I recently ran across Tom Spurgeon's report on Comic-Con in 2008 at The Comics Reporter. (Comic-Con, as I knew only dimly until a coupla years ago, is the huge annual comics and pop-culture convention in San Diego.) Spurgeon wrote:
I moderated one panel about The World of Graphic Novels on Friday afternoon. Alex Robinson, Nick Abadzis, Eddie Campbell, Rutu Modan and Adrian Tomine. As I joked too many times for it to be funny, it was one of those panels where they put a bunch of smart guests together with a generic title and you have no idea what the audience may be looking for. It was a good panel with a lot of back and forth between the participants, which is rarer than you might think, and several smart questions.Spurgeon, former editor of The Comics Journal and writer of its "Cape Fear" column on "corporate superhero comics," surely knew about that "great divide" beforehand. (It's also the tension in the webcomic ComicCritics, caricaturing different kinds of comics fans.)
...although in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked for the question from the guy dressed as Robin. Apparently, there's a great divide in the comics world between alternative comics and hero books. . . .
there was an army of people dressed as Robin at this show. I'm not kidding you. Either that, or I have some sort of connection to the character that make me see him everywhere. Either option is slightly depressing.
Spurgeon was evidently hoping this Boy Wonder would be able to swing across the gap. I wish I knew what question was actually asked of those comics creators, but Journalista's recording of that panel was taken down before I read this.
So I'm left with Eddie Campbell's reiterated main point from that discussion:
librarians and to some extent the book trade have decided that the graphic novel is a young readers' genre. A librarian in the audience made the case that this is a good thing.So the cultural assumption that comics are for kids is so strong that it's overwhelmed a new label adopted to mean "comics not just for kids." This is especially ironic given how until recently, as discussed back here, comics for preteens were hard to find in comics stores.
But here is the sequence of events: circa 1980 it was decided that comics had grown up and the grown-up version would be called 'the graphic novel.' This has been forgotten and a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor (June 27) declares: "Graphic novels, all grown up".