Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Student Commentary

A classfellow send along this commentary which seems spot on & perhaps more broadly stimulative.
I have been mulling over the question you posed to us at the end of tutorial last week with regard for what makes graphic novels good/literature. One of the issues I keep coming up against is the vocabulary we have been using for comic books versus graphic novels. Really I suppose your point is exactly this, that the phraseology of the medium is pure semantics, that when we (as a class) attempt to defend graphic novels we are, in fact, defending comic books (or condemning them as the case may be). As I mentioned in discussion, most of the artists or authors we are examining have had their work presented in serial format long before they started producing graphic novels. From this statement an important question arises vis a vis the medium's integrity: why did these artists decide to begin displaying their work in graphic novel format? Was/is it an attempt to bring some legitimacy to the medium, or is it simply a more practical format for presenting an extended work?

I have always found it interesting to come upon graphic novels that present existing works of literature (there are many graphic novelizations of Shakespeare's work as well as a great version of Tolkien's Hobbit) or historically accurate studies (From Hell). I wonder whether these collaborations/graphic interpretations are designed with a specific demographic in mind or whether they are an attempt to legitimize the medium.

If we were to take the example from the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, where Rimmer is elated to discover that Lister is reading Shakespeare and dismayed to find that it is a comic book version, then we could assume that the general consensus is that these works (Shakespeare, Tolkien, et al.) should not be converted into graphic novels.

If there is a justification for the graphic novel as literature I believe it must come out of the quality of work irregardless of the artwork which must be secondary to the writing, that is not to say that the art work is not important but that without solid writing the pictures may mean very little.

Along with this quality there should be a level of social/political/economical/self-referential content, as there is in many great works of literature. These works should provide some level of contribution to the medium as a whole, as Miller's Dark Knight does with it's critique of the Batman character and the world of super heroes in general.

1 comment:

Kalervideo said...

i must agree with the statement that for the purposes of our study the literary side of graphic novels must come before the visual side, simply because this is an english class, and we seem to be more concerned with whether or not graphic novels are literature, not whether or not they are art.
as for the question as to why creators began displaying their work in graphic novel format, i think there are two answers. if the question was asking why creators go about creating small works first, and then moved on to novels, well, that's like asking why a writer would start with short stories or freelance work before writing their first book. if the question is meant to ask why there seems to be a growing rise in graphic novels, the answer is more complex. it has more to do with the industry and the readers than the creators. most of the works we are studying were originally published serially, but in the past ten years, there has been a growing trend of trade paperbacks. not only self-contained stories are presented in collections these days. every mainstream, ongoing, serial comics publication is periodically collected into convenient storyarcs. now, we begin to get more actual graphic novels, all published at once, because the readers appear more willing to spend greater sums of money at one time (because of the tpb trend), so the industry makes it more accessible for creators. watchmen was first conceived as one story, but not one book. it was twelve. this raises another question though. does a work qualify as a novel only if it is all published in one volume? i would argue that a book like from hell can be a novel, because alan moore had everything scripted out before the first chapter of it was published, but with a work like maus, art spiegelman had little idea of how his story was even going to end when the first installment of it was published. does being collected in one volume make a work a novel, regardless of how the story came about?