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June, 2008 : Essay:

Graphic Literature: A Blend of Genre, Medium, and Form

An International Survey of Graphic Literature

Splat! The First Graphic Novel Symposium (March 2008) and New York ComicCon (April 2008) have come and gone. But graphic literature continues to evolve and is here to stay.

Graphic literature, or sequential storytelling, is a blend of many genres, mediums, and forms. Often referred to as comics, modern versions evolved from both comic books and newspaper and magazine comic strips, or "funnies." This is a bit of a misnomer since the material is often not humorous or juvenile.

Cartooning is an art form studied in depth in institutions like The Parsons School of Design in New York City. The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont offers a Master of Fine Arts in Cartooning, as well as an intensive summer immersion experience. (See chart: The Mechanics of Sequential Storytelling.)

In the electronic age, readers have become accustomed to multimedia. They often don't find it enough just to read words when interactive software, gaming, and a myriad of electronic devices beam images into computer screens, telephones, gaming platforms, and electronic reading/listening devices. Web comic creators are taking charge with their own stylized artwork, establishing their own businesses and devoted fan bases (Mangold).

Graphic novel sales in America since 2001 have increased almost five-fold, jumping from $75 million to $330 million in 2007 (Grabois). Manga sales are the decisive element. The Japanese style comics in multiple genres, typically written in the top to bottom, right to left style of the language, and the medium of anime (animation originating in Japan through the roots of manga) are one of the hottest new markets (Mangold).

In both Eastern and Western markets, the stylized art that is characteristic of manga caters to an adolescent to young adult audience. Because of sophisticated themes, they often retain readership well into maturity, bridging the gap between adolescence and adulthood. This is a feat that comic books in the West have not commonly achieved among their readers (Grabois).

Scott McCloud in his book, Understanding Comics (2006), sums up the appeal:

The comics creator asks us to join in a silent dance of the seen and unseen. The visible and the invisible [...] No other art form give so much to its audience while asking so much from them as well [...] it's a mistake to see comics as a mere hybrid of the graphic arts and prose fiction. What happens between the panels is a kind of magic only comics can create.

History and Timeline of Graphic Literature

One might argue that the first forms of storytelling in the Western world were pre-historic cave paintings, depicting scenes from everyday life as well as erotic and religious themes, similar to those I viewed in the Dordogne region of France.

Ancient sculpture, mosaics, paintings and artifacts, many of them erotic, unearthed from Pompeii are on display in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. Similar Incan treasures are housed in El Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología, e Historia in Lima, Peru.

Those art forms were complemented by oral, and eventually written, poetry in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as medieval poetry and prose in France, Germany, Spain, and England.

Robert Greenberger believes "the lineage of what we recognize as comic books today traces back to 1734 and William Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress, A Rake's Progress, and Marriage a la Mode" (Greenberger 15).

A contemporary of Hogwarth, William Blake wrote poetry in multimedia form, which Susan Sage Heizelman (2004) believes anticipated the technological production of hypertext to create what Blake believed to be "a revolution of the imagination." Blake engraved both words and pictures on copper printing plates and his wife made the impresssions, hand-colored the pictures, and bound the books.

Bill Kartalopoulous (Splat! 2008) begins his timeline of the international history of "graphic literature" with the political and satirical themes present in European nineteenth century "illustrated novels."

Charles Dickens collaborated with several artists (and purportedly drove them all to distraction). One, Robert Seymour, illustrated The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in 1836-7. Circa 1840, George Cruikshank used four panel illustrations in his political satire. In 1848, the French artist Gustave Doré produced illustrations of many folktales and classic works. William Makepeace Thackeray published Vanity Fair in 1848, a volume that contained 109 illustrations.

Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer produced the first illustrated novel in French during the early 1800s. And in 1894, Mark Twain wrote Pudd'nhead Wilson, which had an illustration on every page.

