Rather like Richard Bruton in a recent Forbidden Planet Blog Post, I too have noticed that as comics are becoming more accepted as an art form, the word ‘comics’ is being subtly dismissed from all conversation with the same delicate discretion that an artist might decline from illustrating the third nipple of his life model. There’s an insipid tactfulness I’ve seen in the faces of people I meet at parties, in those of my friends mums, even, sadly, in people at Comic Conventions, who’d rather stand there, lips quivering with inward tension and confusion, trying to formulate a sentence that does’t contain the word Comics, than just come out and say it.
It’s true to say that in my case some of this reticence may be due to the fact that most of my work doesn’t much resemble traditional comics, which the very same Richard Bruton once described as Non-Comics (a phrase I don’t disapprove of as it contains the word ‘comics’). But I’m not the only one this happens to, I’m sure every comics creator knows what I’m talking about and I don’t know a single creator who doesn’t prefer the description ‘Comic’ to any of the alternative phrases (which though various, generally contain one or more of the words ‘graphic’, ‘sequence’ and ‘literature’).
I generally find that people’s eyes light up when you propose the word ‘Comic’ as the word they’ve been groping for. (This might not work with Broadsheet Journalists). Unlike ‘Literature’ the word ‘Comic’ suggests accessibility, and whilst past stereotypes of Comic Book readers haven’t exactly encouraged inclusiveness, a Comic is at least something that nearly everyone has some experience of and can’t be considered as ‘not being for them’ because they wouldn’t understand it. One of the things I think characterises the really great comics of the past, is that really important themes are explored deeply, with a minimum of chin stroking required, and without the need (so ubiquitous in Fine Art) of some ‘expert’ telling you what to think.
For almost a century the only place words and pictures were allowed to coexist and practice their symbiotic magic was in Comics, for all this time the Comic Book reader kept alive the form which Alan Moore observed is the only one that uses both sides of the brain. For all this time writers and artists honed their craft whilst being sneered at by the lofty apologists of inaccessible modern and postmodernism. Comics like any other word brings with it a politics and a history and should not be given up lightly.