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The Smartest Panel Discussion I Ever Attended at Comic-Con

Soon I Will be Invincible coverOut of all the panels I attended during this past weekend’s Comic-Con International: San Diego, none intrigued me more than the captivating and intelligent group of comics professionals who took a crack at trying to explain why Comics Are Not Literature, an intentionally provocative title if there ever was one.

Besides, why would comics want to be associated with literature in the first place, considering it’s a dead category, asked Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible? “It’s the downside in thinking of comics as low art.”

If you spend time thinking about such lofty things as the place of comics of the hierarchy of modern art – conversations typically sequestered to the incendiary message boards at TCJ.com – I very much enjoyed listening to all the comments and questions discussed.

Among the more interesting – and probably head-scratching – comments came from Dan Nadel of PictureBox Inc. who argued people really don’t read comics. “It’s about looking and reading.” Needless to say, that view of comics didn’t square with the opinions of teachers in the audience who welcomed comics in the classrooms to encourage their students to read.

There was one elephant in the room begging to be addressed: How the presence of superheroes paints the diverse and wonderful world of comics into a very narrow corner. So, wouldn’t comics be a perfectly acceptable category to the audience and esteemed professional panel if superheroes were excluded from it?

I don’t know the answer to that question, and the panel had trouble with it too. About the closest definitive response came from Paul Tobin who writes Marvel’s Spider-Man Family who believes the passion with which superhero books were created separated the professional, journeyman-like efforts (think ordinary, mediocre) from the more transcendent works.

In the end, many questions were asked and few, if any of them, were answered. Maybe, that’s a good thing for a medium still in its infancy…

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