The graphic novel, still struggling for mass credibility


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You would have thought the struggle for legitimacy was long over, but the graphic novel is still jeered by many. That’s what Julia Keller, the very fine cultural critic of the Chicago Tribune, learned when when she wrote a column headlined Confessions of a Comics Fan: My Secret Shame. Here’s a bit:

The reader was outraged. The thrust of her question: How dare you? Her contempt arose in response to a column I wrote praising certain graphic novels. And she was not alone in her seething censure. I heard from several other readers as well, wondering why I had allowed myself to be seduced by the easy enchantments of comic books. Frankly, they expected better of me -- given my doctoral degree in English literature and my well-known and oft-alluded-to affinity for dense, difficult, high-minded novels by the likes of Virginia Woolf and Joseph Conrad. How had I allowed myself to be plucked from the stately, dignified ivory tower and lured down into the publishing world’s damp basement, a place of shag carpet, flea-market furniture and flea-bitten ideas, X-Men posters on the wall, empty pop cans underfoot and stacks upon stacks of comic books?


Keller goes on to wonder if she’s pandering to contemporary audiences -- “Am I just trying to sound cool? Is an affection for graphic novels by anyone over 25 simply the literary equivalent of buying a sports car or getting a face lift?” -- but she then stands her ground and hails Tim Hamilton’s new graphic novel based on the 1953 Ray Bradbury classic ‘Fahrenheit 451.’ Bradbury gave his blessing to the adaptation and also wrote the introduction, which might further shock some of Keller’s stuffy audience.

The critic had an interesting observation about herself as a graphic novel reader -- she said that the medium that many people dismiss as empty calories actually makes her slow down and enjoy a literary meal instead of treating it like fast food.

“The truth is that too many years as a book critic have threatened to turn me into a reading machine. I read too fast. I mow down rows of type like a scythe murdering a field. With a graphic novel, however, I’m forced to slow down. I can’t rush. I can’t go hell-for-leather across the page. I have to consider both the images and the words. I have to linger. I have to let things sink in. I have to learn all over again how to savor.”

Again, you can read Keller’s entire column right here.

-- Lee Margulies

A DIFFERENT VIEW: Slate: ‘When ‘Fahrenheit 451’ becomes a comic book it’s time to worry’



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