In the modern world, there's a certain snobbery around telling comic strips. Even when we do try to give them a certain credibility, it can sometimes feel like we are damning them with faint praise, as fantasy author Neil Gaiman remembered when a pompous fan told him his Sandman series should be considered "graphic novels" rather than mere "comic books". "I felt like someone who had been informed that she wasn't actually a hooker, that in fact she was a lady of the evening."
If Gaiman had been a Mayan artist living between 600 and 900 AD, his experience may have been very different; their drinking vessels were painted with pictures and text that told a story as you turned the cup. Far from being throwaway escapism, they were considered prized objects and often exchanged to ease political negotiations and to build alliances between states. "It was the highest quality art you could have," says Soeren Wichmann at Leiden University in the Netherlands. "It was highly valued, whereas in modern societies comics are frowned upon."
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