Hatfield’s book is a more recent critical study in the tradition of Inge. He writes, “Critical study of these alternative comics and graphic novels begs certain historical questions: What conditions have allowed for the creation of such extended, formula-defying comics? What cultural and commercial circumstances have enabled the growth of alternative comics and the recognition of comics as a distinct literature?” (Hatfield 3). For Hatfield, this kind of study involves independent comics, or non-Big Two comics. Big Two means Marvel and DC Comics, who produce the superhero books, the most popular form in the medium. He focuses on self-published works, such as Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets, as well as on the rise of Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb in the pages of American Splendor. Most of the work is spent positing that alternative comics, or “underground comix” gave the form new literary power that drove the advent of the graphic novel, the first example of which is Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.
Eisner is considered the “father of the graphic novel.” Even though the term technically means s a longer-form comic book, usually upwards of a hundred pages, the graphic-novel form is still regarded with some disdain by comics’ authors. Novelist and Sandman writer Neil Gaiman once said on the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel, “I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker, she was a lady of the evening.”