Comic Book Writers in SFWA?

April 29th, 2008

I reported the results from the recent SFWA election a few days ago, which will be giving us a new President in Russell Davis. Eric Nylund pointed me at Warren Ellis’s blog (he of Transmetropolitan fame) where there was a brief accounting of some efforts by Davis who suggested that SFWA consider opening membership to writers of comic books and graphic novels. Ellis in turn pointed at this blog by with more information and the reactions from SFWA members:

“Naturally, opposition to opening the doors to comics creators coalesced with sudden and instantaneous vigor. This is the same organization that battled for more than a decade whether or not to include “Fantasy” in its official name (Science-fiction & Fantasy Writers of America we now be for those unaware of such nuances).

“The objections ran the whole gamut (paraphrased here because I’m a notoriously awful note-taker. But the gist of the matter remains): “There’s too many of them–this will be like a mouse swallowing an elephant”; “Their contracts and issues are different than ours”; “If you take away the pictures, the words don’t tell the whole story”; “We have nothing to offer them”; “We need to grow and add more members first, then we can think about opening the organization to comics”; “Manga recycles the same plot over and over again–that’s not writing, and shouldn’t qualify…”

Pretty damn disgusting reactions, in my opinion. And Jayme, agrees, as his entry continues:

Well, no. No to all of the above–none of those are reasons to exclude comics creators/graphic novelists. They’re excuses.

And, concluding,

“Literature changes. Publishing changes. Readership taste changes. Any entity that doesn’t evolve and adapt is doomed to extinction sooner or later. For a population of writers so often consumed and obsessed with the idea of the “genre ghetto” to cast disparaging looks toward comics writers–themselves subject to ghettoization to spectacular degrees throughout the 20th century–is as cruel an irony as any I’ve had the misfortune to encounter. Let it end here.”

I agree completely. Anyone writing science fiction and fantasy professionally should be welcomed by SFWA. I’ve had many friends who have quit SFWA due to its lack of relevence to them or their careers, and that’s in its current incarnation where people selling three stories at a few cents a word to an online magazine that doesn’t make a profit can join. SFWA, in my mind, currently is useful to challenge publishers on bad contracts, promote a few authors through handing out some awards, and helping get some self-employed writers health coverage. The non-useful activities involve being an organization of petty fights that saps the creative energies of too many talented people and alienating fans and authors alike by taking occasional poorly considered stances.

In the present instance, I’m also reminded of similar myopias in acadmia. A few years ago the University of Wyoming expanded our list of approved foriegn langauages (of which two semesters are required for graduation in the College of Arts and Sciences) to include American Sign Language. The biggest opposition came from the Modern Language Department, with, yes, “excuses,” like how language was more than communication as how it brought exposure to different cultures, history, and more. Their pride, jealousy, defensiveness, seemed to blind them to the fact that deaf culture brings all these same things to the table, and an expansion of language into new and innovative directions that we should be exploring in higher education.

How do I know this?

I learned it from science fiction. Karawynn Long’s “Of Silence and Slow Time” and John Varley’s “The Persistence of Vision,” for starters.
Some of the best writing I’ve seen in recent years has come from graphic novels. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s THE WATCHMEN made TIME magazine’s list of 100 best novels. Ever. A bunch of science fiction writers have written comics, and a bunch of comic writers have written novels.

It’s another silly, myopic defensive reaction from people who think they’re trying to protect what (little) they think they have, while missing out on how much more they could gain.

An expansion in this direction is one way SFWA could move toward increasing relevency, and I support it. I hope we continue the discussion and can invigorate the organization. Why not a Nebula award for best comic/graphic novel in the science fiction/fantasy genres? Why not? The field has awards for writers and artists both. Why not put them together?

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