The Wonderful World Of Graphic Novels
Graphic Novels are creating a lot of buzz these days. Different graphic novels are published suitable for different age groups. They are also published in different genres and are not just about superheroes as is the common misconception. A graphic novel is a genre that combines words and images. Graphic novels can be fiction, non-fiction, history, fantasy, or anything in-between.
What are Graphic Novels?
For many, the word comics denotes a periodical for children, published on a weekly or monthly basis, sold at newsstands or in specialty comic book stores, often with pages devoted to advertising and, when intended for younger readers, competitions, and puzzles. In contrast, a graphic novel is usually taken to mean a long comic narrative for a mature audience, published in hardback or paperback and sold in bookstores, with serious literary themes and sophisticated artwork.
Graphic novels are similar to comic books because they use sequential art to tell a story. Unlike comic books, graphic novels are generally stand-alone stories with more complex plots. Collections of short stories that have been previously published as individual comic books are also considered graphic novels.
Calling something a graphic novel isn’t just a fancy way of saying “comic book.” There’s a very clear difference between the two. While a comic book will tell a story over many issues, graphic novels more often have their storylines wrapped up in only one or two books.
Both comic books and graphic novels use a combination of illustrations and words to tell a story. That story can be anything, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the tale of a superhero or a zombie apocalypse. The difference isn’t so much in the content but the presentation.
Comic books are serialized stories; most are relatively short and tell the story of the book’s heroes and heroines over a long period of time. There are usually many, many issues of a successful comic book, and the stories unfold over months and sometimes years.
Graphic novels are longer works that tell a single story from the beginning to the end. (Sometimes, successful comic books will be collected and packaged in a graphic novel format.) Because stories don’t have to be broken up over countless issues, plots can often be more complex and more detailed.
Graphic novels actually pre-date comic books. It’s thought that the first graphic novel ever published was the 1783 adaptation of Gottfried August Burger’s Lenardo und Blandine. Illustrated by Joseph Franz von Goez, the 160-frame work tells the story of two ill-fated lovers.
Comic books cornered the market for decades until a resurgence in the popularity of graphic novels. In the 1980s and 1990s, British authors like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman brought graphic novels back into the mainstream market. Graphic novels have enjoyed a period of underground popularity as artists and writers tried to make the separation between mediums clear. Graphic novels got a reputation as being gritty, explicit, and for mature audiences, while comic books were relegated to more mainstream popularity.
Major Types of Graphic Novels
Like traditional novels, there are endless ways to categorize different graphic novels. There are as many genres and sub-genres as in traditional fiction and non-fiction. The following are only a few of the most predominant categories.
Manga: The Japanese word for “comic” but in the US is used to describe Japanese-style comics. Manga is read from top to bottom and right to left as this is the traditional Japanese reading pattern. Though technically Manga refers to Japanese comics, many think Manga refers to a style rather than the country of origin.
Titles: Death Note, Full Metal Alchemist
Superhero Story: Superhero graphic novels have taken the most popular form of comics and turned what were once brief episodic adventures into epic sagas. Superhero comics are dominated by a few mainstream publishers Marvel, DC, and Darkhorse.
Titles: Batman: Dark Knight Returns, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Atrocity.
Personal Narratives (“Perzines”): Autobiographical stories are written from the author’s personal experiences, opinions, and observations.
Titles: Fun Home, Blankets, Lucky, The Quitter.
Non-fiction: are similar to perzine’s in that they are written from the author’s personal experience. Still, the author is generally using their own experience to touch upon a greater social issue.
Titles: Pedro and Me, Maus, Persepolis.
Comics have deep roots in America whether it’s the newspaper strip or the superhero comics. They have a deep place in the American psyche, and it’s an American form of storytelling, even though it’s all over the world.
A decade ago, the sounds coming out of the comic book industry were grim and looked hopeless. Then a couple of things happened: Hollywood began basing movies on graphic novels coupled with the emergence of Manga, which has been popular in Japan since the 1960s.
The boom in the last ten years in this category is due to the popularity of Japanese comics with young readers.
Publishers and Bookstores rejoiced in this newfound interest and bookshelves were filled with a variety of graphic novels.
As a result of this, critics started to recognize the artistic value of graphic novels with awards, and educators started using them as teaching material.
Reasons for Graphic Novels’ Popularity
- The images give an overview of the story: By looking at the images, one can get a sense immediately of what is happening.
- They are fast-paced: Graphic novels move quickly. The plots are exciting, and there is often a good dose of action along the way. This makes them exciting to read, circumnavigating the ‘I hate reading’ problem.
- The images reinforce not replace the language: At first, it may seem that this is just a glorified picture book, but with a really good graphic novel a full understanding is only really reached when the words and illustrations work together. A kid may begin by skimming, but they’ll soon be turning back to re-read to gain a better understanding of what is happening.
