Welcome to the strip club

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Ted Dewan creates his own pictorial tribute to the latest issue of a US literary journal, and explains why adults should read comics

The comic strip below is an appreciation of the latest issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, the American literary journal. McSweeney's is also the outfit behind high-powered, innovative author events. Last October, McSweeney's contributors Zadie Smith and Nick Hornby were "in concert" at London's Barbican along with Brooklyn pop geniuses They Might Be Giants for a buffet of well-blended artistic flavours.

The latest volume of McSweeney's continues its cross-media enterprise, boasting comics artist Chris Ware as its guest editor and main contributor.

Ware is best known for Jimmy Corrigan, or the Smartest Kid on Earth, which won the Guardian First Book prize in 2001. It is a deeply moving saga of paternal estrangement across a century that stands among the best contemporary fiction. That it seldom physically sits alongside other major literary works on the bookshelves is a reminder of the age-old prejudice that haunts this art form.

The bloated esteem enjoyed by the practitioner of word-only literature (as compared to the comics artist) is perhaps the legacy of written language's early history as a tool for control over an "illiterate" population throughout the previous millennium. (In fact, the population was quite literate visually, as anyone who has tried to decipher a religious stained-glass window could testify.) Creating serious comics art is strenuous and poorly paid. Yet there are practitioners who keep the flame of their youthful enthusiasm for their art into the years of maturity, where their work can flower into sublime creations worthy of our greatest esteem. Many of the essays and comics in McSweeney's No. 13 focus on the subject of comics themselves, with contributions by some of North America's most insightful comics artists and essayists, including Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, Mark Beyer, Mark Newgarden, Lynda Barry and John Updike.

The comics medium is also put to work in the service of biography, reportage, criticism, politics, history, and drama. There are even two "mini comics" in the fold of the front cover for good measure (make sure your copy has them).

For the lover of literature who has retained the skill and patience to appreciate the world's most imaginative and powerful form of mediated storytelling, this volume is an unmissable feast.

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