Since I've now got to give a talk on the subject...
Overcome by remorse after my insane rant the other day, I thought it would be more civilized to write a polite explanation to my host at the Brisbane Writers Festival, who I suppose cannot otherwise complain about all the publicity I'm giving it here. Thus I've cut and pasted, from a longer email, the explainy bit, which may interest those of my readers who are not yet sick to their stomachs with the whole disquisition. (If you make the effort, I promise a good punchline, and if you're new here, hey kids, you can cut and paste this into your homework and call it your own. If you steal my explanation rather than somebody else's i won't need to browbeat you later.)
Firstly, the works of Tezuka are great works indeed, no slight intended there. But the issue at hand is one of eras rather than achievements or intentions. It's like when my grandmother used to refer to all pop music as 'jazz,' bless her.
In its most ideal conception, the 'graphic novel' idea originates in the early '70s. It tends to reject the superheroic characters of the comic books, and instead hearkens back for its inspiration to the characters of an earlier period, of the first twenty or thirty years of the century. It begins when various publishers started to collect in handsome hardcover editions those old comic strips, lying forgotten except by the antiquarians of popular culture (e.g. the huge and gorgeous Nostalgia Press collected Little Nemo from 1970), and critical writers started appearing to discuss them in the terms of serious art and literary criticism. The trend caught the fancy of a generation of enthusiasts who had been taking the monthly comic books very seriously through the sixties, when it became not uncommon to find college students reading the things (well, supposedly). It was a simple step from there to the conception that, since wit, truth and charming artistry could be found in the best of the old things (in the poetic improvisations of Herriman's Krazy Kat for instance), that it would be possible to conceive new and ambitious works using the simple formal elements of the daily comic strip, that the great novel of our times could be composed just using these. Note that the concept of the graphic novel, and the name too, existed before any examples. The theory preceded the fact, in other words. Spiegelman's winning of the Pulitzer was the event which confirmed once and for all the concrete validity of the abstract theory.
(It is argued, with justification, that this is not entirely true, and that the quest to match the abstract to concrete has turned up many examples from the history of illustrated books, such as the woodcut novels of the 1930s. For historical clarity it's best to classify these as 'antecedents' of the 'graphic novel')
However, in its more corrupted version, among people who are so wrapped up in the comic book thing that they can't really recognise a fine idea from a second rate one (and I'm not saying there are no good ideas in comicbooks, but talking about a general perception among their readers and producers), the only difference they can see is one of format, thus to them 'graphic novel' is just a highflown name for the old news-stand thing presented in a bound format. I think this is the version that will win out in the end because in our modern world, the greatest power of all is the steamrolling power of stupidity (and as you've observed, it is the source of my accumulated disillusionment). There is an exreme version of this mindset that cannot even grasp the concept of formats, and to them there isn't even that distinction, it's just a synonym for comicbooks.
Anyway, it has been my hope that a literary festival might be receptive to the subtleties of the idea in its finer conception, and I press ahead intent that I may yet win the day. The works of my fellow guest, Guy Delisle, would be a very good example of what I mean. They deliver information and observation to the modern reader in a way that satisfies the most rigorous standards of art/writing/journalism.
But wait! There is yet another voice of disagreement. This is the crowd that have mostly come in late and are trying to impose a logic where they don't see it growing of its own nature. Thus they look at something like Delisle's book and say 'You called this a 'novel' but it is hardly that. Let's call it a 'graphic memoir' since that would be more logical.' These are the annoying people who arrive late at a bibulous soiree and start putting the furniture back in order while you're still sitting in it.
Entirely relevant to the above, that cheeky Nicki Greenberg has put me in her comic Smackdown!! Campbell vs Greenberg Title Fight
not related at all, a quote:
"There is a point at which the sane man believes a doctrine and says 'yes'- beyond which he disbelieves it and says 'no'. That is why the mentally sane have such an uncomfortable time in a world compose largely of doctrinal lunatics."
Leonard Woolf, quoted in Victoria Glendinning's biography.