“Comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards” – Wired

Wired News columnist Tony Long on American Born Chinese being nominated for a National Book Award in the juvenile literature category:

I have not read this particular “novel” but I’m familiar with the genre so I’m going to go out on a limb here. First, I’ll bet for what it is, it’s pretty good. Probably damned good. But it’s a comic book. And comic books should not be nominated for National Book Awards, in any category. That should be reserved for books that are, well, all words.

And then:

Juvenile literature is a fairly new category (1996) to the NBAs, which have been around since 1950. It’s possible that no author wrote a great book aimed at that audience in the past year, but I doubt it. Juvenile literature attracts a lot of first-rate authors. Always has.

Sorry, but no comic book, regardless of how cleverly executed, belongs in that class.

Combined with the first part of his column, where he talks about the stupidity in having large music libraries, leads me to believe that this guy is, what some would call, an elitist windbag.

Here’s Steven Grant’s response.

I don’t know Tony Long or anything about him. Even though I have a subscription to Wired, this is the first time I can remember coming across his name. Not that I really remember the names of the people who write for Wired, but that’s beside the point, which is that not knowing anything about Tony Long I am trying very hard to hold back saying nasty things.


  1. If you think that’s atrocious, you should read the most recent Comics Journal’s review of the Chris Ware show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It’s half a review of the show and half a lambasting of the moron at the Tribune who also reviewed the show. It’s pretty disgusting.

  2. Comic books rule. He should change his name to TONY WRONG!!!!
    GET IT?

  3. this guy takes the role of “I�m going to piss a group of people, and i�m fine with it, actually I�m looking forward to it, because they�re ignorant” so everything he says is as wrong as it could be.

  4. Conor, I couldn’t have put it any better. Elitist Windbag. Doesn’t particularly sound like he’s trying to make a distinction in media, but more like he’s a condescending asshole.

  5. Yes, he’s a windbag, but was “American Born Chinese” any good?

  6. Just a minor correction: the columnist’s name is Tony LONG not Wong.

  7. Yeah, I had a typo there the second time I wrote his name. Funnily enough, when I oriignally wrote this up I had written “Tony Snow”, which I am pretty sure was Freudian.

  8. I’ve got a copy of this at my house, just waiting to be read, and a review will be forthcoming on the site/podcast.

  9. You know what’s kind of funny, I found more anti-comic sentiment in the last issue of Wired as well (well, the issue with the cover article about the new atheists). They have 35 very short (6 words long short) stories by some of the best sci-fi/horror writers from television, books, and movies. Then you look at the list and you have, from the top of my head, Mark Millar, Frank Miller, and Stan Lee. Three writers who have only worked in comics yet comics isn’t mentioned in that list. Combine that with the fact that Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman are two very influential comic writers now but that’s never mentioned in their biographies.

    Perhaps the editors lump “comics” under “books,” but that’s still a slap in the face to the medium.

  10. kevin smith and alan moore also did some.


  11. This stuff drives me crazy. I’m a teacher who also happens to like juvenile fiction and comic books. There’s such a stigma against this kind of material in most academic settings – the “if it’s not Philip Roth, it’s crap” contingent. I find a lot of value in this kind of material, otherwise I wouldn’t spend so much time on it – unless I’m just too lazy to read Philip Roth and would rather stare at Black Canary’s jugs. In all seriousness though, I would say that Tony Long has little authority to speak on matters of fiction, since his only criteria seems to be that the work has “words.” What makes a book worthy of award? Its ability to use words well? Or is it that the book, regardless of how many words, crafts a story that says something significant about society and about the state of being human. Maybe somebody needs to introduce Mr. Long to Mr. Eisner.

  12. Well, I read Roth’s Plot Against America, and I didn’t love it. The question really becomes, what is a book?

    Is it bound pages, which tell a story? If a book of poems can count, a graphic novel certainly should.

    But Grant makes a really good point in that while there’s no doubt that a graphic novel can be significant, there are still very few examples of those that are. From Hell and Maus are few and far between. And while I’m sure most really good comics coming out today have more literary merit than the best selling novels at your supermarket, we just can’t seem to garner that cachet in this country.

  13. would rather stare at Black Canary’s jugs
    amen to that brother

  14. What’s tiresome about this is the author’s clearly dismissive tone, which gives away his true feeling that comics are somehow inferior. The out-of-hand dismissal of the medium is almost as tired as the “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” lead that starts so many articles that “discover” the literary merits of graphic novels. All either of these attitudes indicates is that the respective author has been in a cultural cave for at least 20 years.

    There is probably a reasoned debate to be had about whether graphic novels should qualify for this particular award, but not, as the author seems to want to make it, at least by judging these excerpts, a debate about the merits of the medium. But really who cares anyway?-book awards are a dime-a-dozen these days.

  15. OK, I read the book. It’s very very good, and I’d definitely recommend it. Look for it on the podcast next week.

  16. Another response on this whole issue.


    Part of me wonders exactly how serious Tony Long is. After all, his column is titled “The Luddite.” He has an online persona he needs to uphold. To be honest, I can see where he’s coming from, especially as an educator. I, too, worry about the declining literacy of our students. However, studies have shown a link between comics and increased literacy skills. Often, comics readers are just plain readers, and many fans of prose literature attribute their love of reading to comics. We also can’t forget that we describe the act of reading comics as just that: reading. There’s no other word that can adequately describe how we interact with stories told in that medium.

    I just wanted to get all that out there — I know it’s not germaine to the issues Mr. Long raises. Here’s how I understand his argument:

    1. Sequential images (comics) and prose are different.

    2. Prose is an inherently superior medium. (And more difficult to create than comics.)

    And here’s how I respond: No. 2 is just plain stupid.


    More in the link.

  17. That was written by the Author of American Born Chinese, by the way. It isn’t very clear in the article.