By Sean Michael Wilson
The Guardian newspaper is rightly praised for the level of serious appreciation it gives to graphic novels/comic books, with regular articles on them, often of intelligence and sophistication. It’s helped. However, a complaint I have heard from several creators and publishers is that The Guardian, rather ironically for a left-wing newspaper focused on inclusion and progressive democracy, seems rather biased and exclusive in the comic books it chooses to highlight.
More than one publicist I know has told me that, try as they might, they never get any response from The Guardian. Certainly, I’ve noticed that the same few publishers come up again and again in their reviews.
I thought a bit of the old empirical research might shed some light on what actually happens there. So, I have just spent a few hours looking at their graphic novel reviews of September 2020 to September 2019 and found this: 70 reviews (including best of the year type ones), and of those 40 are about books from just four publishers. Specifically, 14 books from Drawn and Quarterly, 14 from Jonathan Cape, seven from Fantagraphics, five from SelfMadeHero.
So, this means that over one year, about 58% of The Guardian‘s reviews come from just four publishers, 40% from just two publishers.
To be fair, that’s not as high a percentage as some people have been making it out to be. But it still seems a rather unequal focus on favoured groups. Plus, their two or three main reviewers appear to fix on those favoured publishers at an even higher percentage.
I wonder how The Guardian would report it if it turned out that 58% of all the food sold in the UK was monopolised by the grip of just four companies? Or if 40% of the electricity supply over the whole country was controlled by just two giant corporations? I imagine they would consider that less than positive (come to think of it, both of those situations may not be that far from the truth!).
Not that I’m saying any of those favoured publishers are giant corporations. They are all good publishers that I admire. I’m just saying lots of other good publishers exist that need the attention, too.
The other 30 reviews are spread out thinly amongst the rest of the large amount of comic book publishers that exist, almost all of which have had only one review in all that time. The only other publishers I saw with more than one review were Faber and Myriad/New Internationalist (who happen to publish my books, although it wasn’t any of mine that were reviewed. Hmpph!).
Plus I can think of a dozen good publishers that seem never to have been considered worthy enough to get a review in The Guardian (despite doing great books, very much needing the exposure and, I’m told, often submitting their books for review).
So, dear Guardian: try to spread your wings of protection a little wider please. After all, it’s the democratic thing to do.
Sean Michael Wilson
Sean Michael Wilson is a writer from Scotland. He has had more than 30 books published, including illustrated history books, adaptations of classics and his own original stories. He has also written articles for such places as The Japan Times, New Internationalist, Asia-Pacific Journal and The Herald Scotland.