries words and images, be it movies, videogames, or theatre.

Grumblebee, after reading your letter to Art Spiegelman, I have two more thoughts:

1. I really do think you'll like Alan Moore's work; the words and the pictures are constantly interacting in surprising ways. This is especially true in Watchmen, but you'll find it in most of his work. (The exceptions are works like 1963, which deliberately echos the cliches of older comics.)

2. You should read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, a comic book about the theory of comic books.
posted by yankeefog at 9:13 AM on April 26, 2005

And because I brought it up in my incredibly moronic and pointless comment, Gareth Hinds' Beowulf. Grumblebee, given that you have well-thought-out positions on the interplay between words and art, I'd be curious to hear your response to this if you ever read it: a great deal of it is wordless, and I believe the only text is "Beowulf" itself.
posted by snarkout at 9:23 AM on April 26, 2005

grumblebee, you have every right to enjoy what you enjoy. I wouldn't sleight you for that. I was just respoding to some statements you made that seemed to go beyond 'this is what I like' into the realm of 'this is what comics should be'.

But the work fails as a masterpiece, because the relationship between illustrations and text is uncomfortable and unilluminating.

Here you define something as unable to be a masterpiece if the transition is uncomfortable. Which might be true for your own personal tastes but is patently untrue as a generalization about art.


For a comic to be a masterpiece, both text and images must contribute something unique to each frame. Remove the text, and you should be left with only half the story...

I don't think words must contribute 50% (or 10% or 80%).

A story does not need words, but when it does they must have purpose

Okay, here's the gist of my problem with your and GitM's assertions, and please correct me if I'm wrong. It seems like you are assuming there is only one way to add words to images for purposes of a comic, and if that paradigm isn't matched to your satisfaction there's no way for the piece to be a maasterpiece. Well what if the words aren't there to be a narrative? What if they're actual words inserted for their graphical power? For example taking various words of various languages and working them into design. The words no longer have the meaning and purpose that we generally ascribe to words... they don't necessarily 'tell' you anything. They might, but that might not even be their purpose. On what basis do you value their merits then?

I'm not telling you guys not to enjoy what you enjoy, I'm asking you to consider that there's more to comics (even ones with text) than x=text, y=visual art, z=comics where z-x=y!=z. Unless you're willing to get into the nitty gritty of what makes text satisfying to comics and are willing to concede that even something like text components to comics can take all manner of forms with different purposes.

What happens, for instance, when a comics creator decides to make a work that is meant to be read both with text and without, each to different effect? According to both your statements the moment the text that was written to be there is gone, the comic is suffering. In a hypothetical case like this, is that really true? Imagine a comic story that has only three words in forty pagesl, something that you conside a masterpiece. Let's say the final scene is emotionally pregnant and features the protagonists leaving whatever crisis has just occurred behind. There's a silhouette of their home on the hill above and just before they start walking towards the hill one character says to the other, 'Let's go home.' Then imagine pulling those words out. Maybe this is a crappy example, but you get the idea. I still think you guys are boiling things down way too mathematically, trying to keep the concepts of comic, text, art, etc., very button-holed. Which is great for your self, but quite another thing when trying to describe critically the entire medium,

This is incredibly egotistical, but as for the rest of the stuff you write -- I don't care. I don't care what "avowed masters" do. I don't care whether or not I "restrict the comic medium." I don't care about shocking viewers "out of their typical modes of analysis."

I care about stories. I care about feeling. If those aspects you site will make me wonder "what's going to happen next?" or remind me of my grandmother or make me cry, then I'm all for them. Otherwise, I couldn't care less.

That's all well and good, and again you have every right and expectation to such feelings, but you should have made clear in your letter to Spiegelman that you were speaking about the criteria necessary for your own personal pleasure rathr than asserting what comics should be over-all.

"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."

Look, if you are going to make a big post about the letter you sent to an art god where you debate aspects of the form of a particular medium of art, then you really shouldn't follow up an attempt to debate your ideas with 'I don't know much, but I know what I like.' It kind of invalidates the whole point of your initial post. That line is quite commonly the refuse for people who discover they don't really want to debate what they thought they did.
posted by the_savage_mind at 9:36 AM on April 26, 2005

Response by poster: the_savage_mind, I suspect our views aren't that far apart. Perhaps (my?) clumsy writing is confusing the issue.

I have NO problem with text used graphically. Text can be used ANY way as long as it's used WELL.

My chief problem -- which I tried to explain in my letter to Spiegleman -- is with gratuitous text (or images). If a picture is clearly showing us something, there's no need for text that tells us the same thing. If words are describing something, there's no need for pictures that simply illustrate the words.

If an artist wants to use text graphically, I'm all for it, but he should find a way to do that without gratuity. THAT is a making of a masterpiece. In a masterpiece, there are no concessions. In a masterpiece, you never say, "sure, the text is a bit gratuitous, but it's acting as a picture." In a masterpiece, you say, "wow, that graphical text is also illuminating (or at least not distracting) on a prose level, too!"

I think I created a monumental confusion by using the world "uncomfortable," and I'm just realizing that now. You took it to mean jarring. I agree that jarring is not always bad. I love it when two things are joined together in a surprising way. But all I meant by uncomfortable was clumsy. I was talking about text and images being thrown together without much thought, creating a clunky, gratuitous machine.

you should have made clear in your letter to Spiegelman that you were speaking about the criteria necessary for your own personal pleasure rather than asserting what comics should be over-all.

I don't really know what to say to this. Here is where we may be on VERY different pages. I don't think there's a way comics (or any art form) "should" be. I don't believe these's an ethics to artistic creation. All critical judgements are personal (Art Spiegleman's, yours, mine). I don't see how they can be anything else.