The move to comics evolved from the collaborative inspirations of both artists and writers. Wilhelm Busch, a German artist, created woodcuts for Max and Moritz in 1865 with sequential panels and balloons which later inspired the popular Katzenjammmer Kids comics (Greenberger, Kartalopoulous).

Comics evolved in England in Punch magazine beginning in 1841. America's first taste of the graphic narrative was in 1877 in Puck magazine, followed by Judge in 1881. The first American newspaper strip, Little Bears by James Swinnerton, was published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1893 (Greenberger 15).

Color was first used in comics in the same year, by the New York Recorder. The first comic strip star was a young Irish boy wearing a yellow nightshirt in The Yellow Kid by Richard Felton, published in New York World. The comic is described by Greenberger as "a riotous, large-panel illustration with many scenes" (15). The early 1900s saw a rapid succession of newspapers in the United States running humorous and adventure comic strips. Many went on to gain international fame such as Rudolph Dirk's Katzenjammer Kids and Outcault's Buster Brown. The first syndicated strip, Mutt & Jeff by Bud Fischer, debuted in 1908.

The comic book was born when Eastern Color Printing's sales manager decided to fold the pages into a smaller, magazine format which was given away as a premium to boost sales. That salesman was Max Gaines whose Action Comics created Superman. Gaines' Famous Funnies is credited as the first comic book sold across America (Greenberger 17-22).

The 1940s saw the debut of Ray Bradbury's Weird Science. The first Oriental detailing appeared in The Flying Machine with art by Bernard Krigstein, story by Ray Bradbury and Al Feldstein, published in Weird Science-Fantasy #23. In the 1950s, Classic Horror's Tales of the Crypt was born, followed by Mad Magazine (Sikoryak).

Japanese animation, inspired by the culture and literature of the East, migrated to West in the late 1940s and 1950s. It gradually increased in popularity until the anime boom of the 1990s, followed by the manga invasion (Sikoryak).

The First Graphic Novelist

Will Eisner was only nineteen in 1936 when he opened a studio with Samuel "Jerry" Iger, a veteran artist of the Journal American. Eisner surrounded himself with the best writers and artists. Using the assembly line approach (pencilers, inkers, letterers), they produced enough material for fifteen sixty-four page comics at $1.50 per page net profit, making him rich by the time he was 22 (Greenberger). (See chart: The Sequential Storytelling Team.)

Eisner-Iger Studios employed many of the most respected artists and writers, including one of the first female staff writers Audrey "Toni" Blum (Greenberger 26). Eisner is best known for "comics done in the German expressionist approach or the Fritz Lang school—done with dark shadows, creepy angle shots, and graphic close-ups of violence and terror which seemed more real than the world of other comic book men because it looked that much more like a movie" (Greenberger 22).

One of his best known works was The Spirit and his later career branched into themes of urban struggles, wartime and religious prejudice, likely related to his Brooklyn Jewish heritage and front-line service during World War II (Greenberger).

While Eisner was away on active duty, science fiction and part-time comics writer Manly Wade Wellman, whose characters included Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Quality's Plastic Man, and Blackhawk, assumed responsibility for Eisner's characters. The character of Silk Satin, a British spy, was born as a nod to the influence of World War II (Greenberger).

The concept of graphic novels had been debated in the comics industry since the 1960s. Eisner claimed, in an interview for Time, that the term came to him by accident. In 1978, while pitching his book A Contract with God to a New York editor, Eisner said:

A little voice inside me said, "Hey stupid, don't tell him it's a comic or he'll hang up on you." So I said, "It's a graphic novel." (Olsen 72).

A Contract with God is a collection of four interconnected works which Alan Moore in The Spirit Archives described as one in which Eisner

managed to study the microcosm of a tenement neighborhood and pick out some remarkably human stories for introspection...the title story itself, a bitter tale of lost faith played out against a background of rumbling urban thunderstorms.

The Speculative Genres and Graphic Literature

Science fiction/fantasy/horror writers and artists were a strong presence in sequential storytelling from the beginning, both in superhero serials as well as science fiction magazines, many of which are no longer in print. Today, most speculative fiction periodicals, both print and on-line, continue to feature exquisite artwork to complement the prose.

