The central issue that invalidates quite a bit of comics studies is the stigma Gaiman touches on. A lot of time is spent justifying the discussion of the medium because of the stigma that shadows American comics art. The term comic book suggests something not serious. Paul Lopes, a sociology professor at Colgate University, discusses why this issue exists in American comics. In his article, “Comics and Stigma: Popular Culture and the Case of Comic Books,” Lopes uses Erving Goffman to articulate why stigma attaches itself to popular culture and lowers it into a lesser class. This is an interesting piece in that it examines why comics are associated with lower-class culture. For example, “the framing of popular culture as enmeshed in a hierarchy of cultural distinctions seems inadequate in delineating the difference between stigma and low status” (Lopes 387). The stigma of comics, Lopes reasons, began with the medium’s being regarded as having a lower standard because the art was thought to be simplistic without devoting much attention to important things such as anatomy, and because the writing seemed over-hyped, with an air of phoniness. Let’s be honest: at its inception, this labeling of comics was correct. Much of the work was unsophisticated, but today comics have reached new levels of literacy and artistic prowess — so much so that the stigma should no longer be lingering. Comics have become tools for learning, expression, imagination, and an effective way to encourage enthusiasm for reading among children. The connection with children has been a two-edged sword. Lopes writes, “The most interesting aspect of the stigma experienced in the world of comic books in North America was how the stigmatization of comic books as sub literate and a children’s medium prevented this art form from evolving into more adult genres similar to those in the field of popular literature.”
This basically confirms that in order to study comics seriously, we must first engage against the stigma that preoccupies these essays, which many of these scholars spend pages are trying to combat. Lopes covers this issue extensively and asserts that the stigma no longer exists:
The market for graphic novels has continued to grow over subsequent years, with Japanese manga representing around two-thirds of the market in 2005. Even mainstream book publishers are no beginning to recognize that comic books can present sophisticated narrative and visual art, and engaging adult materials. And the general press, from Entertainment Weekly to the New York Times, now reviews graphic novels. With the recent success of graphic novels catering to both children and adults, and the success of film adaptations of comic books, perhaps normals have finally discovered that the American comic book is a unique and complex art form. (Lopes 411)
Lopes’s conclusion is that many academics have accepted this stigma; however, most recently things have changed because of cultural deconstruction. “I would emphasize that putting stigma front and center is not simply cultural politics, that is, not simply an ideological battle over cultural distinctions, but is a critical politics that addresses the ‘real’ negative effects of discrimination against cultural forms and practitioners.” (Lopes 412).
Essentially, this is a diagnosis of something that really started when Frederic Wertham wrote his damning book Seduction of the Innocent, which all but killed the medium in the 1950s. The argument was that comic books breed juvenile delinquency, present horrifying violence, and pedophilia—the very same argument we’ve heard today with regard to video games.