If one talks about "a good comic" or "a bad comic" they MUST mean "in their opinion." How can it make sense for a comic to be bad in a universal sense? What if it's "bad" but you like it? If it gives you pleasure (or some other strong feeling or sensation), then it's good (as-far-as you're concerned).

The only way we can talk about artistic value beyond the personal is to promote those effects that, in general, tend to affect most people. (I.e. most people feel drawn to stories with sympathetic characters, so such stories are "good" in the sense that they will positively effect many readers.) I believe that gratuitious elements NEGATIVELY affect most readers. Many readers will (and do) like works despite gratuitious (or other clumsy) elements, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't like the works more (or even more people would like them) without gratuity.
posted by grumblebee at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2005

People keep telling me that certain graphic novels are masterpieces, but when I read them, I don't like them.

Then don't try to make yourself like them. If you don't like them, you don't like them. Stop trying to theorize about it. No theory or formula is going to make a comics fan dislike them and no theory or formula is going to make you like them.

I don't like comics. I didn't like them in the old days, when they were just Superman punching bad guys, and I don't like them now, when they try to be more.

I might (almost certainly would) try them again if poets or novelists I like started writing them or artists I like started illustrating them, but for now I'd rather read traditional novels or poetry, or go to a museum to see art-for-art's-sake art on a wall.

Are there any comics that don't tell a story but that do use words and pictures artfully? Poetry that could stand on its own but that is worked into art that also could stand on its own? Maybe I would like them.
posted by pracowity at 10:28 AM on April 26, 2005

Since people recommend Kevin O'Neill's stuff (League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen) you might as well check out Nemesis the Warlock, drawn by O'Neill and written by comic book wizard Pat Mills. It's one of the funniest comics from the 2000 AD school (UK, 1980s). Nemesis is awesome, but I don't know if it will obey all your "rules". I enjoy stuff (it can be art, it can be junk) that moves me in some undefinable way, stuff that feels alive. If it does so, dramatugy can be shoddy, plot holes can gape wide, and characters can be flat as pancakes. It just has to feel vital. I don't worry too much about aesthetic theory, or whether it fits within certain parameters.
posted by Panfilo at 11:55 AM on April 26, 2005

Response by poster: For those of us who have "rules," it's NOT necessarily true that we learned them somewhere (in school?) and are now held captive by them.

In my case, I started with strong likes and dislikes. The rules -- which grew out of a lot of soul-searching and through comparing the works I liked/disliked to figure out what they had in common -- are more descriptive than prescriptive.

Of course, even in cases like mine, the risk is that once rules are formulated, one's mind will close to all sorts of other possibilities. I don't feel like that is the case with me, but of course one can never really know if one's mind is closed.

I do know that I love art. All my rules can be damned if by damning them I get to read and see more good stories.

In fact, I tend to be TOO open. I know from years of experience that these rules work for me, but continually friends say, "I know you don't usually like X, but TRUST ME, you'll like THIS." And I pretty much always give it a try. And I pretty much always hate it. When I hate it, I don't feel vindicated. I feel sad.
posted by grumblebee at 12:42 PM on April 26, 2005

Finder's pretty good.

Character-driven Science fiction that manages to walk the line between neato-ness and cheeziness.

There's a few episodes up for viewing. Each story line will usually have a character or two from the story before, but is self-contained.

My favorite has to be "King of the Cats". I fucking hate Disneyland!
posted by anthill at 1:42 PM on April 26, 2005

As Redfox said, I think representing "cool tweaking of tradition" as oppositional to "literary value" is bizarre, but perhaps that was an uncharitable reading of your comment.

Uncharitable? I'm tempted to suggest "illiterate and/or malicious," but I'll try to play nice. I frankly do not understand how you can read the sentence "I have zero interest in the tradition of superhero comics..., so like you I have to have actual literary/artistic value, not just cool tweakings of tradition" and perceive/imagine an opposition between tradition-tweaking and value. If you hear someone say "I like coffee, but I have to have milk in it, not just coffee," do you accuse them of opposing milk and coffee, of making a choice between the two? I'd understand it a little better if this were one of those political threads where everybody is trying to make points at the expense of whoever disagrees with them, full speed ahead and damn the distortions, but this is an AskMe thread, for chrissake. The poster says he's looking for masterpieces and doesn't relate well to superhero stories, so (feeling that I may be closer to his attitude than many respondents, since it seems many/most MeFites who are into comix do like superheroes) I say like you I want art, not just tweakings of tradition. [Emphasis added for reading comprehension.] The implication being (obviously, I would have thought) that for those immersed in the comix tradition, with its heavy dose of superhero mythos, tweakings of that tradition are interesting in and of themselves, whereas those of us coming from outside need something else. Is that now sufficiently clear? Oh, and yes, for fuck's sake, I love tweakings of tradition in the greater world of art and literature -- in fact, I have little interest in most art that attempts to ignore tradition and strike out blindly into the unknown, hoping that simple novelty will somehow guarantee artistic effect. Tradition is great. But it is not enough. Beowulf is not great because it tweaks tradition, it's great because it's a masterful poem and story. Are we there yet?

Herriman's Krazy Kat is absolutely wonderful, but not actually a graphic novel in the sense in which I understand the term. It's an episodic newspaper comic, like Peanuts or Little Nemo.

Very true. But I figure anyone with the kind of interests grumblebee expresses is likely to love Krazy Kat, so I thought I'd second the recommendation, even though it wasn't a graphic novel.
posted by languagehat at 5:32 PM on April 26, 2005

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