Thursday, March 06, 2008

Canon II

As various bloggers are reporting, a new report says there were over 3,300 graphic novels published in the U.S. and Canada in 2007. That's quite a bit to keep on top of and illustrates quite handily the value of the various awards and critical lists that are now a major pillar of comics culture. Specifically, the job of actually figuring out what is worth reading (vs reading 9 comics a day or just giving up) and what will continue to be worth re-reading in the future, just keeps getting harder. Not to mention the threat of an avalanche of titles actually huurting sales, as Tom Spurgeon mentions in reference to recent events in France. Heck, the latest Comics Journal, featuring the "Best of 2006" articles, listed over 150 books and strips. Too many? Of course, few people ever ask the question, "Are there too many books?"

One of the traditional tools for separating the wheat from the chaff in book terms is the idea of a canon, which has been discussed alot lately. Since the issue seems likely to become a theme of the comics blogosphere, with new posts daily, herewith some more

Notes: On the Comics Canon

If one of the requisites for canonical status is immortality --specifically the sort of immortality that exists when the work of one artist is given new life though the work of another, down through the generations, then several early caricaturists like Cruikshank, Topffer, Tenniel, and many others qualify. These artists not only created great art; they created great art that continues to inspire the cartoonists of today. As was said of Wilhelm Busch, they have "stumbled into immortality."

18th and 19th Century

"The want of genuine imagination is always proved by caricature." --Wm. Hazlitt

"I have endured to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer, my picture is my stage, my men and women my players, who by means of certain actions and gestures are to exhibit a show�" --William Hogarth

A preliminary list would include the work of those artists examined by David Kunzle and the great old stuff in Seth's 40 Cartoon Books of Interest. Ideally, all comics readers would be miniature Wimbledon Greens, setting aside an hour every night to pore over an old comic book or ancient print by the likes of Daumier, with nothing but a magnifying glass and perfect silence for company.

20th Century

Ana Merino articulates a feminist critic's position on underground comics by women, relative to the canon: "What I am aiming for is the natural and unprejudiced recognition that will widen the thematical canon of comics and allow those written by women to enter more thoroughly, more easily, in greater quantities and to wider recognition and acceptance."

Ray Zone, in a review of the Masters show, sums up the treatment of comics in U.S. galleries and provides a rough guide to what makes a work of sequential art canonical: "reflexive self-awareness that one is producing lasting art with its own set of parameters."

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