The State of Comics: They’ve Become Time

by Joseph Cotsirilos

joe sacco palestine

Joe Sacco. Palestine.  1996-2001. 400 x 228 pixels. Comics / Graphic Art. Image Courtesy of The Comics Grid.

Comics have fully merged into mainstream culture. Since the rise of underground comics in the late 1960’s (Robert Crumb’s work and RAW Magazine) and the widely-used term Graphic Novel (originally popularized with Will Eisner’s iconic work, “A Contract With God”), almost every piece of modern media from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones is influenced by comic book art. The influence the art form has is indisputable, from storyboard montages in TV to anti-hero plot lines and speculative fiction. Thousands of scholarly pages have been written and classes are being taught around the country. So where, many ask, does that leave the comics medium now?

The answer might be harder to pinpoint than people think. Some are betting on the future of app comics (see Chris Ware’s exclusive iPad comic), others are investing in the future of a Zine comeback with the possible rise of independent bookstores around the country. Some are even betting on virtual reality comics becoming the next big thing. But the main question of where they will be seems to be the same. There’s a possible answer to this: where is it that comics haven’t always existed, and why is it, deep down, that everyone is panicking?

What people tend to forget is comics have already had a period like this before. During the 1950’s, after explosive popularity during the Second World War, comics were once demonized, resulting in the Comics Code Authority, since they were thought to be a corrupting influence on youth. Later, they went into minor obscurity in the 1960’s to give birth to an entirely new movement, resulting in the rise of the graphic novel, and several acclaimed works still to be studied. Now, they’re popular and accepted. The more anyone glances into comics, the more they find dozens of titles and anthologies not even touched by the mainstream that are fantastic.

So, the question really becomes, what comics will stand the test of time? What if comics never cared about something like this, and because of this, they accidentally will always be in time? When one considers the people who pioneered comics, everyone from Will Eisner to Robert Crumb was a social outcast of sorts. They were all mainly known by accident. In our society fame and recognition remains an obsession, from everything down to Twitter followers and what we eat. We must understand this follower-driven mindset has really existed since the early 1980’s, and comics existed well before that.

When Nerd Culture took off in the early 2000’s, comics gained a wider audience, but titles remained and continued as if they’d never been impacted. So if comics have always been through trends, where will this leave us in fifty years? The answer stays with Calvin and Hobbes. Bill Watterson once wrote that he never expected the strip to take off and gain as much popularity as it did. One has to think about what causes someone to go into a room and paint panels for a living.

If you stop and think about who that person is deep down, chances are, they haven’t paid attention to any current trend, because they’re too busy capturing what it means to be alive. After setting all industries and money-making qualities aside, this push has always been the beating heart that lives within comics. As long as it remains, panels have nothing to worry about as new cultures rise.

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