03 September 2011

Campbell: “Comics were supposed to have grown up”

In a 2008 interview with Tom Spurgeon, comics creator Eddie Campbell responded to a question about his “take on the New York publishing world, and how they may be slowly revamping the comics industry into an adjunct of the children's book publishing business”:
This is something that has been bugging me for some time. The latest news to come down is that First Second Books, the publisher of my last three books, are now under the umbrella of Macmillan's Children's Group. I'm not surprised, because the book world, by which I mean the mainstream book publishers as well as the libraries and the Library Association, has been viewing "the graphic novel" as a young reader's genre for quite some time.

In part I think it's because the part of a publishing house that is likely to be interested in bright illustrated narratives is the children's books department, and in part also because those publishers, and America's libraries, see the "graphic novel" as a way of grabbing a part of the literate populace that has hitherto proved elusive.

Now, I have no objection to young folks having their own literature specially designed for them, though when I was a young 'un myself I would have been highly suspicious of anything that the adult world thought I should read because it was supposed to be good for me. Let's not forget that this is one of the things that drew us to comics in the first place, the very fact that they were not approved by our adults; they were our visual rock'n'roll, the things we knew that they didn't. However, let's not get bogged down on that point.

The problem with this development is that comics were supposed to have grown up and become the "graphic novel," but now we are apt to find articles telling us that the "graphic novel has grown up." In other words we're back where we started.
Campbell then added a quote from “a relevant blog post” by, um, me.

That was rather exciting to stumble across. It’s also rather circular, since my thoughts on how our culture perceives the comics form had been pushed along by earlier comments from Campbell. So maybe it’s just the two of us muttering about this on opposite sides of the world.

But if you Google the phrase "graphic novels aren't just for kids", over 1,500 hits come up. With almost 500 more for "graphic novels not just for kids". And a lot of those hits are library sites.

In any case, let me reiterate how I enjoyed Campbell’s autobiographical Alec: The Years Have Pants, especially the pages that deal with the British comics scene of the 1980s and with parenthood. It’s fine work, and adult.

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