Comics and The Art of Graphic Novels

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It’s been a while! After a month’s furious blogging on the experimental experiential holiday blog, I returned home to be deluged with work, shows, more work, more shows… And blogging (together with most other social media interaction) fell by the wayside.

Every now and again, I would think: that’s interesting. I must write about that. But then something else would intervene and the Good Idea or Insightful Observation would float away from my peripheral consciousness.

Today, however, I feel inspired. A window of opportunity on my favourite train journey with network connectivity. A series of musings following an hour spent browsing in Foyle’s bookshop on the walk back to the station. A new sketchbook with nice smooth creamy thickish paper and some new pencils from Cass Arts, leading to a session of secret drawing of strangers in a coffee shop.

How does this combine to prompt a post?

The art of the graphic novel. Humanity observed, translated into line. The realisation as I wandered through the bookshop that graphic novels as a literary firm have seen a veritable explosion over the last five years, and I’m not quite sure what to make of some of it.

I’ve been addicted to graphics and text since early childhood. Being blunt, I was addicted to comics and comic books. I began with Bunty, and progressed to Diana. I wasn’t allowed though to read Jackie, seen by my mother as a somewhat risqué comic for young girls with a problem page that occasionally ventured into French kissing and boy issues. Needless to say, I read it as often as I could.

Girly stuff was leavened by the delights of my cousin’s Batman and Superman comics. Dark, jagged, violent and exciting, they made any visit to Grandma’s house more than worthwhile.

In later years I pretentiously devoured Asterix and Tintin in French, and discovered the joy of Posy Simmonds and Claire Brétecher (also in French). In fact, the whole French obsession with Bandes Dessinées was a revelatory insight into the French character: an aspect of a cultural
distinctiveness it becomes ever harder to discern in this globalised age.

That’s certainly true now with this recent flourishing of English language graphic novels. On wandering through Foyle’s this evening, I was quite taken aback by the shelves of books now available in this form. Just a few years ago, buying a copy of Maus or Persepholis demanded a careful search of Waterstones’ ground floor in Leeds to find the single small bookcase of meagre offerings.

I was quite excited by the discovery, actually, and spent a happy half hour browsing. I was particularly thrilled to have an opportunity to reposition my friend Philippa Perry’s Couch Fiction in a slightly more prominent position on the table (see photo above).

But with some honorable exceptions (Couch Fiction included) the proliferation of graphic novels is not matched by a flowering of quality. There is some dire stuff out there. Trite content and dull drawing. Stuff pulled off the drawing board to keep apace with a currently fashionable demand for the genre.

How sad. The best comic and graphic art forms are powerful, enlightening and a joy to behold. But the rubbish coming out in the guise of “art form” here just because of a current fad confirms me in my ever growing dislike of the mediocrity consequences of bandwagons and trends.

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