SCANTASTIC! ‘Zap! Pow! The astonishing growth of Graphic Novels’ – yet another “comics aren’t just for kids” article from ‘BOOKS’ magazine (June 1990)
In the mid 1980s, right through to the early 1990s, thanks to the whole speculation shitstorm which gave the illusion of healthy financial investment in comics, you could barely open a newspaper or magazine without some barely-evidenced article announcing that ‘comics aren’t just for kids!’
There were a few culprits: Art Spiegelman’s Maus – a holocaust survivor’s tale told in anthropomorphic pictures – was one of the prime suspects, with its classy perfect-bound gatefold paperback edition published by Penguin to great fanfare. Then there was Frank Miller’s canon-stretching Batman series The Dark Knight Returns, collected by Titan into a nice trade paperback. Grant Morrison and Dave McKean gave us the provocative Arkham Asylum.
These books and others seemed to take the form – as understood in the Anglo world – further away from the juvenile roots of comics, expounding upon existential themes, adult ideas, often with meticulously painted instead of the industrial assembly line plot-pencil-ink-colour-letter process of the American business.
But whilst some of these books clearly were conceived for a contained long-form, the big comic publishers sensed an opportunity, and before long every two-bit superhero, every slightly angsty übergoth outsider character, was in on the act, with Marvel and DC leading the effort to wage war on guiltless trees the world over. Otherwise pedestrian arcs of regular joe comics were packaged together, given a shiny new cover, and marketed as ‘graphic novels’. Comics for grown ups. Because comics have grown up. Groan…
And obviously having gone down the path of parcelling up product for second sale, the publishers also put in a lot of resources to market these naked-emperor books; and the mainstream book publishing companies, smelling the sweet scent of easy money, were wholly complicit. Hey, everybody wanted their own Maus.
So that’s why you would see all these crappy articles.
This one is from bookshop trade mag ‘BOOKS’, which was a freebie distributed through the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ‘Charter’ network. To be honest, it’s not the worst of its kind.