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.