In recent years, the exact definition of comic books has been argued over again and again by creators and readers alike, most of whom appear to have a little bit too much time on their hands.
While the likes of Eddie Campbell and Scott McLoud have made passionate and reasonable arguments over definitions of comics and graphic novels, I stopped caring a long time ago. All things considered, I would much rather read their new comics than go over the same old ground for the 27,000th time. Even inventive and innovative artists like Campbell get stuck on definitions, and Eisner couldn't let an interview go by without laying claim to the graphic novel term.
I don't care. I really don't. Call 'em whatever the hell you want. If it's a story told in pictures and words, it's fucking comics. Enjoy it for what it is.
So when I was recently asked by somebody in the real world to name my favourite comic, I initially felt the crippling inability to choose one. This is usually due to a complete failure on my part to be able to compare different comics. Is it Love and Rockets for the sheer depth of storytelling and sentimental value I hold for it, or 2000ad for the dazzling array of stories it has published over the past three decades? Is it The Invisibles, which, sadly, was a major part of my life for a few moments there, or is it From Hell, for its complexity and charm?
But then I tried to think of a recent comic I read that genuinely moved me, that showed me something new about the world and my perception of it, and one thing unexpectedly came to mind. It is not a comic book in any sense of the term, mainly because it isn't a book. But it is made of pictures and words, did form a narrative, (albeit more of a meta-narrative than anything regular), and it really did move me to tears. It's a collaborative piece created by the effect of hanging large paintings next to each other, and is sitting along a wall in a corridor outside where the Mona Lisa lives, in the Louvre.
Back in 2007, I had the incredible fortune of marrying the most beautiful girl to ever smile at me, and followed that with the further good fortune of taking her on a trip around the world. The next six-months were the usual whirlwind of the greatest cities on the planet, some of the most incredible scenery I'd ever seen, and some of the most mind-numbing stretches of sitting in coaches and planes I've ever suffered.
During one part of this trip, we spent two days in Paris, and like all good visitors to that fine city, the Louvre was high on the list of places to go. It was all going to plan, there is the Mona Lisa, and Venus and all that, but the part I found unexpectedly moving was in the hallway directly outside where Mona resided.
There, in the display of Italian painters stretching through hundreds of years, I saw the story. It took a moment to notice it, but it was so clear, and so perfect, and in the end, incredibly moving.
Walking from one end of the hall to the other and it's right there. The Renaissance hits like a train, right in the middle, and you can see the transition in a few works, in just a few metres of wall space.
And for somebody who doesn’t know shit about the great art of the world - although David has a great butt - the difference when perspective was rediscovered was staggering. Flat, lifeless forms come alive, dead eyes spark into life and women suddenly have fantastic breasts. A quick glance at the dates and information beside each painting show just how quickly it all occurs, and how diverse the rise in talent really was.
Those paintings on that wall, they symbolise everything that was brilliant about that point in history. The painting was, of course, only a small part of it, with architecture, music, literature, philosophy and science all taking the same great leap at the same great time.
And this is what makes that collection of paintings one of my favourite comics ever. It's not just a bunch of painting techniques that were picked up by smart people, it's a symbol of everything we strive for as human beings, the need to reach up for something better, to become something wonderful, another step up on that long ladder that starts in the dirt and reaches the heavens.
There, on that wall, a narrative emerged and a story was told. I saw humanity evolve, and take another of those steps. Even though there was, and is, a long, long way to go, it showed me we are slowly making that effort. We are trying, and sometimes we even make it.
Not bad for a bunch of pictures.