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10 posts from October 2006

October 28, 2006

A silly little gripe on Wired News

Eddie Campbell just sent me a link to the following silly little piece on Wired News, by Tony Long. Here’s Long's article, followed by some of why it strikes me as a load of crap:

Let me slip into my moldiest Andy Rooney sweater here, because I know how much you guys love it when I whine about the Age of Mediocrity. (We're in the midst of it now, in case you're new to this bimonthly screed.) Gene Luen Yang is a teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who also happens to be a fine illustrator. He produced a graphic novel (or "comic book," as we used to call them), American Born Chinese, which has been nominated for a National Book Award in the young people's literature category.

I have not read this particular "novel" but I'm familiar with the genre so I'm going to go out on a limb here. First, I'll bet for what it is, it's pretty good. Probably damned good. But it's a comic book. And comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards, in any category. That should be reserved for books that are, well, all words.

This is not about denigrating the comic book, or graphic novel, or whatever you want to call it. This is not to say that illustrated stories don't constitute an art form or that you can't get tremendous satisfaction from them. This is simply to say that, as literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories. It's apples and oranges.
If you've ever tried writing a real novel, you'll know where I'm coming from. To do it, and especially to do it well enough to be nominated for this award, the American equivalent of France's Prix Goncourt or Britain's Booker Prize, is exceedingly difficult.

Juvenile literature is a fairly new category (1996) to the NBAs, which have been around since 1950. It's possible that no author wrote a great book aimed at that audience in the past year, but I doubt it. Juvenile literature attracts a lot of first-rate authors. Always has.

Sorry, but no comic book, regardless of how cleverly executed, belongs in that class.

First off, I would point out that the award in question is called The National BOOK Award. That alone makes excluding a Graphic Novel from competing a spurious demand.

Although, gathering from Mr. Long’s piece here, there are certain underlying values I’m inclined to agree with – say his esteem for literary worth, and an appreciation of the skill and craft that makes a true author, I nevertheless find his opinion misguided and shallow – “no comic book, regardless of how cleverly executed, belongs in that class.”

Rather than taking to task each assertion, or the tone of the missive, let’s step back a minute: isn't it finally time the debate over the standing of the graphic novel within modern literature be left behind? Will it finally elevate from an obsession over the formal aspects of comics vs. prose -- and move into substance, storytelling, character, plot, voice, these much more interesting depths?

Obsession over the form overlooks the fact it’s A VEHICLE, and while there are some differences in the crafts of novel and graphic novel creation, fundamentally it's mostly about STORY, the work of AUTHORS, and in the best cases, a discerning reader's reading experience. (This is why I have no interest in being a champion of the Graphic Novel form per se, even though I sound like one on many of my talks to booksellers and librarians -- but no, I champion creators, voices, talent that moves and touches me, creators who speak a universal storytelling tongue, and in the case of First Second, they happen to be working in this chosen medium.)

And yes, a good part of the production of comics continues to be marred by sloppy writing or lesser standards, but the same is true of any other book format. That doesn’t stop masterful works to keep appearing and earning the praise they deserve. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE is certainly one of those.

The jury members of the National Book Award are current with our times, and show an openness of mind that should hearten those who love books and good reading.

Finally, the challenge – now being taken up by the likes of Gene Yang – is not one of formatting or fighting for the acceptance of the medium – it’s one of quality, sincerity, skill, thought and feeling provoking. Scott McCloud’s most impressive new book MAKING COMICS touches on this, and should galvanize the current and next generations of comics creators to aim at new heights of excellence.

Perhaps Mr Long will have a look at ABC, before discounting the jury’s response to it. Perhaps that will dispel the unfortunate snobbery of his own article, or as Neil Gaiman puts it far more eloquently on his blog in his short response to the Wired News piece:

I suppose if he builds a time machine he could do something about Maus's 1992 Pulitzer, or Sandman's 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, or Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan winning the 2001 Guardian First Book Award, or even Watchmen's appearance on Time's Hundred Best Novels of the 20th Century list. Lacking a Time Machine, it seems a rather silly and antiquated argument, like hearing someone complain that women have the vote or that be-bop music and crooners are turning up in the pop charts.

I like the bit where he says that he hasn't read the comic in question, but he just knows what things like that are like. It's always best to be offended by things you haven't read. That way you keep your mind uncluttered by things that might change it.

October 14, 2006

From GENE YANG, about the NBA nomination for AMERICAN BORN CHINESE --


I didn't get the call from Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation to tell me the good news. He called on Tuesday afternoon, and I was in my classroom teaching. Afterwards, I heard the message (he told me who he was, without telling me why he was calling) but I couldn't call back. Tuesday was a big day for our school. It was the end of a marking period, and as the school's database manager it was my job to oversee the printing of the progress reports. The vice principal, the academic coordinator, and I holed ourselves up in the computer lab with a pizza and a 2-liter of Pepsi. We didn't emerge until 8:00pm, and by then it was too late to return a call to New York.

I forgot all about it by the next morning. I went about my daily routine until Mark called right after my first period class. I didn't - and still don't - know quite how to react. I can't say it's a dream come true because it never even would have occurred to me to dream it. It wasn't in my reality. I was speechless. For the rest of the day, I watched my e-mail inbox fill with congratulatory messages from friends, relatives, and artists I've long admired. I went home and my wife hugged me for a long, long time.

