Thursday, December 11, 2014

‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ and the Benefits of Being Seemingly Non-Genre

When I first saw the cover of Roz Chast’s ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ on Best Comics/Graphic Novels Of 2014 lists, I thought that it looked like the type of graphic novel that literary critics would like. As the cover itself shows, it is an autobiographical tale about the sometimes difficult relationship the author has/had with her elderly parents, which seemed to me familiar territory for ‘literary’ graphic novels. Though when I thought about it later the only other major graphic novel that I could think of which fit that description was art spiegelman’s ‘Maus’, so perhaps the familiar feeling was a collection of things, such as recently having seen a rough drawing style in Kate Beaton’s ‘Hark! A Vagrant!’

In any case my main point here is that certain types of graphic novels have a better chance of being acclaimed in literary circles than others. I don’t want to make a target of ‘Can’t We Talk About … ?’ here, because it’s a good read, and quite innovative in how it lays out its story. But I can’t imagine good genre comics like ‘Saga’ or ‘Hawkeye’ being on the National Book Award shortlist. Why? Because they’re superhero/fantasy stuff.

This is of course true of other mediums: it has often been pointed out that science-fiction and fantasy films have a tough time winning the major awards at the Oscars. And as Michael Chabon pointed out in his introduction to ‘McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales’ most ‘literary’ short fiction fits into the genre of "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story". So even if genre comics can gain ‘respectability’ they may still be only seen as on the same level as sci-fi films and horror novels. That doesn’t mean that ‘taste-makers’ should not be considering their merits though.

Anyway, as I said, Roz Chast’s graphic novel is a good read: what is not immediately obvious from the cover is that it’s about the last days of her parents, who died around five to ten years ago. It’s unavoidably a bit morbid, but also quite humourous, and like the best graphic novels would lose something if it was told in any other medium. There are a couple of comics this year that I enjoyed slightly more, but if someone said this was their ‘best’ for 2014 I wouldn’t argue too much.

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