March 30 2016

Reading comics has nothing to do with self-respect

Over the past few years I have tended to stray from writing rebuttals to things said on the Internet, but sometimes some people are just so foolish that they must be taken to task.

Rhymer Rigby penned an article for The Telegraph this past weekend entitled “No self-respecting adult should buy comics or watch superhero movies.” The main thrust of his article seems to be pinned to how dreadful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is (which, it is), but that somehow now qualifies all comic book based media to be sub-par and not for adults.

Rigby goes through a long defense of how he reached this conclusion beginning with when his father made him put away his comic books and forced him to read works by authors such as John Updike “and you damn well stuck at it until you liked it.” Well… that sounds fun, now doesn’t it?

He goes on and on with the tiresome and aging argument that comic books are designed for kids, and sure there are the odd moldbreakers here or there such as Persepolis, “But it’s an exception to the general rule that if you need to shave, you should be reading books where you have to make the pictures in your own head.” He goes on to add, “You can say this intellectual snobbery if you like, but you only have to go a little way down this road before you find yourself arguing that V for Vendetta is the equal of Lolita – and I’m afraid my artistic relativism doesn’t stretch that far, even if yours does.”

And there’s the crux. What may be right for Rigby is not necessarily right for everyone else. He made my argument crystalize as he picked one of my all time favorite comics as well as one of my all time favorite novels. Lolita is a masterful work that I would give a major body part to write prose nearly as beautiful. V for Vendetta, on the other hand, is one of the most thought provoking works I have ever read. Every person who reads it (or sees the movie) sees something different in it. Alan Moore is as masterful with his words as Nabokov, he simply tells his stories in conjunction with images.

The argument of comics are only read by man-children has been made for decades now, and it is simply tiresome and, quite frankly, lazy. The comic industry grew up a long time ago and serves many demographics now. Yes, there are still many books for the younger set, but Rigby makes the common mistake that the entire art form is defined by men in capes having slugfest fights. He ignores the themes of Watchmen, he turns a blind eye to the simplistic beauty and heartbreak of Maus, and the lyrical landscapes painted by Neil Gaiman in Sandman are just not to be acknowledged by his ilk.

Mass media has always had a war raged on it by the intelligentsia as ‘if it is for the masses it is not worthy of recognition.’ I think to make that sort of statement, however, you need to also have a working knowledge of your target. Just because BvS is based on a comic book, and Road to Perdition is based on a comic, does not put them in the same category. Can I just as quickly judge Twilight against Gone With the Wind? They are both based on books, so following Rigby’s logic that means they must both be dismissed as fluff because one of them is.

While I started off as annoyed by Rigby’s commentary, now I just chuckle. He has decided to not only tilt at windmills, but to do it towards one that has fallen into disrepair. This battle has been lost many times over, and the war has all but been decided. A love of comic book stories – be they printed or captured on celluloid – has absolutely nothing to do with your self-respect, and nor should you allow anyone to tell you otherwise.

So, yes Rigby, your editorial was indeed “snobbery,” but I wouldn’t classify it as “intellectual snobbery” as that would imply you actually had an understanding of the topic you were railing against.

Image credit: Sam Howzit on Flickr

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