Thursday, March 23, 2006

On's a Novel that's Graphic!

For readers of this blog who might be consistent readers of the literature based art-form of sequential illustrated storytelling, (that's comic book style), the term graphic novel is easily definable. For these types, just hearing the phrase gives you an immediate idea of what you can expect, verses the normal contents of a periodically published comic book.

But for the person a little less experienced in this format of literature, the term graphic novel might be confusing, or even raise some eyebrows, (especially in the Christian community).

No... a graphic novel is not a descriptive term....I.E., that it is very "graphic", harsh, or expliciate in the way it presents sex, violence and adult oriented themes. A graphic novel refers to the visual or illustrated quality of the work of literature. Think of it this way, a graphic novel is simply a "novel" that is fully illustrated! Any type of literature that can be presented in novel form, can be presented in graphic novel form and is done so in many cultures around the world, (especially in Japan, where it is better known as "Manga"). But here in the good-ol'-U-S-of-A, the general population is not yet privy to that development and most probably believe only cartoonish, (archie, mickey mouse), or super-hero themes are presented through this format.

Now that being said, certainly a graphic novel can package more adult only type materials, (just like any format of literature can and does), but for the most part on a percentage basis, there is probably less of this in this format, than say in magazines, text-only novels, etc...

The reason I am going to the trouble to explain what seems like such an elementary concept is because of a review for the Movie "V for Vendeta", (which was based on the graphic novel written by Alan Moore), which appeared in last week's Dallas Morning News, and the subsequent dialog that developed between myself and DMN, Pop-culture reporter, Tom Maursted. I questioned Mr. Maursted, why he felt compelled to use the term "comic-book" when describing the source material for the movie, rather than graphic novel, (since V was never presented in sequential comic book form and was always packaged in the graphic novel opposed to Moore's work, Watchmen, was was first released in a 12 issue periodic format, than later packaged as a graphic novel)? This was his response:

"And when I say that V was based on a comic book most people never read, yes, what I mean is that literally most people have never read it. I am aware that the original graphic novel is an important and influential work. I am a fan of Alan Moore, especially Watchmen. I understand that with in a particularized community of readers, publishers and writers, there is a big difference between comic books and graphic novels and Alan Moore is something of a rock star and that to use comic book interchangeably with graphic novel denotes ignorance and boorishness. But I write for a general audience newspaper and for many readers, graphic novels are a kind of comic book."

This comes from a man who is not only very familiar with the format, (from his comments), but also covers pop-culture for a living. So is his viewpoint accurate? Well, the editors at the DMN apparently think so, since they commonly let this error go unchallenged. But like I replyed to Maursted, then it falls to him, (and any of us working within the industry), to not perpetuate this misconception, but correct it, (just like I have to tell my children...that if they do not correct the constant misprounouciations of our last name, people will call you by the wrong name the rest of your life).

So hopefully I am doing my some small help the "general audience" understand.

Lastly, for those of you like me, (who really like to get to the origins of things), here is a little of the history behind the term, "graphic novel", (reprinted from an article I wrote for Youth Worker Journal in 2005):

The term, graphic novel, was first used in 1978, in connection to the release of Will Eisner’s, A Contract With God. This collection of four short stories by the creator of a widely popular newspaper comic strip, (The Spirit, 1940 to 1952), were all interconnected faith based tales. But Eisner himself, (in his book, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative), traces the roots of the format back to the work of Frans Masereel, a Belgian political cartoonist, who began producing “novels without words” as early as 1919, with his story Passionate Journey, (which was a novel told in 169 woodcuts).

There 'ya go!

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