Comics Scholars Survey Results, November 1995

compiled by Peter M. Coogan

G. Comics As An Art Form
G.1. What questions are there about comics as an art form?

Kenneth Nordin mentioned Judith O'Sullivan's writings on this subject. Kathe Todd raised the problem of considering comics as an art form because of the composite authorship of most comics, "But whose art is it when the character was created by some guy 20 years ago, the story was written by one person, somebody else did the script, somebody else did the pencils, another person in ked it, an outside letter was use and artistic control was maintained by an editor. Is it really art at all, in the usual sense, or just 'product?'" Luca Somigli remarked that this collaborative effort helps to make comics a unique medium, but that it and similar aspects often get pushed aside in efforts to recuperate comics as art. He gave Understanding Comics as an example of such recuperation and wanted to turn the question around to the what is at stake in claiming the status of art for comics. Barb Rausch broadened the question to apply to any pop culture art form: how does it meet--or transcend--its criteria of form and aesthetics?

G.2. What is at stake in claiming the status of art for comics?

Guillaume de Syon summed it up, " In a nutshell, making comics respectable." Doing so will enable comics to reach an equilibrium of status with other media. He noted that many people seem to prefer obscure novels, even trashy ones, to comics on a bookshelf.

G.3. What can we learn from the movement of other media into the status of art?

Barb Rausch weighs in that Jazz has become a respected art form, but that this recognition has come too late for too many of the creators who died in drugs and poverty. Rock music can also be art, but the peril there for creators seems to be an overdose of recognition. Certainly with the acclaim of Maus, the "cultural establishment" has begun "sniffing around" comics, "but as anyone who has read Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word would perceive, that might not be a positive occurrence!"

In a paper I wrote for the Comics Arts Conference entitled: "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The Effects of Academic Attention on Popular Art Forms: The Novel, Jazz, Film, and Comics," I found some comm on patterns which occurred when academics turned their attentions to popular art forms: 1. Gobbledygook writing that excludes readers through the use of jargon, confusing concepts, and an exclusionary attitude. 2. The production of sterile, academic work. 3. A formal training ground for artists and critics in the academy. 4. A level of cultural legitimacy and acceptance, instituted primarily by another art form coming up from "below." 5. The preservation of old texts. 6. Some insightful analysis that deepens and broadens our understanding of particular works of art, media, and the creative process itself. Very likely these patterns will recur in comics when they reach the academic level of acceptance of jazz, film, or the novel.

Gene Phillips contended that, in promoting comics as an art-form, it would be wise to avoid the cant advanced by film critics (and some comics critics) that if business would simply promote and encourage the most artistically rewarding creations, then sooner or later the public would come around and put aside their love of pop-art. Phillips believes that "no medium can survive being made the exclusive domain of 'coterie' fiction; there must be an ongoing popular tradition in which the tastes of the many make possible the underwriting of the tastes of the few." The death of the popular tradition, in his view, will spell the death of the medium. Phillips does not believe, contrary to Dave Sim's hypothesis in a recent issue of Cerebus, that the "independent" creators can make a go of it alone.

Back to the Introduction and Survey Outline