An Idiot, I Suppose


It just never ends.

Gene Yang's comic book American Born Chinese has been praised far and wide. In fact, it's been nominated for a National Book Award. Tony Long at Wired News weighs in with a well-informed opinion that this is a bad thing. Just how well-informed is his opinion? Well, he tells us, "I have not read this particular 'novel' but I'm familiar with the genre so I'm going to go out on a limb here." That's a good way to establish some credibility. In the same vein, I haven't seen the "movie" The Wind that Shakes the Barley, but I'm familiar with the genre, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it quite obviously did not deserve to win the 2006 Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Though he assures us that, "this is not about denigrating the comic book," Long provides this nugget of brilliance: "comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards, in any category. That should be reserved for books that are, well, all words." Wow, good thing you're not denigrating comic books, Tony.

But he's not done, of course. He provides further brilliance: "If you've ever tried writing a real novel, you'll know where I'm coming from. To do it, and especially to do it well enough to be nominated for this award, the American equivalent of France's Prix Goncourt or Britain's Booker Prize, is exceedingly difficult." Yes, novel-writing is exceedingly difficult. Writing and drawing a 240-page comic book, though, is as easy as steering a train. Nothin' to it. Requires basically no effort, skill or talent whatsoever.

The guy does, in an idiotic and backhanded fashion, have a somewhat valid point, though. "This is simply to say that, as literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories. It's apples and oranges." His judgement about what sort of status and consideration a comic book "deserves" is not just insulting, it's downright stupid. But trying to compare comics to prose is, indeed fairly useless. Any narrative form can be compared to any other...but comics are comics. They don't nominate movies or plays for National Book Awards, and comics probably shouldn't be nominated for awards intended for prose fiction, either. Not that they don't "deserve" it, just that they're an entirely different art form.

So insulting. "Juvenile literature attracts a lot of first-rate authors. Always has.
Sorry, but no comic book, regardless of how cleverly executed, belongs in that class." I really love the use of the phrase, "cleverly executed" to describe what he supposes is a first-rate comic book, like he was describing a magic trick or a witty remark.

I think Neil Gaiman summed it up best in his response:

I suppose if he builds a time machine he could do something about Maus's 1992 Pulitzer, or Sandman's 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, or Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan winning the 2001 Guardian First Book Award, or even Watchmen's appearance on Time's Hundred Best Novels of the 20th Century list. Lacking a Time Machine, it seems a rather silly and antiquated argument, like hearing someone complain that women have the vote or that be-bop music and crooners are turning up in the pop charts.

I like the bit where he says that he hasn't read the comic in question, but he just knows what things like that are like. It's always best to be offended by things you haven't read. That way you keep your mind uncluttered by things that might change it.