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Sunday, March 12, 2006

"Mainstream" and Comics -- Tom Spurgeon recently commented on Naruto's placement on the USA Today charts. I see a bit of irony in his phrasing:

"The unfortunate thing about a mainstream comics-oriented mindset that doesn't easily embrace a hit like this is that Naruto is clever and accomplished, well-written in terms of escalating drama and linking character interaction to plot lines..."

By definition, I would guess the reason Tom thought this worth commenting on is because Naruto has entered the mainstream in a way that no other comic or graphic novel has.

I stopped referring to North American superhero comics as "mainstream" a couple years back when it became clear that the mainstream had discovered comics and was not as interested in spandex as it is in the personal history of a young Iranian woman, or the life story of a man whose brother has a terrible illness that afflicts their entire family, or, you know, Snoopy.

Eddie Campbell recently categorized it as the "comic book culture," I call it "corporate comics," but I think the important thing here is that to continue to call the increasingly (self-)marginalized comic book/superhero/corporate comics culture "mainstream" is to aid and assist its awe-inspiring ability to ignore the mounting signs of its own irrelevance. "Hey, the world may like all those other comics better, but we're mainstream!"

Well, they're not. In the insular world of the direct market with its sun-faded Vampirella posters hanging in the window and Cheetos stains on the fingers of the clerks, superheroes may be the mainstream. But they're the main stream of a tributary that clearly is leading away from the roaring river of comics that are headed in a different direction, one that leads to a place with comics for everybody. As Naruto proves, that even means action and adventure. Just action and adventure not targeted to regressive narcissists who don't understand why girls don't like to watch The Hulk beat the crap out of The Thing for the 371st time, and who would be vaguely unnerved if they did.


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