When I was a teenager, I thought reading comics the epitome of cool. This was largely influenced by the fact there were plenty of really interesting titles around at the time, and the term ‘graphic novel’ was starting to be bandied about and really kind of mean something.
I remember reading James O’Barr’s The Crow – which was my first comic of that ilk, although I’d seen plenty of The Broons, Beano and Dandy type things by then – and being totally blown away. And where did I end up next? Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. And what next? Neil Gaiman’s back catalogue. No wonder I assumed comics were where it was all going on.
But I never turned into a die-hard fan. I had plenty of other books to be reading, and as much as I love gorgeous art work and innovative experiments with visual narratives, I really am a straight prose kind of girl. So for me, comics were always that cool cousin from out of town that had that little something different that you could only experiment in. So it came as a bit of a shock to me when, years later, I realised that getting people to, you know, respect as well as read comics was still an uphill struggle.
Of course, I’d know a lot less about comics than I do if I didn’t know Ink, but I’d definitely still have a healthy regard for those who are able to tell a story and tell it well – whatever the medium. For me, I think the biggest problem with comics is that people tend to lump them all in together – which makes no sense at all.
When I think of novels, there are only certain categories or sections I’d bother to consider: I’m not a huge fan of pink covered books for girls, detective fiction doesn’t do much for me and some fantasy stuff makes my eyes hurt, but obviously I don’t think that all books are the same as the ones I don’t like. Nope, I just bypass the commercial or niche books I’m not into and move onto the ones I am.
I doubt there are many people out there who think Jodi Picoult, Terry Pratchett, Audrey Niffenegger and Muriel Spark write the same stuff, so why do people write off comics so quickly?
It’s not something I really thought about much until I started going along to comic conventions. If I mentioned them in passing, I’d tend to see a strange reaction – a kind of stifled surprise from the more polite people – but if I say I’m going to see someone at the Edinburgh Book Festival (comic writers included) no one blinks an eye.
It’s really weird, and kind of sad. In all mediums, the most powerful pieces of work are the ones that defy their boundaries and it’d be a shame to think that the majority of people write comics off as fluffy entertainment and blockbuster fodder without giving some of the greats a try.