A long evolution
By Roger Childs
Graphic novels have the reputation of being about super heroes, science fiction, medieval times and fantasy, often with plenty of violence. Probably the father of the modern graphic novel is Neil Gaiman whose Sandman series set new standards in the genre.
In many ways they are an outgrowth from the old time comics many readers will remember: The Phantom, Roy of the Rovers, Flash Gordon, the Famous Five – to name but a few.
There were also the classic comics: Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Ivanhoe etc.. and religious organisations produced pictorial renditions of the life of Jesus and tales from the Old Testament.
Today there is an incredible range including all of the above, as well as the famous Japanese Manga on every topic under the rising sun, and many which cover serious topics of history, and pictorial versions of classic literature, modern films, television series and novels.
Plenty to choose from
If you have a look through the graphic novel shelves at Paraparaumu Library, or any library, you will find some unexpected gems. A few examples:
- Mansfield and Me by Sarah Laing This is an excellent story about a woman who idealised the great New Zealand author from school days. It is superbly written and illustrated, with interposed stories of Mansfield (usually in black and white) and Laing (in colour), through their various stages of life. This is not a superficial study and is over 200 pages long.
- The Imitation Game by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis Based on the film of the same name, it tells the amazing and tragic story of mathematical genius Alan Turing. He is one of Britain’s towering figures of the mid 20th century, and was the man who broke the Nazi’s Enigma communication codes. He was also a key theorist in the development of the modern computer.
- From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell This is not for the faint hearted, as it tells the story of Jack the Ripper in well over 300 pages, with nine visual boxes per leaf. There are also over 40 pages of explanatory notes at the end. From Hell ranks as one of the greatest graphic novels ever crafted. In the class of Maus.
- Maus by Arty Spiegelman first appeared in 1973 and was a sensation. The author produced two volumes about his family living through Nazi Germany and beyond. The Nazis are represented as cats and the Jews as mice. The New York Book Review summed it up: a remarkable feat of documentary detail and novelistic vividness … an unfolding literary event.
- Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh This is the graphic novel of the film which won the Palm D’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It centres on a lesbian love affair, but is much more than this. It is a fascinating and detailed character study of two young women growing up in modern Paris.
- Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy Andrea Mutti does the writing and Leonardo Manco and Denise Mina the superb illustrating. Readers who have worked their way through the original novels: The Girl – With the Dragon Tattoo, – Played With Fire, -Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, know that these are long and complex stories with a large number of characters. However, the graphic versions are not unduly lengthy and remain faithful to the originals.
- Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds is a modern version of Flaubert’s classic. Gemma is a bored English housewife living in northern France and catches the eye of baker, Monsieur Joubert. Simmonds is an expert in the techniques of graphic writing and very skillfully mixes the narration in text with scenes in panels. She also puts illustrations (non-sequential images) to use in accompanying the narration, allowing her to switch between methods as necessary to tell her story. (Derek Badman, The Quarterly Conversation)
The beauty of graphic novels
Illustrations in books go back a long way and graphic novels have taken this practice to its logical conclusion. Obviously the appeal of this genre lies particularly in the quality of the illustration. Techniques range from the representational to the semi abstract, and colour choice is usually appropriate to the story. For example From Hell is all in black and white.
Naturally the story telling needs to be coherent and, as for film script writers, it is a great skill to be able to translate big books into the visual dimension.
Although there will always be plenty of science fiction, fantasy and superheroes, more and more classics, modern novels and history are featuring.
Graphic novels are here to stay and readers can save time in getting to grips with ancient and modern stories.
However one of the joys of this genre, is to first read the novel and then see how the story “translates” into the shorter graphic medium.