Comics were everywhere in 2014, and not just from my perspective. Check your Facebook page, or Twitter feed, and if you’re anything like me you’ll see at least one (probably three) Cyanide and Happiness, for example. But it just goes from there. I have colleagues from Anthropology sending me little comics produced by National Geographic, some other people I know in science education always push the comics made by (and for) the space program, and of course, there’s the comics you can buy in a store, if you’d like a full comics storytelling meal. Emoticons? That’s comics. Animated gifs? Comics. Memes? Yup, you guessed it. Comics.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we live in a world of visual texts, or that radical fusion of text and image that we call comics. I’m one of those who likes the expansive definition of comics, opening the world to include abstract comics (without narrative), single-panel comics, and all the afore-mentioned digital styles. (Yes, this category includes “graphic novel” as a specific sub-category, dealing with that relatively rare form of storytelling. I use the term as a way to weed out those who aren’t educated in the world of comics. If they call all comics “graphic novels,” they clearly need a bit more education.)
Judging from what I saw in 2014, comics are more firmly entrenched in the mainstream than ever before, and branching out like never before. The Fifth Beatle from Dark Horse, by Vivek Tiwary and Andrew Robinson (with Kyle Baker) was seen in the hands of people like Dick Cavett and read by literary types. My choice for comic of the year, Manifest Destiny, is about Lewis and Clark. One of our comics family, Seth Kushner, miraculously beat leukemia and will be, along with his colleagues, presenting new, quirky comics and photography in the new year. Locust Moon’s Little Nemo brought together some of the best young talent to pay tribute to Winsor McCay. Box Brown told the story of Andre the Giant. Alan Moore expanded into film and digital comics, while still being the charming curmudgeon we all love. Female comics creators got more of the spotlight than before, and hopefully this trend will continue. (I’ve long since observed that the readership is pretty much 50/50 male/female now, despite the mainstream stereotypes.) In other words, there was plenty of things happening in comics this year that had nothing to do with Marvel, DC or any big-budget superhero movie.
I don’t particularly regard the wide public acceptance of superhero movies as a large scale endorsement of comics as a medium. I wonder, for example, how many of the millions around the world who saw Avengers in 2012 actually went out and bought a comic. And even if they did, it would be a superhero comic. Shows like the unfortunate AMC series Comic Book Men don’t help. The developments I mentioned above, of wide-scale acceptance of the comics style, of mainstreaming and expanding of comics diversity in terms of story choice and authorship are extremely promising.
Years ago, I predicted that comics would be the medium of the 21st century, and would come into their own in a big way. That’s one of the reasons why I shifted focus away from film and towards that medium a few years ago. I see no evidence yet to disprove that hypothesis. Comics have a great and growing future.