Humour and absurdity, both leading to laughter, are often used by writers to disrobe many of the human race’s inmost prejudices and zones of discomfort. It happens all around us, where even in our conversations we resort to a joke or witticism to covertly refer to something that either we are uncomfortable with, or that we feel the other will take offence to. Usually it is more the latter.
So it is in writing that writers like Johnathan Swift (or John Dryden, or Samuel Beckett or G.V. Desani) use humour to outline man’s tendency to often take light things too seriously, or conversely, serious things too lightly. Some writers eventually hit upon the comics medium as one of the most potent forms of expression for non-mainstream views and expressions.
Over the past half-century, comic books have become more mature and more hard-hitting than anything we’ve ever seen. The medium has picked up issues like the Holocaust and Iran’s cultural revolution, teenage drug-abuse and military occupation. In India, extremism and unrest in Kashmir has become a ‘hot’ topic.
There seems to be something about a medium, that is visually piercing and stereotypically perceived as juvenile, that plays a double whammy of sorts for writer-artists with a vision to express something atypical. It seems to find a middle ground between taking something seriously or lightly, that is just to see it as a personal vision.
The only way to understand why a children’s medium suddenly takes on the terrifying aspect of the ‘graphic novel’ is that somehow the child-like way of telling a story is intense and cuts out all the subtexts, notes, strings, orientation, and left-right and gets to the heart of the matter which is surprising and informative, like stories of ghosts whispered into each others ears when we were five.
The first ‘graphic novel’ that plunged me into a world of such abnormalities was a terrific work by Art Speigelman, ‘Maus’. It is a memoir of the Second World War as told by the author’s father and is made fantastical by the use of animal imagery, like if it were an epic fairy tale. A must read. Another discovery was the enchanting ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi who’s blunt and bare tale of growing up during a great cultural shift in her native Iran is something no one may have bothered to read in word form, for it is the story of a million anonymous others, but here told differently and glaringly.
The trend has such momentum that a giant comics publishing house like DC has it’s own imprint called Vertigo that encourages what would formerly have been underground comics, to make a mark in the mainstream, because the mainstream in comics is much more inclusive that any other medium right now.
That last point alone should be reason enough for the comics blitzkrieg to be given due notice as a medium that has come-of-age. And it is also for readers to note, that while they may never have noticed it, but even familiar comics like Tintin are actually formed by contemporary events from around the world as much as by the need to entertain children.
For, children are smarter than they may seem.