Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured the debut of 'The Funny Pages,' an on-going feature that will include Building Stories, a continuing comic/graphic novel saga from cartoonist Chris Ware as well as a prose 'Sunday Serial' written by novelist Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Rum Punch), and 'True Life Tales,' humorous essays from a variety of writers.
In introducing the new feature the editors of the Times Magazine invoked the popular American Weekly Sunday supplement created for the Hearst papers in 1896, which featured full color comic strips such as R.F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid, a sensation in its day and a landmark in the development of sequential popular art in the U.S. Ironically in the 1890s and throughout the twentieth century the stately New York Times eschewed running the highly popular comic strips that were characteristic of its more sensationalist newspaper competitors (Outcault's Yellow Kid was the source for the phrase 'yellow journalism' after all). Now 100 years later the Times is easing up a bit on its comic strip ban and including a regularly reoccurring comic-though no one will confuse Chris Ware's Building Stories, which the Times characterizes as 'an architectural comic,' with Get Fuzzy or Funky Winkerbean.
But the fact that the Times is running Building Stories and regularly reviewing graphic novels is a very good sign and it provides more evidence that the opprobrium of the literary classes to the lowly comic strip (and comic book) is waning fast. Further confirmation is supplied by this week's all-important (to the sales of certain types of books anyway) New York Times Book Review, which includes a short review of, and a large illustration from Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library collection recently published by Pantheon as well as a two-page article on shojo manga.