repeating forever: “it’s a medium not a genre” “it’s a medium not a genre” “it’s a medium not a genre” “it’s a medium not a genre” “it’s a..
—Drawn & Quarterly (@DandQ), at 13 May 17:34
If you’re in the least interested in the formal side of comics, I’m sure you’ve winced at the unblinking mention of “the comics genre” — I know I have, more often than I can count. Genre denotes stylistic sets of convention (see Wikipedia for a more thorough explanation), like comedy, drama, or tragedy. Any genre can be applied to comics, but comics are not a genre.
At some point it became popular shorthand among comics connoisseurs to call comics a medium, as apparently Drawn & Quarterly’s twitter person only recently caught wind of, but impressively academic as it sounds, that’s kind of rubbish, too.
A medium can be many things (spirit channeling, anyone?), but in all versions it’s a messenger, or middleman — “medium” being Latin for “middle”. Wikipedia, again and always, defines media in a communication context as “the collective communication outlets or tools that are used to store and deliver information or data”, and goes on to list print media, cinema, radio and television as examples. Odd for a web encyclopedia to leave out the Internet from that list.
Comics don’t fit in that category, but is rather the “information or data” mediated in book form or online as web comics. That’s what I tweeted back at D&Q, a little exasperated having to explain it to one of the finer publishers in North America:
@DandQ Print is the medium, comics are an art form…
…which I’m open for debating the semantics of: is comics a form of art, of expression, or communication? All or any of the above I suppose, perhaps depending on the work in question, but I’m quite convinced of the term “form”.
Yes, this is the kind of thing I lie awake nights and ponder. I think it’s important, if you’re interested in discussing the finer points of comics, or even if you just want to feign cleverness at parties, to have at least a working terminology of the subject. A hopelessly old-fashioned attitude, I know.