Putting The Graphic Novel To Rest

I hate the "graphic novel."

More to the point, I think its time we put it in the ground. Last week, I came across this discussion of Danny Gregory's new book A Kiss Before You Go, written by SVA's Steven Heller. The blurb that comes before the article reads as follows:
Part graphic novel and part memoir, Danny Gregory's A Kiss Before You Go recounts the designer's wife's death in a personal, original, and vibrant way.
This one is an all time great; to say that something is "part graphic novel" and "part memoir" is to say that a graphic novel can't be a memoir, an assertion to which, say, Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel might strenuously disagree. Heller's own description of A Kiss Before You Go is slightly more nuanced:

A Kiss Before You Go may appear to be a graphic novel, but the term is not entirely accurate. Nor does "visual memoir" quite fit either. The loose, impressionist watercolor drawings do not strictly fit graphic novel conventions, and Gregory, who is an inveterate journal/sketchbook-maker, has sewn this story together from numerous handwritten journal entries. The scratchily scrawled lettering, with accidental blotches and splotches, add even more gravity to his words. They're accompanied by often brightly colored watercolor and pen-and-ink drawings of friends, children, pets, and the everyday trapping of the Gregory family's life. The artwork, however, belies the palpable sadness—and this was no accident.
From Danny Gregory's A Kiss Before You Go
Those first two sentences are fascinating, and, I think, worth pulling apart some. For one, if, by "graphic novel," Heller means "longer (or serious) comic book," then the only resemblance between A Kiss Before You Go and say, Fun Home, is that both were written and drawn by talented illustrators, which is not to say that Gregory's book isn't a graphic novel. When Heller writes that A Kiss Before You Go "does not strictly fit graphic novel conventions" what he means is that it isn't comics. But it is indeed a "graphic novel," or, more precisely, a "graphic memoir," since its driving force isn't simple prose alone, but instead juxtaposed words and pictures, both of which are essential to the work.

Making this distinction isn't going to matter for anyone who isn't already deep in the weeds on this stuff. But, since I'm here with this weed whacker slung over my shoulder, I think its an important distinction to make. The difference between a graphic work like A Kiss Before You Go and a work of comics like Fun Home is vast, if only because the former text says "Here is what was and this is what it looked like" and the latter one says "this is what was at one moment and what it looked like, and that is what was at the next moment, and what it looked like, but it's up to you to close the distance in between."

From Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

It's up to us to close the distance in between. That's what's different about comics, that's why we're so interested, because comics is up to us. If Fun Home is a graphic memoir, then A Kiss Before You Go is too, even though Fun Home is comics and A Kiss Before You Go is not. That's why "graphic novel" fails, both as a way to legitimize comics through renaming (incidentally, does that ever work?) and as a term that precisely differentiates between categories; it isn't specific enough. It suggests that Gregory's work and Bechdel's are the same, merely that both are drawn. It doesn't give you the sense that Bechdel's work is collaborative, while Gregory's is monolithic. It doesn't tell you that Fun Home, that comics, needs you in a way that A Kiss Before You Go does not.

Isn't that enough for comics to deserve a name all its own?

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