The Literary Liberal has a post on his blog today about the respectability of comic books in pop culture so the cultural meme of graphic novels and the advancement of the form must be floating around the air somehow.
I have never been ashamed of being a comic fan. I knew that most of the work out there was crap, and have spent many an hour trying, mostly in vain, to defend work that I knew was marginal. But you could make the same case for television: try to defend most of the output on the TV and you'll run into very little consensus about what is actually worth viewing. And half of the work will be about people's "guilty pleasures" (what would be the TV version of Omega the Unknown?).
I knew there was good stuff out there, even back in the day. And there is far more of it now.
The idea that the term "comics" is solely derogative I think is an old fashioned one. Certainly there are, and always will be, people who can't change thier mind about what comics can be, but most people, when shown that Sandman exists, or Maus, or In the shadow of no towers, or... (add your fave title here) can change their mind pretty quickly. They need to be converted one at a time. In some respects, I love the idea of using the "Graphic Novel" tag for a while to trick people into viewing the work as a new medium. Let them come with as little baggage as possible is my idea.
For a while, in the late '80's I had a girlfriend who had never read comics, so I loaned her a few things to read, one of which was The Doll's House Sandman collection. She handed the others back to me with a "these don't interest me" comment, but she threw The Doll's House back at me with "I want more. Is there more?" She then loaned it out to her girlfriends, who loaned it out. I lost three versions of the softcover, but converted a ton of women into Sandman fans. It can be done. And all the positive press on comics over the last 15 years has made it even better. You no longer have to be ashamed to be a comics fan.