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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Amazing adventures

Kapow! Comics and graphic novels have never been more creative—and even academics are falling under their spell, argues Kim O’Connor

It’s hard to say when comics became respectable. It was probably some time between 1992, when Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize for drawing himself as a human-sized mouse, and 2017, when someone paid £530,000 at auction for Robert Crumb’s drawing of two lascivious felines. While the subjects of Spiegelman’s and Crumb’s works are worlds apart—Maus is a family memoir about the Holocaust, while Fritz the Cat concerns a talking feline’s sex life—these works aren’t as different as they may seem. Even the most highbrow comics have always been a little bit ridiculous.

During roughly the same 25-year period in which underground comics crossed over into the realm of high art, the classic superhero genre got a modern makeover. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series introduced the genre to a literary crowd. Inspired by his rediscovery of a box of childhood comics, the novelist and short story writer Michael Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a Pulitzer-winning novel about the golden age of comics in the 1940s. Chabon reserved the final line of his acknowledgements for Jack Kirby, the creator of the X-Men and the Avengers, citing him as an inspiration for not just that novel, but “everything else I’ve ever written.” Boyhood fandom had never seemed so acceptable.

More perhaps than any other medium, comics blur the boundaries between high and low culture, art and commerce, fiction and non-fiction, the underground and the mainstream. Who is a comics fan? The label suits fans who collect old issues of the Hernandez Brothers’ punk series Love and Rockets as well as the millions of people who went to see the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok. It can be someone who has fond memories of reading newspaper strips or who only reads comics on Tumblr. Then there are people who exist outside traditional channels altogether, like the readership of Raina Telgemeier, whose cheerful, bestselling children’s comics are released through an educational publisher.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s February 2018 issue: John Naughton, James Ball, Yuan Ren, Hannah Jane Parkinson and Houman Barekat outline the ways in which our lives are controlled by big tech giants. Naughton argues that Facebook and Google have created a new “surveillance capitalism” in which they battle to grow user engagement of their products and monetise our lives for their own gain as they do so. The cover package also explores how “bots,” fake social media accounts, influenced the US presidential vote and the Brexit referendum as well as the effects of removing net neutrality in the US. Elsewhere in the issue: Samira Shackle asks what happens to ordinary civilians affected by Islamic State as they attempt to move back to their homes and rebuild their lives; Shahidha Bari asks whether we can continue to appreciate the work of actors, filmmakers and writers who have been disgraced; and Christine Ockrent profiles Michel Barnier.