They’ve been getting mentioned a lot in the media in recent years
and winning all sorts of awards. You like books and think you need
to look into this graphic novel malarkey, but what on Earth is it?
Well, the bad news is there is no fixed answer or definition. A
graphic novel may be an original work of comic art panels –
sometimes referred to as sequential art – bound in book form or it
can be applied to a collection of material previously published as
individual comic book issues and now collected into a book format.
can be black and white or colour; some have simple scratchy cartoon
art while others will use a fully painted artform and range over
almost every conceivable subject, from the traditional superhero
tales, autobiographies, humour and even the Holocaust. The term came
into popular use via Will Eisner when it was used to describe his
classic A Contract With God in the late 70s, although there
are earlier collections which today we would probably refer to as
writer and artist Eddie Campbell said of the graphic novelist that
their goal should be “to take the form of the comic book, which has
become an embarrassment, and raise it to a more ambitious and
meaningful level.” While many of us would dispute that all comics
are embarrassing, it does indicate that there is a distinct strand
of storytelling in graphic novels which is aimed at an older, more
mature audience and also at pushing the envelope regarding what
sorts of tales can be told via the medium. This has brought the
genre to the increasing attention of the media with high profile
Joe Sacco or
Art Spiegelman, who deal use the medium to explore real events
(the war in Bosnia, the Holocaust) in a new way, gaining mainstream
and Graphic Novels the same?
there is no definitive answer to this; both draw on the same medium
of sequential artwork panels. Some graphic novels are collections of
previously published comics and many comics publishers now create
comics series with one eye on the collected edition market, which
can be useful for readers who either cannot get hold of monthly
comics or prefer to read a story in its entirety rather than
of the qualities which divide comics from graphic novels is that
comics are normally published issue by issue (often monthly) and a
reader will have to buy each new issue to continue a tale. A graphic
novel, like a prose novel, tends to be more self-contained, with a
whole story arc inside its pages, although, of course, like some
prose novels there may be more volumes in a particular ongoing
series. Recent hybrids such as the
Ignatz line from Fantagraphics further blur the line; are they
prestige format, relatively expensive comics or relatively cheap,
small graphic novels? We don’t know, but we like them!
What is a
are as many types of superhero as writers and artists can imagine,
with an enormous variety of powers, from
Plastic Man (super-stretchy) to the most iconic of them all,
Superman, who embodies many powers such as flight,
invulnerability and heat-vision.
Superpowers are not always required to be a superhero, however. The
Green Arrow lacks powers but this has never stopped him, while
one of the oldest and best-loved characters, the
Batman, relies on his intense physical training and intellect to
fight crime. Superheroes can be male, female or non-human, such as
Martian Manhunter or even Krypto the Wonder Dog (Superman’s
with powers can be born with them, find them when they come to a new
be given them by another (Captain
Green Lanterns) or receive them by accident (Spider-Man,
What is a
good superhero is worth her or his salt without a supervillain to
oppose them. In Superman’s earliest adventures her tackled run of
the mill villains such as hoods, but a mighty-powered hero needs
worthy foes, so like Sherlock Holmes facing Moriarty a whole slew of
supervillains were created to face him and other superheroes, with
Lex Luthor and the
Joker probably being the most famous from the DC universe while
Marvel can boast
Galactus and the
Kingpin among its ranks of evil-doers.
difference between Manga and Anime?
basic answer is that Anime is generally applied to the animated
Japanese (and other Asian) art. The artwork and characters are
similar to Manga but take the form of cartoons, short or feature
length, such as
Ghost in the Shell.
Manga is a comic book or graphic novel
rather than animated series or film, although many Manga are based
on hit shows and even more hit shows and films are based on popular
Manga strips (such as
Vampire Hunter D).
Yaoi in Manga books mean?
is usually translated as “boy’s love” and applies to a subject which
deals with same-sex relationships, usually between and older man and
a younger boy. These are usually more gently romantic rather than
sexually explicit in nature (although they can be) and the genre is
one of the most increasingly popular in Manga at the moment, usually
being read predominantly by young women and teenage girls as well as
a gay audience.
Tokyopop has an imprint called Blu
which specialises in Yaoi books, such as
Earthian while some other publishers such as
DMP produce a considerable range of Yaoi titles. The term
shonen-ai is also used for boy’s love (or BL) titles. The lesbian
equivalent – girl’s love or GL – is referred to often as Yuri or
comics just for boys?
