Editorial: Comic Parody
Editorial: Comic Parody
Article first published online: 18 FEB 2013
© 2013, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The Journal of Popular Culture
Volume 46, Issue 1, pages 1–2, February 2013
How to Cite
Hoppenstand, G. (2013), Editorial: Comic Parody. The Journal of Popular Culture, 46: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/jpcu.12012
- Issue published online: 18 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 18 FEB 2013
I must admit that I am an unashamed fan of the PBS costume soap opera Downton Abbey. The plots and sub-plots of the show are addictive, the characters are suitably complex, the setting is undeniably gorgeous, and the sense of British high society tradition undergoing the erosion of inexorable Twentieth-Century change is fascinating. Downton Abbey also puts me in mind of a similar classic PBS series from the 1970s, Upstairs, Downstairs, though Downton Abbey easily trumps its predecessor with its considerably higher production values.
What perhaps fascinates me the most about creator Julian Fellowes’ melodramatic homage to British aristocracy is how pervasive the television show has become in American popular culture. It has achieved that elevated status of being featured in expensive coffee table books and TV documentaries. It has become a prevalent subject of conversation at the workplace water cooler and, perhaps most importantly, it has become the subject of parody, which is the most obvious indicator of its ubiquity in the matrix of our popular culture.
A perfect illustration of this ubiquity can be found in Camaren Subhiyah and Kyle Hilton's recently published graphic novel, Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey (A Parody). Reading through this wild, genre-bending adventure, the parody of Downton Abbey is readily apparent, even to those who only have a passing acquaintance to the PBS series. In the graphic novel, the television Crawleys have become the Crawhills, with each of the major and minor characters in the television show slightly renamed, but nonetheless closely rendered in illustration (e.g. Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham has become Richard Crawhill, Earl of Granville, and Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham has become Lady Viola, the Countess Dowager).
At one level, Subhiyah and Hilton's parody is intentionally (and bluntly) obvious. The Crawhill preoccupation with social class, tradition, and formality in the graphic novel is intended to mock the similar preoccupation in the PBS series. The graphic novel becomes truly interesting, at another level, when Subhiyah and Hilton transmute their parody into a wild secret agent adventure, with strong science fiction and fantasy overtones. The resulting mishmash of literary genres, bizarre themes, and fantastic plotting is riotously fun and, yes, downright inventive.
There is a sense with this comic parody (or parody published as a comic) of an affectionate homage to the source material. After all, imitation—even imitation that functions as camp humor—is the sincerest form of flattery. What is truly interesting about this book is its demonstration of how the graphic novel has matured in recent years. No longer are comics dominated by superheroes in spandex, or by simple formula-driven narratives such as horror or the Western. In fact, some of the finest contemporary writers of fantasy, such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, have contributed significant work in the comics medium.
And now we have a graphic novel parody of a TV show that aspires to be both a traditional spoof and an ingenious expression of high concept. Perhaps the graphic novel, as a narrative form, has become the pioneering venue for visual storytelling, in a way that film and television have a difficult time surpassing, or even equaling.