In the 1980s, British artists—whom Olsen terms "rebels," such as Alan Moore, who had eagerly consumed American comics as children—yearned to write stories adults could enjoy. Moore's Marvelman was rooted in superheroes and traditional 24-page formats, but the contents pushed the boundaries. These comics began to sell to adults on who comics publishers had long ago given up (Olsen).

After the first wave of new talent washed up on this side of the Atlantic, Neil Gaiman, inspired by Moore's Swamp Thing in London in 1984, learned from Moore himself how to script a comic (Olsen).

Censorship and Freedom of Speech Issues in Graphic Literature

The roots of comics and sequential storytelling burrow deep into myth and legend, political satire, and religious themes. As such, they have always engendered debate.

In 1954, psychiatrist Frederick Wertham published his paper, "The Seduction of the Innocent," in which he asserted that comics were a dangerous influence on young people. At one point, Wertham claimed "Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry" (Olsen 72).

As a result, the Comics Code Authority was created and their stamp on the cover assured parents that titles were free of sexual, violent, and "otherwise objectionable material." The guidelines included statements like "in every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds." The resulting stories were simple in construction in what Olsen calls a "fantastic, dull America" (72).

Underground Comics and Arcade, with artists such as Art Spiegelman and Bert Griffin defied the ban during the 1960s and 70s (Olsen). Kim Deitch (Splat!) describes working in the counterculture comix underground "not so much as to challenge authority but to just tell a good story."

Despite loosening of restrictions, controversy about the content of graphic novels, particularly for young adult audiences continues to rage. Graphic literature is popular with young adults because of the strong imagery that creates a quick, intense read. But that is what in turn causes the vehement debate about its propriety for teenage audiences in particular. As Rich Johnson of Yen Press (Splat!) explains, seeing the word "breast" in the pages of a traditional novel is a lot different than seeing it in living color on a two-page spread.

The same can be said for scenes of graphic violence, though nudity and sexual content seems to engender the strongest reaction and the most challenges faced by booksellers and librarians. They face difficult decisions on where to shelve and how to market graphic novels and other forms of sequential storytelling says Stacey Creel of Voices of Youth Advocacy (VOYA).

Charles Brownstein heads the Comic Legal Defense Fund, which assists librarians, authors, and booksellers to defend challenges and legal action brought by parents, teachers, and consumers. One high-profile example is Nick Bertozzi's Salon (2007), a fantasy/mystery graphic novel about Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries. Picasso's genitals in particular got a Georgia comic book dealer in a lot of trouble when he inadvertently put a freebie with a promotional sample in some trick-or-treat bags on Halloween (Brownstein).

I found selections from Gaiman's Sandman and Neverwhere (and the multiple breasts within) in the graphic novel section of my public library, along with racks of manga and comics surrounded by iPod-toting teens.

Salon was shelved in the adult section, buried amongst artists' biographies and books about art, though the graphic novel is only peripherally related to those particulars of Picasso.

Literary Graphics

No one can argue that the novels of Dickens and nineteenth-century European authors were "literary." And of Eisner's work Greenberger states:

A Contract with God remains one of the medium's most audacious strides in freeing comics from the reign of superheros to human stories of love and loss, of tragedy and suspense, and of surprise and break comics out of their mold into an adult format that would eventually lead to mainstream literary fiction, films, and most every other artistic media. (81)

New genre forms include memoir, biography, and autobiography. The Complete Maus by Art Speigelman (1986) won a Pulitzer Prize for the biography of his father, a Polish Jew that survived a concentration camp.

Persepolis (2007) by Marjane Satrapi was translated from the French and made into a feature animated film that debuted at Cannes in 2007. It chronicles the author's life in Iran during the Revolution of 1979 which overthrew the Shah. Those and other examples are reviewed in Lisa Houshai's excellent survey in the Missouri Review.

