Sometimes I wonder whether, of all the literary genres, graphic novels aren’t the most stupidly overrated. I can say this because I’m old enough to remember when they were just this obscure thing you had to seek out in specialist stores like Forbidden Planet, understood only by pale, nerdy teens and twenty-somethings who felt superior to, but unappreciated by, the real world outside.
Then Watchmen came along and spoiled the party in much the same way Britpop ruined indie. Suddenly, graphic novels became everyone’s domain. See how the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta (Alan Moore was the author; David Lloyd the illustrator) has become almost as recognisable a global symbol as the McDonald’s golden arches. See how they took over the Batman franchise, with all that trademark brooding grimness, and chiaroscuro and spectacular ultraviolence.
As an early fan, reared on 2000 AD, I’d say there’s lots about the comic-book genre for which we should be grateful: the riotously cynical dystopianism of the Judge Dredd sagas; the exuberance and inventiveness of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; the wit of D.R. & Quinch; and, more recently, the joyous fun-violent escapism of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass and Kingsman. Also, I do bloody wish they’d get on and make a movie of Fiends of the Eastern Front.
My goodness, though, there’s a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes pseudery and — let’s be honest — visual and literary incomprehensibility we’ve had to put up with on the way. While it was a cult, this was forgivable. But now that the graphic novel has become so revered that it even gets studied on university courses, its limitations deserve closer scrutiny. Basically, it’s a load of depressive wank produced by sad blokes stuck in arrested adolescence with dodgy left-wing politics to match, who are too petulant and self-regarding to follow the conventions of naturalistic storytelling, and with an understanding of human psychology about as sophisticated as Kevin the teenager’s.