In last fall's issue of Mome — a still-young quarterly showcase of new comics artists from the publishing house Fantagraphics — the cartoonist Gabrielle Bell made a somewhat startling confession. "I've often been really impatient with most comics," she told Gary Groth in an interview. "The stories, in most cases, even if they're good, they're still not as good as most books, most novels are."
Now, I trust Gary Groth won't take it as an insult to say that, in the whole let's-take-comics-seriously movement of the past two decades, he is among the most-serious-taking. As the bold and sometimes cantankerously opinionated editor of Fantagraphics, Groth has published and championed many of the finest cartoonists working today (including as it happens, many of those discussed here), and he has long battled on behalf of what we now call "the graphic novel" over what he considers mass market junk (though he uses a somewhat more biting epithet), which is to say: superhero comics. But Bell, bless her, seems completely unaware of her little blasphemy as she refuses to dis Catwoman, and maintains that first and foremost, comics are supposed to tell stories. Comics Chronicle, New York Times Sunday Book Review
Boy, I'm glad somebody finally said that. John Hodgman goes on to call to task the many "slice-of-life" cartoonists so loved by the Journalistas--precisely because their lives simply aren't worth being sliced and served up as reading material:
For all the admirable effort to allow comics to tell different types of stories, there is also a creeping sameness to many of these comics: black-and-white, semi- or wholly autobiographical sketches of drifting daily life and its quiet epiphanies.
This is the part of comics (or any form of entertainment) that Groth and company simply don't get--it's supposed to be entertaining! This is not to say that the "quiet story" cannot entertain; of course, it can. The Glass Menagerie is just as good a play as, say, MacBeth--even it doesn't have bombast, and blood, and murders, and ghosts, and witches. But 20 or 30-some pages in words and pictures of the angst-filled life of the "starving artist" simply isn't compelling enough for the average person. Too often, I feel as if the average "indy" cartoonist is writing only for all those who share his condition, as opposed to trying to same something to those who don't.
In the process of trying to be different, too many of these cartoonists wind up being all the same.