Even so-called nonfiction titles demonstrate slipstream flow. Gabrielle Bell's When I'm Old and Other Stories (2003) and Lucky (2006) include autobiographical details with an overlay of fantasy. K. Thor Jensen's graphic autobiography Red Eye, Black Eye (2007) is his story of a journey on a Greyhound Bus through "the underbelly of America," which he states is the truth "as he saw it" (Bell and Jensen, Splat!). Spiegelman rendered The Complete Maus using personification: Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs (Houshai).

A Collaborative Effort—Let's Not Forget the Artists

Scripting comics allows everyone on the production team to reach a common understanding of the story. Writing is much easier to edit than artwork, so the script format allows the writer and the artists work together more efficiently (Law). Nat Gertler (2002) points out that comics writers do not just give instructions to the artist but rather transfer a vision.

Graphic novels are listed by author, with the artists receiving little or no notice. Ari Berk turns that around in describing Charles Vess' collaboration with Neil Gaiman in both the original and revised versions of Stardust (2007). Berk focuses on the artist's experience giving birth to the vision of the author, and of the "process of accommodation as well as collaboration, with Charles and Neil making changes, dropping this and adding that, as the book was written and illustrated along the way" (Berk 83).

In Stardust, a high fantasy, Vess's artwork is soft and muted in color and line, often sepia-toned and soothing to the eye and soul. It creates a mysterious and ethereal sense as the reader is drawn into the world of Faerie. Berk describes Vess's style:

Rich colors and swirling shadows, scenes framed with shading boughs of primeval trees, weave familiar and unfamiliar worlds seamlessly together. The beauty and grace of this tapestry world, its drama, invites us over the wall and into a land where the common and magical walk as one. (98)

Neil Gaiman's popular Sandman series ran from 1989-1997 and included collaboration with multiple artists. I recommend Olsen's comprehensive review (2005) and deconstruction of the original Sandman series.

Mr. Gaiman collaborated on several companion Sandman volumes since 1995, one of which I'll discuss here. Along with an international team of artists, he created Sandman: Endless Nights (2003), in which the overlying themes of death and destiny (and endless nights of despair) are examined by different artists.

In "Chapter One: Death," P. Craig Russell portrays Death in Venice. The vignettes alternate between brightly colored Renaissance party and sexual scenes and contemporary dark, earth-toned dismal shadows, streets, and ruins. The color black, death, and deception unite the two.

In "Chapter Two: Desire," Milo Manera adds an erotic touch to ancient warriors and maidens, with more red tones creeping into the panels as the passion and blood start to flow.

In "Chapter Three: Dream," Miguelanxo Prado reintroduces characters from the original Sandman series: the personifications of Dream, Despair, Destiny, Destruction, Delight, Desire, and of course, Death in a science fiction story with truly star-crossed lovers and brightly colored, google-eyed aliens.

Barron Storey and Dave McKean illustrate fifteen portraits of sometimes suicidal depression in "Chapter 4: Despair" with surreal, disjointed artwork complemented by flash prose. The trend continues in "Chapter 5: Delirium," with Bill Sienkiewicz's surreal mosaic panels that trace the disjointed thoughts and actions of a woman victimized by a brutal attack before she briefly reconnects at the end.

Chapter 6 is a science fiction dystopia entitled "Destruction on the Peninsula" rendered by Glenn Fabry and Chris Chuckry, in which a young archeologist finds and then loses a link to the future when a small island is destroyed.

Frank Quitely calms things down in the final Chapter 7 with muted earth tones. A hooded, blind guide, "Destiny," takes the reader on a walk to show how "[y]ou will spend time in the realm of each of his siblings—you will dream, despair, desire, delight, and otherwise, and eventually die—but you were his from the very first page and only he will read how your story comes out, a long time from now" (147).

Mr. Gaiman worked with each artist, crafting prose that varies from chapter to chapter, with themes from the mythic and medieval, into the future and outer space, and the surreal and bizarre mainstream of today. He links deranged and disordered thinking from mental illness, anomie, and post traumatic stress to bind the written work and visual media together.

