Quietly, it is the independent comics that are ultimately winning the comics medium mainstream acceptance.
The trick is format: graphic novels and indie films.
From Crumb to Pekar, ’70s underground comix brought an everyperson’s outlook to graphic expression. Audiences predisposed to seeing comics as kids’ junk didn’t see that coming. Crumb and Steadman redefined how adult cartooning could take on controversial subjects, and Pekar turned mundane life into literate art. Because these were outside of the imposed superhero ghetto, academics and audiences had less prejudice against them. While comics shops fueled the comics renaissance of the ’80s, it was the graphic novel that won the day. Collecting issues into books on actual bookstore and library shelves advanced the perception and appreciation for the form, from Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, to American Splendor and Maus. The medium had finally made the leap from penny dreadfuls to literature.
The other factor may be Terry Zwigoff. His documentary of his friend Crumb (1994) was a breakthrough success, and Terry went on to adapt Daniel Clowes’ comix as the indie sleepers Ghost World (2001) and Art School Confidential (2006). Clowes was part of a next gen of autobiographical comic creators, with a more postpunk stance, which resonated with disaffected youth looking for meaning amid the mediocre. It’s easy to see these films as of a piece with Slacker, Lost in Translation, Juno, Away We Go, and Wadja, because they are. That’s the genius of it, which allows them to trojan their way past bias and into inclusion for their true merit.
And there’s another trick: maturity and mundanity. General critics and folks relate to introspective plays on normal life. They get works like "Fun Home" and "Smile" before they get "Miracleman" and "Kingdom Come." The quality is all the same, but the experiential reference point is broader and more immediate for the former. That’s fine. In time, these work as a hinge toward appreciation of the latter.
Ultimately, it’s the Road to Perditions and Blue Is the Warmest Colors, the American Splendors and The Diary of a Teenage Girls, that will turn graphix and graphix-based films into a respected genre and literary canon.