Comics: Out of the Gutter and Into the Academy

Comics were once a gutter art form, barely more respectable than pornography. Now comics are perhaps all too cherished by the establishment, showered with attention by academic studies and museum shows. More than anyone else Art Speigelman is responsible for this shift, thanks not only to his celebrated graphic novel Maus but also his many lectures and essays on comics history.

But even Spiegelman has some misgivings about the newfound legitimacy of comics. As he recently told the Globe and Mail: “The careful-what-you-wish-for thing is, I really like comics’ grittiness and disrepute, their raffish and scruffy qualities. And I don’t really want to see them turned into something that’s so academicized that one can approach them with the same suspicion I used to approach art in my lower-middle class childhood.”

Are comics better off in the gutter? That’s an issue I’ll take up this Friday with three very smart writers (Douglas Wolk, David Hajdu and Hillary Chute) in a panel discussion hosted by the New York Institute For the Humanities as part of an all day symposium on “the growing cultural significance of comics.” For more on the symposium see here

The whole symposium looks very interesting and will have many distinguished guests, including Lynda Barry, Francoise Mouly, Sarah Boxer, Gary Panter, and of course Art Spiegelman.

3 thoughts on “Comics: Out of the Gutter and Into the Academy

  1. I think the growing respectability is a good thing. It’s hard to imagine a series like “Y: the Last Man” being written in the eighties, the last time comic books were being hailed as more “adult and mature”. With that new found respectability though, I don’t know if we’ll ever see magnificient little gem’s/flukes like Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss.

  2. Its a legitimate concern; rock music was a lot more powerful when it was a rebel voice, although Spiegelman is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the new crest of support for comics.
    & it does give the publishing world some currency on a landscape that is otherwise pretty flat.

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