Sexual scenes, ranging from absurd and bawdy to erotic, are behind closed doors, the genitals draped discretely, but captions tell all. And, particularly in "Chapter Two: Desire," there are enough breasts to send the censors screaming into the night and a particularly gory representation of the hero's severed head bleeding all over the table as his murderers feast. The scene following, when the bereaved wife takes revenge, is much more abstract and lacks the same graphic impact. It nonetheless conjured an image in my mind of what a sexy Penelope might have done in The Odyssey of Homer, if things hadn’t worked out as planned with Odysseus and the suitors.

There is no overt sexuality but plenty of violence, torture, and mutilation in the dark urban fantasy Neverwhere (2007), an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's traditional novel to the graphic form. The writing and artistic team that includes Mike Carey, Glenn Fabry, Tanya and Richard Horie, and Todd Klein creates a mood of high tension, danger, and intrigue in a seamy, underground/underworld London, despite surprisingly few words tucked into captions, thought, and speech balloons.

Gritty, exaggerated, and boldly colored artwork highlights the scantily clad Amazonian female characters of Lady Door and Hunter. What especially impressed me was watching the transformation of Richard Mayhew from the corporate-type boyfriend of a contemporary controlling bitch to the friend and helpmate of the London underworld's Lady Door. She could have pounded the modern woman into the ground with one swat of her green and red velvet-clad arm—with a snow white lace frill at each wrist.

The artistry shows the sweat, grit, and stubble building on Mayhew's face, but even after the adventures, he is still in a suit, tie loosened ever so slightly to show the effort of his deeds. And Hunter and Lady Door never pop out of their bustiers and breastplates, despite battles to the death with miscreants and monsters. But then again, this is fantasy.

Current Trends: East Meets West and Anything Goes

The new wave of Japanese manga includes titles for young adults, as well as works with romantic, religious, and adult themes deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of the East. Osamu Tezuka's popular Buddha: Volume One (2003) recounts the legend of the spiritual leader's birth and won an Eisner award in 2004. Done in black and white, in the traditional Japanese animation style, there are lots of exposed breasts and male genitalia but the characters seem cute and young, with no overt sexuality. There is nothing childlike about the scenes of torture and execution, and not all of the characters survive. In one particularly evocative panel, a devoted mother and son are reunited at the moment of their deaths as a spear, like a macabre umbilical cord, pierces and binds them together.

According to Rich Johnson of Yen Press, the Japanese have a more relaxed attitude toward depictions of the female human form. And lest the male form be neglected, yaoi, a form of writing that depicts male-male sexual relationships, is "being consumed like peanuts among young female readers worldwide" (Johnson, Splat!).

In 1999, Gaiman, deep in the research of Japanese history and literature, collaborated with celebrated Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano in a reinterpretation of a Japanese folktale. The result was Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The soft watercolors, flowing lines, and green, gold, and pastel tones (except for the dragon and demon scenes) complement the delicate poetic narrative, in a storytelling voice.

It is a sublime merging of Eastern legend, Buddhist thought, and musings on the true meaning of life, love, happiness, vengeance, and karma. Sensuality rather than sexuality characterizes this deeply nuanced fable.

All the pieces of graphic literature I sampled were quick reads since the artwork provides scene description and emotion. Reading traditional Japanese manga (in English), with the back to front, zigzag across the page approach, does take some getting used to for new (old) readers—at least this one.

Take a trip to the library or comic book store and browse. New titles abound, far too many to list. Many have already been adapted to the screen, including Alan Moore and David Lloyd's 2007 Hugo nominee V is for Vendetta and superhero comic creator Frank Miller's Sin City and 300. The film version of Stardust was released in 2007 and there are screenplay plans for more of Gaiman's work, including Neverwhere (Nelson 14).

