A little while ago, at some dreadful meet and greet affair, I mentioned in passing to a friend that I had recently had an article commissioned.
What, my friend enquired, was I writing about?
‘Graphic novels’ I said.
‘You mean comics’ she said firmly, ’Aren’t you a little old for those?’
Of all literary mediums, the graphic novel has always been the black sheep of the family: bastard son of the comic strip. Stories told through image are certainly nothing new (see your average cave painting, circa 40,000 B.C.) but in recent years, the comic book has been marred with the brush of the childhood fantasist. Mention ‘comics’ to most people and images of deranged vigilantes in tights abound. Yet in spite of this, the medium is in great form. From Joe Sacco’s reportage pieces on the Bosnian war and Palestine, to the meta-fictional experiments of local boy Grant Morrison, there is more variety and depth of material on offer than ever before.
Even the establishment is coming around to the graphic novel’s charms. The broadsheets and literary papers carry reviews of breakthrough pieces such as Simone Lia’s Fluffy
and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis
. These books are judged on the same grounds as other fiction, treated as fully rounded works. Fair judgement, of course, but the problem with this attitude is that it so often overlooks the interplay of word and image that makes the genre unique: Fluffy
, for example, is a peculiar concoction. The tale of a lonely single father raising a talking bunny, it is all the more effective for the way it marries a rough edged, cartoonish style with a strain of absolute emotional realism: While the sketchy images imbue the work with an abundance of energy, the story is played totally straight. The resulting collision of forms is like a Ken Loach film crossed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
These odd juxtapositions are simply not available to other forms: Alan Moore, possibly the most respected figure in contemporary comics, is notorious for publicly disowning film adaptations of his own works. While his novels are dense, complex works rife with allusion and overlapping narratives, their translation to screen always seems to shave them down to popcorn moronicism. While From Hell
, his account of the Ripper killings, features an abundance of material, including an impressively verbose lecture on the hidden architecture of London, the film boiled down to a clutch of heaving bosoms and Johnny Depp mangling a British accent.
Ignoring such foolishness, this year’s festival fully embraces the medium with a number of debates and appearances. Chief among these is a panel discussion entitled ‘Graphic Novels: Literature or Pulp Fiction?’ Featuring such big names as Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and comics legend Alan Grant, it should be a large draw. With all those present having contributed to and advocated the graphic novel medium over the past few years, no doubt the discussion will be an impassioned and intelligent affair.
Alan Grant will also be appearing to discuss his work with the artist Cam Kennedy. Together they have produced an immensely popular adaptation of R.L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped
, with a version of Jeckyll and Hyde
commissioned to follow. Tickets for Cam Kennedy’s drawing masterclass have already sold out, so demand will no doubt be high.
Elsewhere, Tom Becker, John Fardell and Mal Peet will be discussing the influence comics have had upon their work and the differences between the written and the drawn medium. A decidedly mixed panel – from Viz
cartoonist to children’s novelist - should make for an animated discussion.
Alan Grant & Cam Kennedy
Graphic Novels: Literature or Pulp Fiction?
Comic Books & Graphic Novels with Tom Becker, John Fardell and Mal Peet