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So Tony Long doesn’t think that American Born Chinese is deserving of nomination for the National Book Award. This is one of the most poorly informed opinions I have ever read. Let me elaborate.

Mr Long has not even read American Born Chinese, but his assupmtion is that it is much harder to write a novel worthy of NBA nomination than it is to write a graphic novel of equal quality. In his words:

[A]s literature, the comic book does not deserve equal status with real novels, or short stories. It’s apples and oranges.

If you’ve ever tried writing a real novel, you’ll know where I’m coming from. To do it, and especially to do it well enough to be nominated for this award, the American equivalent of France’s Prix Goncourt or Britain’s Booker Prize, is exceedingly difficult.

I’m not even going to bother working out how many more novels have been nominated for an NBA than graphic novels, but I’ll give you a clue: lots. So I guess it’s much harder to write a novel worthy of nomination than a graphic novel, right Tony?

One other thing. Not only did Mr Long not read the book he is claiming to be unworthy of nomination, he clearly didn’t read the submission guidlines for the award he thinks American Born Chinese is unworthy of. Let’s take a look.

A. Full-length books of fiction and general nonfictionare eligible. Collections of short stories and collections of essays by one author are eligible. Collected and selected poems by one author are eligible. All books must be published in the United States.

Now, last time I checked, American Born Chinese was a full length book of general fiction. Maybe next time you want to claim that a fine work of literature is not worthy of a particular literary award, you should read the rules of eligibility for said award first.

The only thing that bothers me, after reading the specific guidelines, is that more graphic novels haven’t been considered for the Award in the past.

Edit: I was so mad about this that I forgot to give props to Jeph for pointing it out to me in the first place, and also to mention that Project Wonderful is not only a great idea – it’s also the best name for anything, ever!

Man, I don’t even know if it needs any elaboration – the inherent fault in his opinion is pretty clear-cut. Good to see as many people as possible putting him in his place, though, and hopefully they’ll take the negative feedback to heart.

I think this can be summed up by simply saying “Who the fuck is Tony Long, and what’s he ever been nominated for?”

Sounds like sour grapes to me.

A comic is no different than a play, except that the people who are talking happened to be DRAWN on the page. That would be like saying Shakespeare shouldn’t be nominated for book awards because he writes for the theatre.

Such a degenerate cretin does not deserve to be addressed with the prefix “mister.” Or to be treated with any respect.

I think the good fellow might have gotten his wires crossed on the differences between the effort taken to create these two types of storytelling and the effort taken to absorb it. We’ve all devoured both novels and graphic novels, but graphic novels are a bit easier to consume. I can revisit my favorite novel and my favorite graphic novel over and over again and always expect to take something new away from them, but reading and rereading a 120-page graphic story is “easier” in terms of my investment of time and effort. Perhaps if reading graphic novels was a hellish chore instead of a true pleasure, Long would respect the genre a bit more, art being suffering and all that BS.

Opining that one medium is superior to another before ever succeeding at doing both well, is simple ignorance. Judging them from a viewer’s/reader’s standpoint is preference.

In other words: even if I was an objective monkey I’d fling poo at Tony.

It really demonstrates ignorance to completely dismiss a work without even reviewing it. It takes a real moron to condemn a entire form of literature based on the stereotypes of comics. However, this is something that comics have been dealing with for as long as the medium has existed. Comics have been making great strides in gaining mainstream acclaim, and this one small-minded boob won’t deter the overall progress comics make. All it does is demonstrate that there’s still a ways to go, and that there are people who still hold those narrow views.

Graphic novels are not comics in the same way that novels are not PULP fiction. Pulp fiction and commercial comics are both separate and less-literary (but easier-to-consume) forms of literature. Just as pulp novels have their own quality but are, in general, seen as inferior in a literary-way to novels, it is pretty amateur to rank Am. Born Chinese alongside “comic books”, even though both contain pictures.

That’s like saying “Baby Sitters Club #147” is more deserving of a literature award than a graphic novel, simply because it’s a book with only words.

Tony Long sounds like a grumpy old man, and I think he’s only trying to get a rise out of the people he knows will disagree with him when he says real novels are exceedingly difficult to write, but I think he does have a valid point. Comics are not literature, for the same reasons that movies and songs are not literature. It’s a different art form. That is not to degrade comics, but just to point out what seems to me to be a simple statement of fact. You could separtate the lyrics from a song and call that literature, but a song is not literature. You could seperate the script from a movie, but you do not watch literature in a theatre. Comics are sometimes great works of art, but they are not literature. And arguing that they technically meet the definition of a book just seems juvenile. I’m not at all upset that American Born Chinese was nominated, but I also don’t care that some guy nobody here ever would have heard of is a purist when it comes to recognizing literature.

Comics do have their own awards, but I doubt anyone was ever upset by the fact that some book was overlooked for an Eisner just because it didn’t have any pictures.

Sandy – you seem to be the purist with a fairly strict definition of literature. For one, our friends at Merriam-Webster think it includes musical compositions.

For another, to a large extent the general populace thinks the word means something like “an artfully written book”.

And going back to P.J.’s original point – the NBA is not an award for “literature”, it’s an award for… Books. To say that a graphic novel is not a book is either monunmentally stupid or the lowest form of blatant trollism.

I would agree that there are valid reasons for judging comics separately from “pure text” novels or poems, as the tools available to comic writers, novelists, and poets are different, and it may take a different set of talents to make the most of each medium.

However, as other people have pointed out, this particular award uses a broad definition of “books,” and the NBA nominating committee determined that this individual comic fit the criterion of the award. It’s possible that this definition may change as the inclusion of American Born Chinese stirs debate, but it’s great that the National Book Foundation is grappling with the idea of what a “book” can be.

In any case, Gene Yang should be proud of himself for getting recognized by an audience that is traditionally less receptive to comics.

I liked the line “If you’ve ever tried writing a real novel …” Not only do I doubt whether many of Tony Long’s readers have (which kind of limits the article’s relevance before it starts) but it also suggests that Long has … in which case it begs the question of whether he’s also tried to write a graphic novel. Unless he’s tried to write both, how can he possibly judge the difficulty in writing one compared to the other?

And that’s before we begin to consider why he thinks the degree of difficulty in writing a novel (graphic or otherwise) should be a meaningful indicator of its quality, anyway. This argument suggests that a poor novel which was difficult to write is more deserving of the NBA than a great novel which flowed easily from the author’s pen (or, of course, keyboard).

If that was to become the criteria for selection, then surely Mr Long (who seems to be saying he finds it difficult to write real novels) should win every year. Ah … his motive becomes clear!

[…] Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party. We all know that some feel that Yang didn’t belong in such august company (the reaction to which opinion was satisfyingly brutal and swift), but you know what? I’m […]

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