I offered to let Scott McCloud ahead of me on the lunch line at the Splat! Symposium since he was next up for a presentation, but he declined. Thus, the last words here shall be those of that comics expert, patiently waiting behind me, to remind us that immediacy is the appeal of graphic literature, allowing the reader to interpret what lies in between the panels.

"The visual imagery is quirky and provides the reader with both connection and transportation by linking moments riveted to real experience" (McCloud, Splat!).

Table I: The Sequential Storytelling Team

  • Writer - creates and writes the story and details to some degree what the visual representation will be.
  • Penciler - Lays out the visuals in pencil.
  • Letterer - Draws the balloons, captions, and letters in words in ink.
  • Inker - Puts ink into the penciled artwork, making whatever corrections are necessary.
  • Colorist - Adds the required color, tones, and shades by hand or by using illustration software applications.
  • Editor - Oversees the process and quality of production.
Adapted from:
Law, Dave. "Writing Graphic Novels and Other Forms of Sequential Art" in The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One—First Contact, eds. Dave A. Law and Darin Park. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Dragon Moon Press, 2007: 208-216.

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Table II: The Mechancics of Sequential Storytelling

Script Formats
  • Full scripts are similar to screenplays and describe in detail the visual contents of each panel on a page, as well as laying out the dialogue and captions.
  • Page One (Five Panels) shows the number of panels on the page and describes the action within so that the artist illustrating knows exactly what is happening.
  • Plot First (Marvel Style) was created by Stan Lee for Marvel Comics and outlines the plot as a detailed summary of the action. Most of the dialogue and text is not included.
Story Types
  • Graphic novels are one long, completely told comic story.
  • Ongoing series are the standard comics in a continuous series dealing with the same characters/situation.
  • Mini-series are typically told in four to six issues and published in a regular comic book format.
  • Mega series generally contain 20 installments. Comic strips are either a single panel or a strip of three or four panels, published in newspapers, magazines, or online.
  • Maxi series are similar to mini series but the story is usually presented in 12 segments.
  • Comic strips are either a single panel or strip or three or four panels.
Adapted from:
Law, Dave. "Writing Graphic Novels and Other Forms of Sequential Art" in The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One—First Contact, eds. Dave A. Law and Darin Park. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Dragon Moon Press, 2007: 208-216.

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Works Referenced

Anime and Manga | Push the KeyManga: A Ripe Corporate Advertising Alternative at Cog Blog.

Bell, Gabrielle. Lucky. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly, 2006.

———. When I'm Old and Other Stories. New York: Alternative Comics, 2003.

——— and K. Thor Jensen. A panel presentation at Splat! The First Graphic Novel Symposium. "Writing Autobiography." New York City: The New York Center for Independent Publishing, March 15, 2008.

Berk, Ari. "Back Over the Wall: Charles Vess Revisits the World of Stardust." Realms of Fantasy 13 (6), August 2007: 80-85.

Bertozzi, Nick. Salon. New York: St. Martin's/Griffin, 2007.

Brownstein, Charles, Nick Bertozzi, Stacey Creel, and John Shabeleski. A panel presentation at Splat! The First Graphic Novel Symposium. "Dealing with Challenges to Graphic Novels in the Library." New York City: The New York Center for Independent Publishing, March 15, 2008.

Carey, Mike & Glenn Fabry. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. New York: D/C Comics/Vertigo, 2007.

Deitch, Kim, Rich Johnson, Bill Kartalopoulous, Nick Purpura, and Miriam Tilley. A panel presentation at Splat! The First Graphic Novel Symposium. "Graphic Novels for Adults." New York City: The New York Center for Independent Publishing, March 15, 2008.

Gaiman, Neil. Sandman: Endless Nights. New York: DC Comics/Vertigo, 2003.

——— and Yoshitaka Amano. Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: DC Comics/Vertigo, 1999.

———. Stardust. New York: DC Comics/Vertigo 2007.

Gertler, Nat, ed. Panel One: Comic Scripts by Top Writers. Thousand Oaks, California: About Comics, 2002.

