Thursday, January 9, 2014

ALL comics are fantasy - Or Rant, The Sequel

So, the guy on my list comes back with, "ALL comics are fantasy." (To be fair, he does admit a certain ignorance of the medium, and asks if there are any hard sci fi manga or comics, so, here we go.)
(And as a corollary that at least some folks might agree with, he also added that any story with faster than light travel is as much fantasy as if you waved a magic wand to travel. I'll address that one in a postscript)

Gaahhhhh!!! So, now ALL comics are fantasy!! Really?? So, you’ve read them all, have you?

I’m sure the concept that all graphic stories are fantasy will come as a huge shock to the school librarians who stock history books in graphic form, or the writer and illustrator of the gorgeous line of noir mysteries I was reading. I’ve seen graphic westerns, manga instructional how-to manuals, chic lit in comic form, teen angst stories about making the team and having a zit on picture day. I’ve even seen technical documentation done as a comic book.

Comics are a medium, not a genre!!

To quote an outstanding artist friend of mine, Yehoshua Reyez ( to say science fiction can only be written in prose and not in comics or manga, “It's like saying a still life could only be painted in oils, but not acrylics.” It’s ridiculous.

I don’t care where you draw your personal line on what is and what isn’t science fiction, the medium is irrelevant. Only the story counts when determining genre.

Does Isaac Asimov’s work qualify as sci fi?
Like, say, his Robot stories?

Or, the Foundation books?

Or, 2001: A Space Odyssey

How about Phillip K. Dick?
Is “The Electric Ant” science fiction enough for you?

How about “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Or, “A Scanner Darkly”

How about Larry Niven? Does he write science fiction?
Part one of his “Ringworld” series of graphic novels will be out soon:

And those are just graphic translations of some classic sci fi authors. There’s a ton of them, from Asimov to Zelazny, from Jules Verne’s century old sci fi classics to John Scalzi’s work last year.

Then there’s guys like Alan Moore who create brilliant dystopian near future, hard sci fi stories like “V for Vendetta” directly in the comic medium, because they PREFER it.

To dismiss an entire brilliant medium for story-telling simply because all YOU have ever read in that medium is fantasy is very silly. If all I had ever read was Twilight books, I would certainly hope that I would have more sense than to say, “All novels are clearly just about silly adolescent romantic fantasy and vampires that sparkle.”

At least, I hope I would have more sense than to say something like that on a list full of authors.

Stories that speculate about what might happen when science progresses past its current point is MY definition of science fiction. Whether those stories are written in fingerpaint on the side of a building, created on a not-yet-invented 4 D holographic imager, or told in interpretive dance on a stage is utterly irrelevant.

Only the content matters.


PS. FTL travel is not only possible, it happens on a regular basis on a subatomic level. Making it practical for humans is not possible at this time, but neither was travel by submarine considered scientifically possible or practical in Jules Verne’s day. To limit a sci fi writer, not only to only one medium, but also to only things that are scientifically possible NOW, is to cripple the genius of sci fi writers everywhere, not to mention to slow down the progress of science. If no one ever imagined communication satellites and put them in a sci fi story, would they now be a fact of life?

Several scientific theories exist as to how faster than light travel might be made practical in the future when our technology progresses. Here’s one, for example, which, while at first deemed silly and impossible, then caught on in the imaginations of scientists because of that silly space western (not sci fi of course, by your definition, despite being written by people with no sci fi chops like Larry Niven, Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison) where that scientist and a lot of the rest of us first saw crazy, scientifically impossible concepts like hand held communicators and tablet computers:

So, right now, a scientist is beginning to see that FTL travel with warp technology might actually be possible. Kind of like, not too long ago, someone imagined that it might actually be possible to split an atom. Crazy concept. Insane. Impractical.

It wouldn’t be science fiction then to write a story about someone who used that “warp drive” technology to travel through space back in the 1960s, but now it would be. By those rules, writing a story about an atomic bomb would have been pure fantasy, if it was written in 1910, but would have been science fiction if written in 1920. And Jules Verne never wrote a science fiction story in his life, of course, since none of the technology he imagined was considered possible when he wrote about it, even though most of it now exists.

In 1870, Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In 1876, someone built the first functional model of a submarine. At least in part, the submarine exists BECAUSE Jules Verne imagined it.

Human imagination is where technological advancement comes from. Yes, scientists and engineers have to make it real. But first, someone has to imagine the possibility.

If you limit the imagination of science fiction writers to only what is currently believed possible, then you put one heck of a big stumbling block in the way of technological progress, not to mention good storytelling.

In any medium.

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