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leamirella's picture

I just wanted to highlight my newfound respect for comics as a result of Satrapi's Persepolis. I was fully engrossed in the narrative and I found Satrapi's story extremely compelling. I read the entire thing from cover to cover in one sitting. But I can't help wonder why this was so different from my experience with Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

I believe that this was because McCloud, though extremely casual and "chatty", writes non-fiction. Satrapi, on the other hand, is telling a story. This made me realize that the genre of the "comic" or "graphic narrative" is a lot more complex that we imagine. What interests me, however, is why the "comic" genre is separate from other genres.

Think about what we define as "genre" in literature. There's "drama", "thriller", "romance" etc. They're characterized by their content, not by the way they are layed out on the page. So why are we creating this label of "comic" when really, the comics themselves have content that lends itself to (sometimes multiple) genres? And in reverse, why do we characterize in terms of content if the content can also lend itself to genres by the ways that pages are laid out? So what does genre actually mean and how are we defining it?

My bottom line is, in a class where we're dicussing genre, I don't think that we've looked enough at our definitions of what genre is enough. And thinking back to my ideas about genre (and how I don't like them), I personally believe that my opinion does not have a strong enough basis for my "opinion". I'd like to work on my definition a little before coming up with any conclusions.


EGrumer's picture

Defining genre

I can't believe that I'd never considered this before, but it's completely true.  Genre can refer both to content (such as the basic plot conventions of a mystery -- characters must solve a mystery! -- or romance -- two characters must fall in love!) and to format.  Comics are a genre not because the plots of comics follow the same touchstones, but because they are formatted in a certain way.

Certainly From Hell is not Poulet aux prunes, although both are comics and involve an element of mystery.  If they were non-graphic novels, it seems to me that they would never be considered to be the same genre all.  From Hell is gritty and dark, this twisted smoky conspiracy about Jack the Ripper.  Poulet aux prunes has moments of magical realism, the story of a Persian musician in the 1970s who decides to die.  Even Watchmen, which is about superheroes, would be a different genre than say, a Superman comic.  Superman is good-versus-evil in a way that could not exist in the claustrophobic Cold War world of Watchmen.

If they were books, not comics, I would never put those stories together.  But, because they are comics, I've been putting them in the same category for years.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't decide on a good definition of genre.  The OED (my favorite dictionary... yes, I have a favorite dictionary) suggests that genre is "a particular style or category of works of art; esp. a type of literary work characterized by a particular form, style, or purpose."  This allows for genre to be defined by content or format, but that seems too general.  We need better, more specific terms, but I don't know what they are.

KT's picture

Genre and Ignorance

I loved this book too! 
(good pick, Anne!)

I’m thinking about your questions on genre and what McCloud had to say about stereotyping comics because either we’re not used to reading them as adults or because the most common and successful are thought of as non-intellectual stories for kids and we just haven’t moved beyond that.  It could be the same way that you might stereotype people by their culture or a facial feature if you’re not familiar with them.  Here I go with another posting that refers back to psychology:  There’s something called the cross-race effect:  “…the tendency for people of one race to have difficulty recognizing and processing faces and facial expressions of members of a race or ethnic group other than their own.” Link 

Maybe we don’t look past the most striking feature (pictures) to see that the content can fall into the other genres you mention, “thriller,” “romance,” etc…” We only recognize that with which we’re familiar. (slight exaggeration here since once we start reading, we recognize the content… but the act of reading does move the material into the familiar.) Until McCloud pointed it out, I had no idea that comics went beyond superheroes and I never thought about it.  I never would have picked up this book on my own because I didn’t think that graphic novels were for me, I was a “form” genre-ist (like racist, but with genre.)  I think we can get caught up in what we know we like (romantic comedy movies, for example) and not go beyond that.  Doing so makes us unfamiliar with other genres and so we can’t characterize them specifically enough or evaluate them based on more than their most superficial features.

In terms of your question about different ways that we define genre (content versus form), that’s an awesome question, I want to say it’s just a category and we use personal preference to determine which category is more important to us, but what influences that personal preference?