The Comic Queen

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Monday, July 12, 2004

New York Times on Graphic Novels

The New York Times Magazine tackles the subject of graphic novels in an article titled “Not Funnies” by Charles McGrath (free registration required).

I realize I may be harder on this article than many people because I write and edit for a living.

I have to say, though, I have mixed feelings about this article. First off, what a huge topic to try to take on even in such a lengthy article as this. I get the feeling the New York Times felt it should cover graphic novels since they’ve been getting more and more mainstream press lately. To me, it is sloppy journalism to not have a focused subject or idea going into researching an article.

And I get the distinct feeling that McGrath doesn’t have as much experience with the medium as he’s letting on. Now, I could be wrong, but there’s just this cockiness he exudes in his writing, but not a lot of substance to back it up.

Some things he writes just completely rub me the wrong way. “In fact, the genre's greatest strength and greatest weakness is that no matter how far the graphic novel verges toward realism, its basic idiom is always a little, well, cartoonish. Sacco's example notwithstanding, this is a medium probably not well suited to lyricism or strong emotion, and (again, Sacco excepted) the very best graphic novels don't take themselves entirely seriously,” writes McGrath. Sorry McGrath, but Sacco is not the only person who can elicit strong emotion or express lyricism in his work.

I also have problems with someone who when presenting a quick overview of the history of comics neglects to mention their incredible, and unmatched since, popularity in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. McGrath uses the favorites of sloppy journalism: only using facts convenient to his/her point and presenting his/her opinion as unqualified facts.

Ooooh, and the typo on Scott McCloud’s name (or McLoud as the article says) is just bad. That may not be McGrath’s fault, but still, it just detracts from the article.

However, he does make some good points and accurate statements about the nature of graphic novels for the masses: “First of all, the graphic novel is not just like the old Classics Illustrated series, an illustrated version of something else. It is its own thing: an integrated whole, of words and images both, where the pictures don't just depict the story; they're part of the telling.”

McGrath has me back and forth in his camp on whether or not this is a well-written, well-put-together article. But ultimately, I don’t think it is; and I think it does a disservice to the medium.


  • At 10:19 AM, July 13, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That was a doozy of an article and you're right about the typo in McCloud's name. Very bad. It is like misspelling Jordan's name in an article about basketball.

    Although the author sites all the major graphic novel, it's obvious he didn't read any of them.


  • At 11:16 AM, July 13, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Glad to see you back in the saddle again. I hadn't read the article myself, but other reviews of the article. They all pretty much agree with you in terms of the writer's glossing over some terms, and occassionally getting to good points. It probably should have been a series or something cause that's a lot to squeeze in without a tight focus.


  • At 11:17 PM, July 13, 2004, Blogger tomthedog said…

    I always feel a bit of a mental disconnect here, as my new site has the exact same template.

    And excuse me, but -- just the first example off the top of my head -- Jimmy Corrigan didn't contain "lyricism or strong emotion"? Or Blankets? Really? Oh, my mistake.

    Of course, I haven't read the whole article yet -- despite the tsunamis it's created across the comics... "blogosphere," for lack of a non-idiotic word -- so I don't know WHAT he says about those, or other, works. I'm just lazy, I guess. Too busy reading comics that lack lyricism and strong emotion.

  • At 9:11 AM, July 14, 2004, Blogger Erin M. Schadt said…

    I haven't read any other comments on this article (a coworker pointed it out to me), but it doesn't surprise me to hear it's caused a stir. Like I said, it wasn't all bad, but just not good either. Guess I hold the NY Times to a higher standard.

    ... I know what you mean about that mental disconnect. ;-)


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