This accounts for the durable popularity of the superhero — Superman can fight Nazis during World War II and terrorists today. A comic hero can remain the same, yet always seem relevant to the readers daily life, just like the daily work of a newspaper political cartoonist. The reason that this type of popularity is spurned is because of the fears of mass production of written material. McCloud agrees with Kunzle that mass production is critical to the genre. McCloud calls comics “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequences, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (McCloud 9). This response it elicits from all readers on a visceral level, however, should not be undervalued. Part of the reason for McClouds trumpeting of the medium, however, may be his broader-reaching focus, while Kunzle tends to focus on more narrow historical or political works designed to produce a more singular response in the viewer because of their purpose as topical propaganda not art.
McCloud, like Kunzle, sees the printing press and mass production with the advent of moveable type as a critical component of the beneficial power of the medium of comics, not an example of why it is an inferior, disposable commodity. The disdain Kunzle has about a medium where the visual is superior to the text can be traced to the Western attitude, partially spawned by the invention of printing, but perhaps tracing far earlier, even before there were comic strips, perhaps (although neither author says so) to a distrust of graven images. Western culture has long believed that words and pictures must be divided, and the word is superior in value to the image, which is merely surface in meaning.
At times, McClouds and Kunzles attitudes are so different, it seems as if they are talking about two distinct art forms, and to some degree this is true — Kunzles political cartoons, other than their graphic and narrative nature bear little resemblance to some of the examples discussed by McCloud. McCloud attempts to take a wide-ranging focus in contrast to Kunzles more scholarly study.
But despite their different orientations, ultimately McClouds use of the graphic novel itself is an argument for the comics educational potential as a form, and perhaps some of the limits perceived by Kunzle in the medium are less due to the comics visual and temporal quality, and more to the particular nature of the broadside and partisan newspaper media the artists were attempting to serve.
McClouds thesis about the potential of the comic art form (or even the sequential pictorial art form, to use Kunzles expression) is perhaps best justified by his own persuasive use of the image of himself, telling the story of comics. At first, the reader is taken aback, since seeing images paired with texts almost automatically causes the reader to take the words that come from the mouth of the cartoon McCloud less seriously. But as the analysis evolves, the reader begins to question his or her own assumptions as to why this is the case. Why cannot “Calvin and Hobbes” or “Peanuts” be regarded as profound in their own ways, simply because they deploy visual characterization? After all, certain aspects of the novel were regarded as less than serious until fictional narration began to be regarded as acceptable or unacceptable.
Kunzle may be at a disadvantage because he wrote his book before Maus and other graphic novels began to reconfigure the modern conception of comics. And he is valid in pointing out that comics can be disposable, even nasty, and one must not be too quick to valorize all comics. But that is true of any art form — works of art can encompass both the high and the low, and simply because a medium is popular, like the comic, like a novel, like a movie, does not mean that an individual work cannot embody its medium in a perfect fashion and stretch the limits of the medium.
Kunzle, David. History of the Comic Strip. Volume 1: The Early Comic Strip. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1973.