The next day, the reporters came, one from the San Francisco Chronicle and another from the World Journal, a prominent Chinese language newspaper. The reporter from the Chronicle called early in the morning and politely made an appointment. The reporter from the World Journal came into my classroom completely unannounced, before the school day was over, while I was working with students. It reminded me of something a Chinese uncle would do. Maybe this is why some folks think all Chinese people are related - we treat each other like relatives. Luckily it was an MP period (sort of like Study Hall, except with computers) and I was able to speak with her for a while. (And, in case you're wondering, I wasn't mad at all. It was an honor. The World Journal is more highly regarded than the New York Times by my parents and their friends.)

More cultural differences came out during the two interviews. The Chronicle focused more on my methods of working and how my experiences growing up played into the book. The World Journal focused more on my family and their reactions. They even asked for my parents' phone numbers.

The whole week has been a blur- a big, colorful, surreal blur. It's still hard for me to believe that it actually happened.

My one regret is that I forgot to shave before the reporters came.

October 13, 2006

For storytellers

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

October 12, 2006

NYC EVENT: 92nd Street Y, November 5th

Mark your calendars! Tell a friend!

Graphic Novels: Traditions and Trends


Art Spiegelman, Joann Sfar, Jessica Abel and Mark Siegel / Leonard Lopate, moderator

Graphic novelists enjoy freedom to dare, innovate, startle and evolve in ways that moviemakers, musicians and other artists rarely can. Meet some of today’s best graphic novelists and learn why graphic novels are big sellers. The panel features Art Spiegelman, the creator of Maus; Joann Sfar, author of The Rabbi’s Cat, Sardine in Outer Space and Vampire Loves; Jessica Abel, author of La Perdida and Life Sucks; and Mark Siegel, the illustrator of To Dance and the editorial director of First Second Books, a graphic novel imprint. Leonard Lopate is a WNYC radio host.

All happening at the THE 92ND STREET Y.

Date & Time: Sun, Nov 5, 2006, 7:30pm

Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street Directions

Price: $25.00


From today's New York Times:

The National Book Award finalists, announced yesterday, include “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang in the young people’s literature category, the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award. The winners will be announced in a ceremony on Nov. 15. In fiction, the finalists are Mark Z. Danielewski for “Only Revolutions”; Ken Kalfus for “A Disorder Peculiar to the Country”; Richard Powers for “The Echo Maker”; Dana Spiotta for “Eat the Document”; and Jess Walter for “The Zero.” The nonfiction finalists are Taylor Branch for “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68”; Rajiv Chandrasekaran for “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone”; Timothy Egan for “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl”; Peter Hessler for “Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present”; and Lawrence Wright for “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.”

Full link to the Arts section entry, here.

October 11, 2006



The National Book Foundation has just announced the nominees for this year's prestigious NATIONAL BOOK AWARD and in the Young People's Literature category there it is: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Yang!

As far as I know, it's the first time the NBA has ever nominated a graphic novel.

Congratulations, Gene!


October 09, 2006

George O'Connor, Journey into Mohawk Country




What would a Dutchman wear? Some typical costumes an adventurous young Dutchmen might wear in 1634. Included are prototypes of the outfits worn by Journey into Mohawk Country’s three leads. Finding time appropriate outfits for the Europeans was unexpectedly difficult. Ultimately, paintings by Dutch masters ended up being an invaluable resource.

October 04, 2006

George O'Connor, Journey into Mohawk Country


More pages from my sketchbooks. This time, some wicked-looking clubs from pre-gunpowder times. Also a pretty neat spoon, made from some tree bark.

October 03, 2006

Yours Truly in PORTLAND OREGON this week!

I'm about to fly off to Portland -- a trip I always look forward to -- to give some talks at PNCA... Here's the info for their programs this Thursday and Friday, October 5 & 6th, which are open to the public.

PNCA is at:

Pacific Northwest College of Art
1241 NW Johnson
Portland OR 97209

You can e-mail mail@firstsecondbooks.com to reserve a spot or for more information.


Thursday, Oct 5th:

3:15 - 4:30: Workshop, Going Narrative

Story-telling is one of the most important--and most underappreciated--elements of the graphic novel. This workshop gives artists and authors a chance to examine the importance of narrative through words and pictures in a story.

5:00 - 6:15: Discussion, The Rise of the Graphic Novel
A roundtable discussion, led by Mark Siegel, about the evolution of the graphic novel from _Maus_ and _Astroboy_ to where it is today.

Friday, Oct 6th:
3:15 - 4:30: Workshop, Your Great American Graphic Novel

Insight, coaching, and tips on your personal projects from :01 Editorial Director Mark Siegel.

5:00 - 6:15: Discussion, Graphic Novels as Art, Graphic Novels as

A roundtable discussion, led by Mark Siegel, about the interplay of the two essential elements of graphic novels: the art and the story.

7:00 - 8:00: Keynote lecture, The Graphic Novel Today and Tomorrow

Graphic novels are the hottest properties in publishing today, and the art form is maturing in response to widespread interest in the medium. Mark Siegel discusses what's changing in today's graphic novels, and what will change in the future.

October 02, 2006

George O'Connor, Journey into Mohawk Country


Some pretty cool wolves from my sketchbooks. What’s that you say? There’s no wolves in Journey into Mohawk Country? You’re right. I had really wanted to put some in, but couldn’t find a place. I practiced drawing them a lot, though, just in case.

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