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Diaz: Let’s See More Respect for Comics Writers

junot-diaz-dirtypop.jpgJunot Diaz‘s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is being applauded by book reviewers for merging literary ambitions with a slew of pop culture references, specifically from the sci-fi and comic book cultural spheres, so it should be no surprise that Diaz’s interview with comics fansite Newsarama is so thought-provoking. In the first half of the two-part article, Diaz explains why some many of his comic book allusions come from the ’80s: “I think that part of it was, of course, you want to mic-check the things you love the most,” he says. “But it was also that… if you look at these books, you see that they’re speaking toward a particular sensibility. They all had a very dark, but in some ways generous view (of the world).” He then adds perceptive comments about how the writers and artists from that period were working out new languages, verbal and graphic, of storytelling, and then admits, “Even before I dreamed of being a literary writer, I dreamed of being Frank Miller.” (Even those readers who aren’t comics fans might recognize Miller as the creator of the source material for the films Sin City and 300, but Diaz is specifically referencing the mid-’80s DC Comics books Ronin and The Dark Knight Returns as his inspiration.)

In the second half of the interview, Diaz reveals just how heavily invested he is in the contemporary comics scene, then admits that when it comes to mashing up high and low culture, the literati are given a better handicap by critics than the comics crowd. “We can go through and rummage through this material and talk about supervillains, and we’ll still get nominated for Pulitzers and other awards,” Diaz says:

“But comic book writers are like holding passports from North Korea, and when they try to enter the pearly gates of the high literary nation, they’re always stopped and blocked and stripped and denied access… Michael Chabon writes a book about comic books and everyone’s on his jock, but Michael Chabon is never going to be competing with the poor guy who’s writing Sinestro Corps for an award of high literary merit. And I’m like, ‘Why not?’”

Or as Grant Morrison, whose appearance at the New Yorker Festival with Jonathan Lethem was a significant step towards rectifying the imbalance Diaz describes, said in a 2002 interview with Sequential Tart, “I think most comics are pretty good and stand comparison with their equivalent TV shows or novels. Is The Ultimates as good as West Wing? I think so. In fact, I prefer it.” (None of which, of course, is meant to knock the literary writers—in fact, perhaps the most glaring omission from this year’s National Book Awards fiction shortlist, after Diaz’s own novel, is Chabon’s alternate history murder mystery, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)

(photo: Ka-Man Tse/Dirtypop)

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