Monday, November 14, 2005

Alternative Comics: An Emerging Conversation

Getting in on the Ground Floor Dep't:Tom Spurgeon's excellent today begins a week-long, ongoing interrogation apologia conversation over the new book Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. The combatants participants are Charles Hatfield, the book's author, and Bart Beaty, who writes CR's regular Conversational Euro-Comics column. Both are university professors whose primary field of research involves comics. (Full disclosure: They're also friends of mine - Bart from years of on-line discussion-list banter, academic conferences, and comics-related activities, including one lunch in which we and a few others planned an ill-fated hostile take-over of the Comics Journal; and Charles from our [many] years as graduate students and bad influences over each other at the University of Connecticut.)

The conversation should prove insightful, enlightening, and full o' meaty, intellectual goodness: Neither of these gentlemen, to my recollection, has ever suffered from a loss of words. The conversation begins with a bang, as Bart begins with "simple" questions, such as pretty much challenging the very foundations of Charles' book: "I'm skeptical of claims that comics are "primarily a 'literary form.'" In his response, Charles asserts, "I suppose what I want the book to do is, not simply elevate comics, but poke and prod at the whole traditional, hidebound notion of what 'Literature' is." Wow, these kids take this stuff seriously.

There's lots more to both sides than I've indicated here, natch; but I think I have to give this round to Bart. Charles ol' pal, why not take the direct route and make Bart read the entire title? I was under the impression that the book's overall argument was that "alternative comics" [this specific subset of all-that-might-be-labeled-comics] can and should be seen as "a literature" - that is, a distinct, and in some respects cohesive, body of texts, with its own tropes, tics, and ties. Anyway, that's what I might have said - but hey, it's Charles' book; and besides, I still, um, need to read it...

But don't let me stop you - head over right now to Let's You and Him Fight. Next month it's Bart's turn to roast over the coals of Craig Fischer's probing intellect; in fact, I think I can hear Craig sharpening his critical claws already.

Above: the cover to Charles' book. Go buy it, already!

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