by Charles Hatfield
Comics have traditionally marked the gap between adult-sanctioned children’s literature and self-selected children’s reading. Though internationally popular and crucial to the literacy narratives of many, they have been doubly stigmatized, viewed as both a danger to children and yet the quintessence of childishness. However, in anglophone cultures, comics have at last rebounded as a children’s genre, spurred by enthusiasm for the graphic novel: the bulwark of comics’ recent claims to literariness, or at least legitimacy. The graphic novel ideal has recuperated comics in anglophone children’s literature circles (Abate and Tarbox 2017) even as it threatens to eclipse a good part of comics’ history. In short, the graphic novel has proven a great legitimizing force for comics—though at the same time a mystifying circumlocution for what is, after all, an old form.
The term alternative comics implies opposition: an alternative to something. Its meaning depends on the ever-shifting context in which the opposition is staged. While comparisons to other oppositional forms (say, indie music or film) are helpful, the term is rooted in comics’ distinctive culture, where it performs work not quite analogous to that accomplished by, for example, “alternative rock.” In truth, defining alternative comics has always been a matter of position-taking within comics culture rather than any single aesthetic formation or genre. Broadly, alternative comics overturn familiar commercial formulas—beyond that, defining them is tough.