Well, the National Book Award winners will be announced next week and all of us waiting with bated (baited?) breath to see if Gene Leung Yang’s American Born Chinese takes home an NBA will finally see if comics have got what it takes to compete with books.
Yang’s ABC is a visual/graphic novel that ties together three separate narratives about growing up Chinese in America. It’s visually rich and painfully self-aware and just the fact that this type of material (in graphic format!) garnered a nomination had me choking on my sweet coffee and texting butterfly kisses to everyone in my network.
Of course, not everyone had the same reaction as me. Some people choked on their coffee out of shock and disapproval as opposed to joy. Tony Long had an interesting response in Wired to Yang’s nomination which was to say books and comic books don’t belong in the same cateorgy. According to him, it’s like comparing apples and orangutangs.
Interestingly, parts of his argument registered with me which I suppose is typical and another testament to my love of debate and speculation. (Think! Think! Think! Talk! Talk! Talk! Do? Do? Do? – fellow procrastinators will understand)
Don’t get me wrong, obviously I think of graphic narratives as books, as art, as important. But Long asks if comic books should be allowed into the same award categories as literature. Are comic books literature? Some are quite literate, yes, but part of me is still stuck on this idea that books w/o pictures deserve their own prizes.
It’s too late to keep comics from the mainstream – graphic novels are the literature of tomorrow. There’s too little time in the day to read books that have no pictures and the generation that is coming of age is too accustomed to seeing words in some sort of multimedia interface to be bothered with such simple things as books. Paper? Ink? letters? It’s all beginning to feel a bit antiquated.
So isn’t it enough that comics have their own awards? The Harveys, the Eisners, the Ignatz, the Lulu’s. I don’t know. I guess what I’m having difficulty confronting is that there are more people out there like me (who don’t have time for books) than I’d realized. I love books, but it’s fetishized love. They look great on my shelf. (This one goes great with my backpack – this one is too heavy to be anything but a coaster.) I love the way they feel. But actually reading, finishing an entire book, investing in reading, – that’s a bit much, don’t you think?