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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Guardian Online thinks cartoonists belong in their place

I posted this reply on the Gruniads forum, but it may vanish, on account of it being too long, or something. Here's the article:

Are Comic Books Neglecting Comedy?


Oh dear, we Court Jesters have overstepped our mark. We are daring to be more than funny. Ho-Hum.

The odd thing is the Gruniad has acted as a forum for very few cartoonists over the last couple of decades, but it has championed Posey Simmonds work. Now I like Posey and her tales of comfortable middle class life in rural England, but I'd never accuse her of being funny - she left that behind when she dropped 'Bear' and headed into Gemma Bovery country. So whilst the paper runs 'serious' cartoon work, it doesn't really approve of the 'fashion'?

I see you mention Peter Bagge, Tony Millionaire and Johnny Ryan as funsters, well, they are all very different cartoonists, and I take it you are referring to Peter's Buddy Bradley comics about drug-taking and suicide (I think Stinky meant to kill himself) and the like (which I find hilarious - I'm a huge fan) and not his online strip for Reason; which may be a little too serious for your liking? It may also surprise you to know that Johhny Ryan has tackled (haw) the serious subject of testicular cancer, in a funny about Harvey Pekar, which Harvey might not have enjoyed and Tony, well, Tony Millionaire's Maakies have made their way onto Adult Swim (coming to the UK soon I hope) but the strip didn't make it to The Guardian did it? Maybe the Guardian could run the strip instead of the incredibly unfunny IF? It's also worth baring in mind that Millionaire is a very serious children's author and his Sock Monkey series and his latest kiddy book Billy Hazelnuts are always very well recieved. Whilst the three Fantagraphics cartoonists you have chosen might be 'funny' you'd be wrong to think they aren't serious cartoonists.

As for Mom's Cancer, it went from online comic to indy paper (again, not into The Guardian) to book deal, and it was long journey that Brian's Mother was actively involved in. None of his fellow cartoonists begrudge his success and I can assure you he has made it perfectly clear that he would give up any fame, or money, Mom's Cancer has afforded him just to have 10 more minutes with the subject of his excellent book. What would you have had him do, create a fictional 'funny' story for you to enjoy?

No wonder our best cartoonists and comic writers send their work overseas where it is taken seriously. Can you imagine this discussion taking place in Japan, or France, or Italy, or the US? You know, I think the problem is that over here, in the UK, cartooning is a third rate job done as a hobby by people with little or no training or education, whereas in those other countries the cartoonists choose to leave university, art school, cartooning school even, or in some cases a career in Law (Stephan Pastis who draws the syndicated strip Pearls before Swine was a lawyer) to take up what is regarded in their countries as a profession.

Alternatively, writing 'serious' fiction in the UK is usually a job for the Oxbridge elite who use their trust funds to fund the writing that they submit to their classmates who have moved into publishing. The results are then sent to the other Tristans and Jaspers who 'work' as literary critics, and the circle-jerk continues for another generation. I can see, in this scenario, how scared they might be that an actual talent, like being able to draw, might be needed to sell a manuscript someday.

I have made my feelings about this paper's approach to cartooning abundantly clear, The Guardian would much rather print a five-page article lauding a work by a cartoonist than actually run any strips or stories that are relevent or new, so this attitude doesn't really surprise me. You better suck it up though, graphic novels about 'serious' subjects, indeed about any subject, are growing in popularity and look like being the 'in-thing' for some time to come.

1 comment:

Steven said...

I think cartoonists often have more insight into current affairs than the journalists. They also often deal with basic realities that the papers refuse to even address. For example, I saw a cartoon by Andy Singer years ago which has stuck with me.

There were two side by side panels with the same building being blown up in each, with people clearly being killed. In the first it was a terrorist with a remote detonator and the caption was "Terrorism, Illegal". The second panel had jets bombing the building from above with the caption "Militarism, Legal".