Shortest answer here is ‘no!’ While comics, like Science Fiction,
have often been regarded by others as a club for boys, it is at
least as diverse as any other area of fiction publishing. While
traditionally, as in many businesses, men have formed the bulk of
the creative and the reading side of comics, there have always been
women involved in the creative side, among the characters and the
readers. In recent years this female audience has become far more
visible as, indeed, has a more mature male audience while there is
still much fun to be had for the boys too.
aimed at mature readers such as
Batman: the Dark Knight Returns have brought many older readers
who enjoyed comics when they were younger back into the genre,
realising that there are comics and graphic novels there which they
can enjoy and that the medium isn’t just ‘for kids’.
writers and artists may still be a minority but they are growing,
while female characters have been around for almost as long as the
modern comic, with the greatest of them all,
Wonder Woman, dating back to the 1940s. While some may argue
that attractive female characters are aimed at an adolescent male
audience (and there is some truth there) many female readers enjoy
and sometimes identify with female superheroines. The recent upsurge
in the popularity of Manga has brought in even more female readers.
subjects are also addressed by female creators, with
Persepolis telling an autobiographical tale of a young woman
growing up in Iran and the recent
Dragon Slippers tackling the disturbing subject of wife abuse.
Crossover between TV, film and novel creators with comics have also
brought in new readers, male and female, young and old, with
Joss Whedon being a good example of this.
is a relatively new descriptive phrase which has been used quite a
lot, especially in the broadsheet media. It is normally applied to
serious graphic novels dealing with recent or current events being
re-told through the comic book medium. Joe Sacco’s
Safe Area Gorazde are prime examples. This very serious genre
often appeals to a readership beyond the traditional comic fans,
drawing attention not only from readers but also literary critics
and even academic debate.
Comix are a branch of comics which are
usually ‘underground’ in nature and origin and often deal with adult
themes, such as sex and drugs. The high-water mark for Comix was
during the 60s and early 70s, a vibrant part of the counter-culture
of the era. Some of those creators are long gone, but some are still
active, such as
Robert Crumb, who now receives respect from mainstream art
legacy of the movement is still felt though. It’s not just that
Comix blazed a path for more adult content in comics (where would
Vertigo books or Garth Ennis be without these pioneers?); they were
also champions of free speech. The frank depiction and exploration
of drugs and sex brought down the ire of the censor and ‘the man’
but Comix also challenged society’s view on subjects such as women’s
equality, birth control, abortion and equal rights for gay people.
Dez Skinn’s excellent
Comix – the Underground Revolution is a perfect primer for
anyone interested in this influential genre.
you mean when it says ‘MATURE READERS’?
is a way for publishers to denote that a particular comic or graphic
novel is aimed at an adult audience with a more broad-minded
outlook. Some people still think that comics are principally aimed
at younger readers, so the MATURE READERS proviso is often added to
signify that a work is not suitable for younger eyes (or indeed for
older but perhaps more conservative readers).
Sometimes it may just be because of explicit violence, but these
more adult works can cover pretty much any subject. DC has an entire
imprint, Vertigo, dedicated to mature themes, which can go from the
dream-like elegance of Neil Gaiman’s
Sandman to Garth Ennis and his
Preacher series, which with sex, drugs, violence and potential
blasphemy covers almost every mature theme you can think of (ah, it
HC, Hardcover, TPB, Trade Paperback and Digest mean?
are terms for the type of binding on a graphic novel. HC stands for
Hardcover (also often called Hardback in the UK), which means the
work is bound with a hard cover; usually this is a more expensive
type of binding but worth it for serious collectors.
TPBs are Trade Paperbacks, which often
are simply referred to as ‘trades’ or just ‘paperbacks’ (or PBs).
Some titles will be released only in this format, while some
prestige projects will be released in Hardcover first and trade
paperback later on (as with prose novels). Much more affordable,
these mass-market editions, like paperback prose novels, are the
most commonly available titles.
is a term being applied more frequently – this normally indicates
that the book is a paperback but smaller in size, quite often the
same smaller size common to Manga books.
awards for Comics and Graphic Novels?
yes, indeed there are! There are a number of awards, the most famous
of which (for English language readers) are the
Harvey and the
Eisner awards, both of which cover a large number of categories,
awarding best artwork, series, collection, writing and even
re-issues of classic material. The
Xeric Grant awards are a little different in that they are also
a financial award to help new talent publish their work.
Looking beyond the English language comics the
Angouleme awards, held annually in France, are another
highlight; although many of the titles honoured there may not yet be
in English translation it is a convention where English language
publishers will look for the best of European work to translate.