Mike Gold: The Graphic Novelist
My wife and I were plowing through our TiVo this weekend, catching up on programs the device trapped for us during the previous week. We happened to catch the current spots for Ghost Rider as well as the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 300 movies. As is frequently the case when I’m on deadline, I had a revelation.
Thematically, the only thing these three movies have in common is the fact that they are based upon comics. It occurred to me that five years ago they would have been lumped together as "comic book movies." Today, we are more sophisticated. Today, they might be lumped together as "graphic novel movies," but more likely most people perceive them as simply "movies."
That’s fine. We don’t see such distinctions made in movies culled from other genres. "Based on the novel," sure. Big deal. But that’s buried in the movie’s credits and on the small print at the bottom of the poster. For almost 100 years now, most movies have been based upon something — books, short stories, comics, radio shows, television shows, and most often from other movies. Now our medium has joined the pack.
The trailer for 300 (also featured separately on TiVo, which is actually pretty cool) leads with the phrase "From graphic novelist Frank Miller."
Now, Frank’s a movie star and deservedly so. His work on the film adaptations of his own Sin City is noteworthy, he paid his dues on the RoboCop films (O.K., I’m being polite — RoboCops 2 and 3 sucked big time; hey, Frank was starting out), and he’s got the guts to tackle Will Eisner’s legendary The Spirit. Truth be told, it is my opinion that Dark Horse’s hardcover version of 300 — where Frank’s artwork was printed in "widescreen" — was one of the finest American graphic novels of all time. That’s my opinion; it need not be yours.
But "graphic novelist"? Wow, there’s a twenty dollar phrase if I ever heard one. Damn, our medium is starting to get kinda foo-foo. And therein lies the problem.
For decades, my generation of comics fans and the one that preceded us had to endure the phrase "comic books" as a put down. I think a lot of people of this aging age group use the term "graphic novels" because they’re still embarrassed by "comic books."
Screw ’em. They’re comics. Take pride in it. Relish in it. Write rap songs about it. It’s comics, damn it.
But, some might say, there’s nothing comic about most comic books. Well, 20 years ago I told WGN Radio talk show host Steve King there’s no ham in hamburger, and I’ve been repeating it ever since. This is an idiom that has its own meaning. It’s the comics medium, and such visual storytelling has been expressed in the form of comic strips in newspapers and online, in comic books in print and online, and in graphic novels in print and online. Not all prose stories are novels — some are non-fiction, some are short stories or novellas, and some were written by Truman Capote. Not all comics are graphic novels.
Respectability is going to kill comics.
I don’t want to be respectable. I used to be a long-haired angry young man, and now I’m a bald grumpy old geezer. I skipped everything in between, and I’m proud of that. Many of the comics I edit — right now, that includes the new GrimJack, Jon Sable Freelance and Munden’s Bar projects along with several others I have yet to admit to — may be graphic novels but I’ll be damned if most of ’em are "respectable" no matter what the writers and artists say.
Grumpy novels. And, yes, Timothy Truman and John Ostrander are grumpy novelists, and I hope the movie people say so when they make the trailers.
Mike Gold is ComicMix’s grumpy editor-in-chief.