Comics as High Culture

For a lot of last year I was producing a weekly radio show all about the Arts Scene in Northern Ireland. It was a mixed bag, regularly featuring interviews, reviews, and exhibition notices. As part of it I spoke to poets, authors, painters, and singer/songwriters, not to mention a range of people involved at various levels in the organizing of Belfast’s many cultural events and festivals.

One group of people I didn’t initially seek out were the city’s many talented comic writers and graphic illustrators, however. A good friend kept insisting I do a feature on comics, but I dismissed the idea. Comic books are for kids, I kept thinking, they’re not particularly cultural. Needless to say, my friend challenged this thinking, and he was right to, because I was wrong. Let me break down why, for a second:

  1. Comics are not just for children (Watchmen, anyone?)
  2. Even if they were, that wouldn’t make them inherently less valuable to society
  3. Who even gets to decide what culture is? Everyone and no one. My friend’s definition was as valid as mine (except for the fact that mine was wrong).

I think it was 2013 that Belfast Culture Night had a wrestling ring set up in the middle of town, doing a celebrity match. At the time I raised an eyebrow at the idea. Sport isn’t culture, I thought. And again I was wrong. Sport is a massive field* that encompasses so much. What about ballet? Is it a sport, or an art form? Well, it’s both. There aren’t clear lines, and why do there need to be?

Why is it that visual art – drawings, paintings, and sketches – are culture, and the written word is culture, but if you put them together in a printed book suddenly half the population look down upon it? From a purely logical point of view, it’s nonsense. If anything, having the two mediums of art working together should make the combined work more culturally significant.

I guess culture is what you make it, and I endeavor to make my cultural experience a bit less arrogant in the future.

*Unintentional pun

One thought on “Comics as High Culture

  1. I agree here. I’ve had issues in my own mind regarding comics as a valid medium. In the past I’ve considered comics a very childish medium, further knee jerk reactions were also due to my exposure to manga as a young adult.

    Since viewing comics such as Watchmen, which you mentioned, and some of the more mature Batman arcs such as The Killing Joke have caused me to reevaluate my opinions.

    The success of the Marvel universe has created a more balanced view on comics as being more than for kids. On the one hand we had a media telling us comics are for kids. On the other hand the vast majority of recent box office success has come from comic to silver screen conversions.

    I for one want to be more than a bandwagon jumper.

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