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Graphic Novels

Forbidden Planet International

Graphic Novels

Welcome to our Frequently Asked Questions section, where we can hopefully illuminate some of the more common enquiries we receive – sometimes we forget that not everyone is familiar with terms we use regularly, so hopefully this will help fill in any gaps. If you don’t see the answer to your own particular question here then please feel free to contact us and we’ll do our best to answer it. For regular updates of new and forthcoming releases, reviews and interviews don’t forget to check out our FPI blog.

What are ‘graphic novels’?

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.

They 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 graphic novels.

The 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 artists like 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 respect.

Are Comics and Graphic Novels the same?

Again 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 episodically.

One 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 superhero?

There 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 pooch!).

Those with powers can be born with them, find them when they come to a new world (Superman), be given them by another (Captain Marvel/Shazam, various Green Lanterns) or receive them by accident (Spider-Man, the Hulk).

What is a Supervillain?

No 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.

What’s the difference between Manga and Anime?

A 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 Akira or 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).

What does Yaoi in Manga books mean?

This 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 shojo-ai.

Aren’t 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.

Work 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’.

Female 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.

Mature 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.

What is Comics Journalism?

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 Palestine and 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.

What are Comix?

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 critics.

The 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.

What do you mean when it says ‘MATURE READERS’?

This 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 was wonderful!).

What do HC, Hardcover, TPB, Trade Paperback and Digest mean?

These 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.

Digest 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.

Are there awards for Comics and Graphic Novels?

Oh 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.