- The language is high quality: A really good graphic novel has to pair great illustrations with clear dialogue, the language, and the images work together to create the story. With so little space for words, they are chosen with a great deal of care for maximum impact.
- They can be read over and over…and over: Graphic novels are often a quick read, but immensely fun, making them an ideal comfort read which you can go back from time to time.
Who Is Reading Them?
Children and teen readers love graphic novels because of their easy-to-read mix of text and visual content. Graphic novels are preferable for readers of limited attention spans. With the advent of the online age and smartphones, young readers’ attention spans have shortened. Academic recognition has also widened exposure to graphic novels, as has e-book lending. Serial graphic novels make the digital format an efficient stocking medium, and tech-savvy teens respond better to digital content.
Adults with limited free time, or who are too exhausted when they have free time, are also gravitating to graphic novels and short stories. Adult readers have discovered that graphic novels possess more depth than the comic books of their youth. The illustrated stories that unfold in graphic novels have the complexity, depth, and variety of traditional novels. With less text, they are easier to consume; they stimulate enjoyment by being entertaining, and they have emotional appeal while providing the intellectual stimulation adults seek in novels.
Critically acclaimed books by Dave Gibbon (Watchmen, released in 1987), Art Spiegelman (Maus, released in 1991), and Alan Moore’s trendsetting works boosted these writers’ circulation.
In this decade, traditional publishers have published other acclaimed books by authors including Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, released in 2006), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, released in 2000), Raina Telgemier (Smile, released in 2010), and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, released in 2000).
Why Graphic Novels with LGBT or Sexual Orientation Content Are Increasing
LGBT students are present in almost every high school. Researchers have reported that they constitute between approximately three to ten percent of the student body. School bullying and the high rate of suicide attempts by bullied LGBT pupils appear to be rising. Writers of graphic novels explore this content more because they have researched the preferences of their target audience, including educators, who are using these stories for teaching purposes.
What Do You Need Before Making a Graphic Novel?
Authors wishing to delve into the world of graphic novels need many of the same things that a traditional writer needs. Some are practical, and some are stylistic. They include:
- Both a writer and an illustrator. Perhaps you can both write and draw. If not, you’ll need to find a partner.
- A good narrative with a compelling storyline. You’ll want to center it around a three-dimensional main character and set it in a detailed world. In this way, creating a graphic story is no different from novel writing.
- Strong creative writing skills. You’ll need to show an equal facility with dialogue and narration.
- A visual style guide. This informs how characters and settings will be drawn.
- A graphic storyboard. A create a storyboard like the ones used in filmmaking will help you plot each panel of sequential art in your graphic novel. A storyboard can be formally drawn on large panels or written informally in an artist’s sketchbook.
Tips on How to Write a Graphic Novel
When you set off to make a graphic novel, you draw on your creative writing skills, your illustration and storyboarding skills, and (most likely) your collaborative skills. If you have a background in writing comics, that can certainly help, but typically the graphic novel format is longer and more detailed than the comic book format. Whether you’re writing your first graphic novel or your tenth, here are some writing tips to make the process as productive as possible:
- Study other comics and graphic novels. It’s hard to delve into a graphic format for the first time without understanding comics as a medium.
- Pick a visually interesting setting for your graphic novel. Every graphic novel page contains two forms of illustration: foregrounds and backgrounds. The backgrounds reveal your setting; make sure these are interesting enough to sustain a book-length story.
- Give your graphic novel just as much textured detail as you’d give a traditional novel. If you’re writing your first graphic novel after completing prior prose novels, approach the writing process the same way. You’ll need a compelling protagonist with a well-considered backstory, a cadre of supporting characters, an antagonistic villain (or supervillain) who’s at the source of the main conflict. But note that graphic novels don’t limit writers to two-dimensional stock villains. The “villain” of a graphic novel could be something as abstract as systemic injustice.
- As you outline, storyboard, and write, start thinking about sequels. Graphic novels rarely exist a la carte; most are part of limited series. Some can span longer than that, but they rarely continue forever like the comic strips of famous cartoonists. As you plan your graphic novel, consider ways to make it a much larger graphic story told in installments.
- Write for a graphic novel audience. During the writing process, it’s important to keep in mind that the people who voraciously consume graphic novels are not necessarily the same people who read traditional prose novels. They might not even read short-form comic books. If you don’t know graphic novel readers, seek them out. Of course, the easiest way to understand a fan’s mentality is to become a fan yourself. Then write the kind of stories that you, as a fan, would like to read.
- Don’t get carried away with length. Graphic novels ideally should not be longer than 200-250 pages. That includes both the text and the illustration. So, your story should not exceed 100 to 125 pages. Many graphic novels are just 100 pages with just 50 pages of text.