Yesterday, the L.A. Times Book Awards honored comics for the first time, and David Mazzucchelli's geometric love story Asterios Polyp won the prize. We spoke to Geoff Boucher of Hero Complex about bringing comics into the critical fold.
Mazzucchelli, who worked with Frank Miller on Daredevil and Batman: Year One, took home the Los Angeles Times Graphic Novel Prize for Asterios Polyp, a symbolism-steeped tale of an architect and his estranged wife. We talked with Geoff Boucher of the L.A. Times' Hero Complex section about the decision to honor all things comic.
This is the first year the L.A. Times Book Awards chose to honor graphic novels. What was the impetus behind this decision?
The Festival of Books has had for a number of years a section dedicated to comics, but it's part of the ongoing tilt to recognize the great stuff that's being produced in the comics world. It's a tad bit overdue, but the choices this year [i.e., Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, prize winner Asterios Polyp, etc.] are outstanding.
Most of the selections this year had an "indie" slant. The way I see it, you have two critical divides in the comic medium. The first divide is between comics and other media, and the second is with the comic medium itself, between capes and non-capes titles. Both comics and capes tend to be at bottom of the totem pole when it comes to mainstream critical praise. What's your take on this?
As far as comics and culture - as a medium, comics may not get as much as respect as their intellectual property. The intellectual property of comics is definitely flying pretty high right now, if you look at things like Iron Man and Scott Pilgrim. As far as creators, I'd say they're just happy to see creations live on an echo throughout popular culture.
Within comics itself, I think its just like in film – you don't see the blockbusters win the Oscars – just look at this year's Academy Awards. But I'd say if you look at stuff like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns' superhero work, here are superhero comics that are not lacking for audience or acclaim.
Warren Ellis once said, "The notion that [superheroes] dominate an entire genre is absurd. It's like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels." Are superheroes to blame for the misconception that comic books are low art?
You can't separate superheroes from the existence of this medium, Are superheroes or comics to blame, I don't know – it's a chicken or egg thing. I'd say Adam West, with all his "pow-bam-zap" Batman TV show from the 1960s, did more than almost anything else to keep comics in the juvenilia section of the popular mind. But hey! Low art's pretty cool. You have cult novels and film noir, but there's a populist appeal that many people still see as disposable. And hey, I'm a big Adam West fan!
Hero Complex is the comics-centric section of the L.A. Times – 20 years ago, that would be unthinkable. What's it like to be the "superhero guy" on staff?
I've been at the L.A. Times 20 years. I covered gangs and street crimes originally, but what's changed is the internet. There's no page space limitation on the internet. And what amazes me isn't that Hero Complex exists, but rather how much of it ends up in the print edition. That really speaks to how far comics have come. Once Comic-Con reached a critical mass and you saw Oscar winners going south on I-5, the success of that eventually lead to Hero Complex.
You can find Geoff at Hero Complex. Asterios Polyp artwork by David Mazzucchelli..