Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cosmo Landsman was wrong about comics...big screaming deal!

So, Cosmo Landsman tells us in his review of Persepolis the animation that he was wrong, there's a surprise:

I must confess that I have always thought graphic novels were just comic books with literary pretensions. I casually dismissed them as a symptom of our culture’s increasing infantilisation; adults read books, children stories with pictures. Well, having seen Persepolis - a faithful translation of the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi - I’m happy to admit I was wrong.

We should care less. There will be much volte-face from the literati as they attempt to cling to their right to review work about which they know little or nothing and care even less. Who cares about Cosmo's alleged epiphany? Does he even know that Road to Perdition and A History of Violence and Ghost World, no doubt all movies he has seen, were graphic novels? I doubt it. I mean it's not even as if he has read Persepolis, he is praising the graphic novel because he believes the animated movie is 'a faithful translation of the graphic novel'.

I suppose we are all meant to be delighted he has seen the light, but I'm sorry, I predicted that this sort of thing would happen as the literary establishment attempts to canonise certain graphic novels in order to keep the Barbarians from crossing the chasm to their citadel. Does Cosmo really no longer think that graphic novels are a symptom of the 'infantilisation' of our culture? I seriously doubt it. But tell me this, since Britain's very poor showing in the league table of reading showed that the most popular reading material in this country is celebrity cookbooks and 'autobiographies' by the likes of Jordan - a woman who has now written more books than she has read - how can he ever have believed that graphic novels were inferior reading matter? Oh yes, because they contain pictures as well as text.

So that's it in a nutshell is it? The pictures, the drawings, they drag the written word down. Is that really the case? I somehow doubt it. I may be wrong, but I think there was a concerted effort, as evidenced in the blogs below on Radio 4's review programme, to rubbish and denigrate graphic novels because they represent a threat to both the established stables of authors, and their reviewer friends (I also think the fear of illustrations in this country has very deep historical and political and religious roots - but we wont get into that just now).

Anyway, as I said Cosmo isn't talking about Persepolis 1 and Persepolis 2 or the collected work, he is actually talking about the movie Persepolis, which as Tom Spurgeon pointed out some time back, looks a lot rougher and less polished than the animation - which looks simply stunning:

I hope I'm not being too negative here. I mean, it seems that as long as reviewers like Cosmo can watch a movie based on the book, they can make the connection between the words and the pictures and can actually work out how graphic novels work. That offers more hope than the reviewers on BBC Radio 4 who didn't understand how you actually go about reading the things (graphic novels). We have come such a long way, and in such a short time.

Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter started collecting articles and links on Marjane Satrapi and Persepolis back in April 2005, long before Cosmo and his friends decided to jump on the graphics novel bandwagon. The page here is worth a visit for the real Satrapi fans.


skarab said...

Rod, very interesting point of view on reviewers' distinguishing between the graphic novel and the movies made from them. Also interesting is the very valid point that books with pictures are looked down upon by movie reviewer(s), when movies are primarily just pictures!

Persepolis is both an outstanding book and movie. Maybe this cross-pollination will gain some respect for the books.

Rod McKie said...

Exactly Skarab, that's why I think there is a little more going on. They protest too much, as it were.

I like the book and the movie too, but I think we need some well know comic book artists and graphic novelists doing the reviews - rather than us sitting having to wait on the established 'embedded' critics noticing they are out of touch with the zeitgeist.

Kartoonius said...

I've always thought that the combination of words and pictures is the perfect way to tell a story. A good picture can save a lot of words, and the words may have described architecture or items that the reader is not familiar with anyway. For example...

"Roger fired a few well-aimed shots at the masked man through the balustrade. The intruder staggered back against a large Art-Deco motif and clutched his chest."

Now I suspect rather a lot of people don't know what a balustrade is, even though they probably see one every day, and quite a few probably have no idea exactly what the Art-Deco style is. A picture would solve these problems. In fact if you had the words and pictures together, it would even be an educational experience.

Some people though seem to think that the combination of words and pictures is a fundamentally childish medium. I would dismiss that completely. It's no more childish than the medium of film. There are others though who think that in practice it is a childish medium, and that point of view is perhaps not so easy to dismiss.

There's certainly a lot of very shallow stuff around. I suppose you would call it the Graphic Novel/Comic version of B-Movies. There does seem to be too much of an obsession with superheros and cheesy B-Movie plots. If you go into a Newsagent and pic up a Comic, chances are it's going to be some guy wearing his underpants on the outside firing beams out of his eyes. I suspect this is one of the main reasons that Comics/Graphic Novels are not nearly as popular as books or films.

In contrast, the comedies of the cartoon world, i.e. gags etc, are incredibly popular, bizarrely even ones that don't seem remotely funny.

Rod McKie said...

I like your way of thinking Kartoonius. I have often worried that illustrating some texts limits the imaginative process or at any rate imposes a particular vision on the reader; but you have given me something to think about there. Yes, I can see scope for an educative role and and an informing one.

As you say there are some really horrible examples out there. I think that just as the books of Dickins and Joyce and Harper Lee the like exist alongside the Better Cookbook and Jade Goody's life story, we will find the same in comicbook form.

For every Walking Man and Persepolis, there will be a hundred or even a thousand crappy titles - but then that is the only way to find the really good stuff.