The Non-Graphic Novel

A mini-controversy was ignited on Twitter over this tweet from S. E. Hinton about her novel The Outsiders. (She has since reconsidered her opinion.)

THE QUESTION raised though is: How to account for the popularity of graphic novels? Is there more to their appeal than the visual?

When we say graphic novels, we’re talking about a longer or more ambitious version of a comic book, which had its direct origins in pulp detective fiction.

Go further back, and you can trace influences to popular authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Wallace, and to great proto-noir French novels of the early 20th century. Such as–

FANTOMAS!

–as well as Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera— which trace their origins to Grand Guignol theatre and, ultimately, to the mid-19th century mystery novel serializations of Eugene Sue, AND to the most important influence of them all, due to its enormous popularity, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

The Count of Monte Cristo is compulsively readable and endlessly fascinating– one of the great novels– not solely because of its revenge theme, but because of its:

A.) Atmospherics.

B.) Characterizations (especially the Count himself).

C.) Mysteries– which include a series of double identities.

The novel is melodramatic, particularly in its revelations of identity. Melodrama can get out of hand (in the hands of a Eugene Sue or the authors of Fantomas), but what it really means is the portrayal of extreme emotion.

CHARACTERISTICS OF COMICS

The epitome of both the comic book and the graphic novel, in this commentator’s opinion, is Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939. Reaching its apex in the Dark Knight series by Frank Miller in 1986, which, while not inventing the form, firmly established it as legitimate art.

WHAT has made Batman, in print or film, so meaningful and wildly popular?

Its sense of mystery– starting with a secret identity centered around a “bat” costume, which itself adds to the nighttime atmospherics. The Batman is a creature of the shadows and the night, of shadows in alleys, and silhouettes on rooftops. Combine with a good versus evil dichotomy, fast-paced plotting, and striking, usually insane villains, and you have a formula for stimulating the imagination and entering into the deepest recesses of the subconscious. A formula for even, on occasion, shaking the underpinnings of the soul.

FOR THOSE to whom art is an intellectual exercise, such formula can be easily dismissed. Some of us though seek art which strikes deeper chords.

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REJUVENATING THE NOVEL

TO REGAIN its preeminent place in the culture, should the novel come full circle and readopt motifs from the nineteenth century? Should it place renewed emphasis on exaggeration and melodrama, on extremes of characterization and plot– albeit in a realistic or hyper-realistic setting?

Could graphic novels be written without the graphics– words substituting for images?

WHY NOT?

This is what we’re attempting anyway with our next “zeen” print publication, available for purchase by Wednesday, October 28, if not sooner, at our Pop Shop.

Don’t miss it!

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