Russian comics get sales boost after culture minister calls them ‘pathetic’

The minister, Vladimir Medinsky, told an audience at the Moscow international book fair that comics are “like chewing gum, it’s not food”. “Comic books are aimed at children who are only learning to read,” he added. “I think it’s pathetic for adults to read comic books.”

The Russian culture minister’s dismissal of comic books as “for those who can’t read well” has sparked a backlash from fans but also boosted sales of the genre, according to one publisher.

Medinsky’s comments angered hundreds of fans, who have been expressing their outrage on social media using the hashtags #ImAMoron and #IReadComics. “We are not idiots,” wrote the Chuk and Geek comic store on its Facebook page, while one fan wrote on Twitter that he had been reading comics for almost 20 years, and “I’m not planning on stopping any time soon. No one will convince me otherwise. Why? Because comics have given me so much, taught me so much, shown me so many things. And I’m not so dumb as to give all this up.”

Dmitry Yakovlev, head of one of Russia’s leading indie comic producers, the St Petersburg-based Bumkniga, was unfazed by the minister’s dig. “Medinsky’s comment was pure stupidity, therefore supporting the comic industry,” he told the Guardian. “Sales increased.”

Yakovlev said that the number of comics published in Russia in recent years has significantly increased, with “a fully-fledged comic book market forming in Russia”.

“Phrases like ‘comics are for children’, for those who do not like to read or for idiots are present everywhere. But comics are a form of storytelling, like literature, cinema and theatre,” he said. “Comics are read in Russia in the same way as in other countries. The value of comics is their universal language: the language of drawing is understandable anywhere in the world.”

Chrissy Williams, editor of comics including the Eisner award-nominated series The Wicked + the Divine, said she was “appalled that any skepticism still remains on this point”.

“The language of comics, by definition, contains more components than the written word alone. It asks its audience to read words, but also images, in sequence, and the spaces between the images,” she said. “Maus – a moving and innovative memoir about the holocaust that spans multiple genres, utilising word and image to communicate so powerfully – won the Pulitzer prize in 1992. Of course comics are literature.”

Cartoonist Stephen Collins, author of the forthcoming graphic novel Susan Wogan’s Journey to the Stars, agreed. “People often get this backwards, in my view,” he said. “What people are really saying when they ask this question is ‘but are they literary?’, which is essentially just a question about genre prejudice.”

For Collins, “making a comic feels very much the same as writing, so comics are certainly literature”.

“Writing is just feeding information to the reader in deliberate sequence to get a desired response,” he said. “Novelists do that within a sentence, cartoonists do the same in dialogue and narration, as well as ‘writing’ the order of the panels, too. The only thing we can’t generally do is write similes and evocative description of visuals, because typically they are shown. But in general, comics are very much ‘literature’ in their creation. I think that to question that is just to get confused by one’s own genre biases.”

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