Grabois, Andrew. "Anime and Manga | Push the Key," December 17, 2007.

———. "Graphic Novels," August 20, 2007.

Greenberger, Robert. Will Eisner: The Library of Graphic Novelists Series. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2005.

Heinzelman, Susan Sage. “William Blake” in Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd edition, Part IV, Neoclassical Literature in the 18th Century. Chantilly, Virginia: The Learning Company, 2004.

Jensen, K. Thor. Red Eye, Black Eye. New York: Alternative Comics, 2007.

Houashi, Lisa. "Fluency In Form: A Survey of the Graphic Memoir." The Missouri Review xxx: 4 (2007): 159-74.

Law, Dave. "Writing Graphic Novels and Other Forms of Sequential Art." In The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One—First Contact, eds. Dave A. Law and Darin Park. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Dragon Moon Press, 2007. 208-16.

Mangold, Stephanie. "Web Comic Creators Take Charge." PW Comics Week—Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2007.

McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

———. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

———. A presentation at Splat! The First Graphic Novel Symposium. "What's in a Graphic Novel? Superheroes, Manga, and Independent Comics." New York City: The New York Center for Independent Publishing, March 15, 2008.

Nelson, Resa. "From Novel to Film, Neil Gaiman's imprint is on Stardust." Realms of Fantasy 14 (1), October 2007: 8-14.

Olsen, Steven. Neil Gaiman: The Library of Graphic Novelists Series. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2007.

Sikoryak, Robert. A presentation at Splat! The First Graphic Novel Symposium. "Masterpiece Comics: Looking at Literature Through the Cartoon Medium." New York City: The New York Center for Independent Publishing, March 15, 2008.

Speigelman, Art. The Complete Maus. New York: Pantheon, 1986.

Tezuka, Osamu. Buddha: Volume One. New York: Vertical, Inc., 2003.

The Spirit Archives, Vols. 1-16. New York: DC Comics, 2000-2004.

Copyright © 2008, Carole Ann Moleti. All Rights Reserved.

About Carole Ann Moleti

Carole Ann Moleti lives and works as a nurse-midwife in New York City, explaining her love of the paranormal, urban fantasy, and space opera.

In addition to professional publications, Carole writes memoir, review and commentary, and opinion pieces that focus on political and women’s issues. Her work has appeared in Tangent Online Review of Short Fiction, The Fix, Vision Magazine, Oasis Journal 2008, and Noneuclidean Café.

But her first love is science fiction and fantasy because walking through walls is a lot less painful than running into them.


Jun 3, 03:56 by IROSF
First they were comic books. Then graphic novels. Now... graphic literature? What do you think?

The article can be found here.
Jun 3, 10:52 by Ype Kingma
How on earth could you omit in your otherwise interesting essay, the numerous French and Belgian authors!!! To name but a few: Christan Bilal, Schuiten/Peeters and Hermann and all the Métal Hurlant contributors. Those are contemporary artists in the best graphic novel traditions. You seem to have a narrow view of "international".
Jun 4, 10:14 by Carole Ann Moleti
Bound by the limits of space, and the need for some structure, I couldn't make note of all the contemporary authors and artists.

Graphic literature is very popular in the French language, I know, and have some in my home (Hergé's <i>Tin-Tin</i> collection). Could you tell us some of your favorite titles?
Jun 10, 16:13 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Interesting essay. I am glad to see that graphic storytelling is beginning to get the kind of critical attention it deserves. I do wonder, however, about the focus on Gaiman. Yes, he is influential in the realm of graphic storytelling, and The Sandman is one of the most acclaimed graphic stories in recent times, but why not spend the time discussing other influences as well? No mention of Heavy Metal (or its French inspiration Métal Hurlant) let alone the excellent British 2000 AD (which launched the career of Alan Moore). In addition, the Brits also put out non-science-fiction graphic stories such as The Beano, The Dandy, and a great many others.

