Tony Long: Chickenhead of the Month

I’m a little late on this, but I think it can be said with almost complete certainty that Tony Long is a moron. It’s bad enough that Long has diminished local illustrator Gene Leun Yang’s accomplishments by claiming that his book American Born Chinese should be ineligible for the National Book Award because it is composed of pictures, but Tony Long, a superlative skybald content to toss around his uninformed opinions the way culinary naïfs want to take you to Domino’s for “really good pizza,” hasn’t even read the book in question. Like a hayseed fundamentalist who will always be right, even when having nothing more than a cursory understanding of what he’s talking about, Long is content to remark upon a work that he hasn’t even bothered to crack open.

Long claims that his essay is “not about denigrating the comic book, or graphic novel” and then proceeds to belittle Yang’s work by declaring, “I’ll bet for what it is, it’s pretty good,” as if “what it is” is not only as different as “apples and oranges,” but somehow lesser.

In bashing the book, Long notes that he is “familiar with the genre,” as if this generalized pronouncement of casual expertise, presumably originating from the deity now occupying Long’s head, justifies his capacity to remark upon a book that he is ignorant about by his own admission. Well, I’m “familiar” with the work of April Flowers, but I’m not going to comment upon WMB: Weapons of Masturbation until I’ve seen the film.

For a guy who seems to be “familiar” with comic books, Long can’t even get his terminology right. Like a milliner trying to sell you an asshat, Long refers to Yang’s work falls into interchangeably as “graphic novels,” “illustrated stories,” “comic books,” when these are entirely different forms. A graphic novel, for example, may be a collection of previously published comic books. You can call many children’s books or even some postmodern literary experiments “illustrated stories.” But if graphic novels “don’t belong” even in a juvenile literature class, then how are we to categorize the quest for meaning contained within Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or the shifting perceptions of lust within Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls? Surely, these are books. These works, among many, chronicle the human condition. They are laced with plots, characters, narratives, subtext, and visual and verbal language just as intricate in their creation and execution as blueblood word-centric novels. And yet we continue to throw them in a separate section in the bookstore and deny these books their credentials, imputing by taxonomy that they will never drink from the whites only drinking fountain occupied by FICTION.

The Tony Longs of the universe, who regale us with their callow and deliberately ignorant banter, will continue to offer the hard line that these are lesser works without proof. They will continue to comment upon subjects without studying what they purportedly examine or providing us with specific examples. It’s sadly telling that a publication like Wired, which reports on advances technology and is thus progressive in some sense, would employ an atavistic microbe to mold up the boss stone.

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6 Comments

  1. ummm, at first i didn’t believe you. I did not think that a man could be so colossally uninformed (or maybe malformed? sorry, bad pun). Has he read Watchmen, has he read the Sandman for chrissakes? Does he have any brain cells that connect? What does he mean with the term “real novels”? Last time i checked comic books were still made of paper, just like, gosh, “real novels”. On the other hand those pesky new-fangled “net comics”, oh no, those are definitely not “real”, having no corporeal form whatsoever. Which would be the same for a downloaded .txt Gravity’s Rainbow, right? Or is that an avatar of a “real novel”?
    or something?
    shame on him godammit!

  2. I agree this guy’s comments suck.

    But having just served on a judging panel, I would add that there should be no ambiguity in the rules of what is eligible or not. I actually think it would be better if the National Book Awards had a separate graphic novel category, because obviously the selection this year wasn’t part of a systematic process. It’s not like they considered everything out there. They found something excellent, but it’s unlikely it was the ONLY thing worthy of the honor.

    I also like to think about questions like: Would a novel ever be nominated for Best Graphic Novel for, for example, the Eisner award? No. So we do need to define what it is we’re giving an award to. A bird is not a frog. A frog is not a shark. A shark is not an elephant. And an elephant is not a toaster.

    Graphic novels are different than novels. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

    JeffV

  3. Ι am posting a reply to Jeff VanderMeer. This internet thing is great.

    point taken. A “normal” book would not be eligible for an Eisner award. But on the other hand, consider that, sometimes, and it is getting more and more frequent, a comic book will be far above anything else published that year in “normal” book form. Should it not get the honor of a prestigious award just because it is comprised by pictures as well as words? Should it be reserved to an audience that attends and follows the comic book scene? As much as we hate it, comic books are still considered a sub-cultural phenomenon (see aforementioned moron), despite overwhelming evidence to their coming of age. I agree with you on the setting of standards.
    But i think that the gist of this blog entry was the fact that the aforementioned moron perceives comics or graphic novels as inferior (and makes a cursory attempt to hide it, and fails miserably, and repeat).
    Oh, and i have the only book of yours that was published in Greece (Van Dradin something. Sorry my memory is weak and my books locked away in a vault). Nothing else comes here dammit! That sweet city of saints book…

    P

  4. Yeah, I see the point, but I still see graphic novels and novels as different creatures. The very fact of adding pictures changes the dynamic with the reader. It’s a very different experience.

    I’m not saying I have an argument with that graphic novel being up for a National Book Award, though. But it does point to that institution not having faced the fact that they need to be considering a lot more than just that one graphic novel, and in a systematic way.

    So, I guess I agree and disagree. You’ll never get me to agree that a novel and a graphic novel are the same art form. But I whole-heartedly agree that graphic novels are as *good* as novels. Just as films are as good as novels, just different..

    JeffV

  5. Oh–and I get the point of people in the comic book community feeling pissed on by the literati. I mean, I come out of SF/F fiction. It’s the same thing. I am just thinking of the logic of the *form*. I would think people in the comics and graphic novels arena would want to celebrate what makes them *different* from novels. And I sometimes think that the effort to equate novels and graphic novels is more about making the playing field even than about the logic of what each form does.

    But I also feel slightly nervous about even stating this because in some quarters it may still be seen as saying novels are better than graphic novels. Which is NOT what I’m saying.

    JeffV

  6. Sorry, I’ve read real books. I hammered my way through the Iliad and the Anabasis. Don’t claim to have put in nearly the same mental energy by reading a graphic novel. It is harder to write a book, it’s harder to read a book. And its more rewarding to read a real book. Bottom line, if you want to make yourself feel better by reading graphic “novels” and keeping yourself barley above the water line when it comes to literacy go ahead, but don’t complain when the champion swimmers get a blue ribbon and you don’t even get a participation certificate.

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