I can understand the time and space constaints on an essay of this sort, but to miss mention of comics such as Heavy Metal or 2000 AD when writing about graphic novels (especially SF/Fantasy/Horror) is to miss some of the most influential magazines in the graphic novel world.
Jun 11, 10:30 by Carole Ann Moleti
The sheer numbers of popular series and authors/artists in graphic stories precludes indepth analysis of more than a representative sample. I chose Gaiman for a couple of reasons: the breadth of his themes and styles (both prose and art) and the fact that he has collaborated with Japanese artists which linked that part of the article together.

I also wanted to give some notice to the artistic teams, which typically get lost in the reviews.

I had even contemplated making a list of suggested titles but this article was already quite long. The comic book store owners that I met at Splat! make their living suggesting titles to their customers, cataloguing them, and deciding which ones to stock.

How about using this forum to list the titles that are your favorites, and why? Then a trip to the libarary or comic shop would be less daunting.

Jun 11, 14:59 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Gaiman is good but I will admit that I find his The Sandman much more interesting that his regular prose novels. Neverwhere was a good novel, but somehow it seemed like it was missing something, as if it were a graphic novel without the art. As much as I might want too, I just can't really like his work. There is no doubt, though, that his impact on modern graphic storytelling is huge.

As for my personal favorites, I would have to go with the British and the Japanese. The weekly magazine 2000 AD was a remarkable magazine throughout it's long run and continues to publish some of the best British artists and authors. Several iconic heros have made their debuts in 2000 AD, the most recognizable (to North American audiences) of which is Judge Dredd.

Another long running series within the weekly, and one of (for its time) most innovative is Rogue Trooper. Rogue Trooper detailed the creation, deployment and betrayal of genetically engineered infantrymen on a hellish war-torn planet. This comic explored a number of political, military and science fiction concepts and until near the end of its run was fairly cutting edge in the types of stories it told.

As stated before, 2000 AD launched the career of Alan Moore whose talent and impact are immense. Best known for his tour of duty as writer of Swamp Thing Moore revitalized that flagging title and brought a deeper and more serious storytelling to comics:

Alan Moore's Swamp Thing had a profound effect on mainstream comic books, being the first horror comic to approach the genre from a literary point of view since the EC horror comics of the 1950s, and broadened the scope of the series to include ecological and spiritual concerns while retaining its horror-fantasy roots.[citation needed] Moore began a trend (most notably continued by Neil Gaiman) of mining the DC Universe's vast collection of minor supernatural characters to create a mythic atmosphere. Characters spun off from Moore's series gave rise to DC's Vertigo comic book line, notably The Sandman, Hellblazer, and The Books of Magic; Vertigo titles were written with adults in mind and often contained material unsuitable for children. Saga of the Swamp Thing was the first mainstream comic book series to completely abandon the Comics Code Authority and write directly for adults. (Wikipedia entry for Swamp Thing).

Moore's superb V For Vendetta tackled serious themes and was an incredibly influential collection (and remains my second favorite comic). His crowning achivement however is Watchmen. The influence of this graphic novel could be the subject of a dissertation. It has influenced not only the graphic novel genre, but comics on a wide scale, film, television and even cinema. Watchmen has arguably done more to bring comics out of the ghetto and into not only the main stream but to cause graphic storytelling to be taken seriously as literature. If you have not read Watchmen you are missing a serious work of the late Cold War.

Among other works Moore has created From Hell, 1963, The League of Extrodinary Gentlemen and many, many others. I would argue that Moore has had a much greater impact on the genre than has Gaiman.

As for the Japanese, I cannot think of any culture more steeped in graphic storytelling than they. The plethora of manga and anime North Americans now have available is but a drop in the bucket to that in Japan. Graphic storytelling appeals to all ages in Japan, unlike North America where it languished as "kid's stuff" for decades. A full list of my favorites would be too long for this forum but here are a couple:

Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell and Dominion Tank Police all by Masamune Shirow.
Anything by Hayao Miyazaki.
Grey by Yoshihisa Tagami.

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