Sunday, August 03, 2008

Graphic Novel: the Pondering (Part 2)

Many years back I was at a Dymocks in a surburban shopping centre. It was late but I and Em were biding time until a movie started. I saw Moore and Campbell's From Hell on the shelves. Oh my God, acceptance! Comics are going mainstream baby!
I scanned the shelves for other Graphic Novels and found nothing else so i cornered a sales assistant and kind of pointed in the direction of From Hell.
"Have you got any other Graphic Novels?"
I may have looked a bit excited but she looked at me rather strangely, like she was trying to suss me out. I didnt' think to much of it, its that same look when people find out you read comics 'You? Really? Wow?'
"Um.... hang....on" and she darted away.
I continued scanning shelves for something new to read when the store manager walked up to me "um, have you read American Psycho?"
"That's pretty graphic"
Oh my God she thinks i'm some sort of sicko.
"Wha? No, no, no - graphic novels! Like From Hell" - which i grabbed of the shelf. She flicked through it
"Oooooooh comic books - we've got TinTin"
Oh my God she thinks i'm some sort of nerd.
I thanked her deflatedly for her help and slunk to the gardening corner to Em.
"I'm so embrrassed-"
"Aroused! You're aroused" she blurted.

And so ended the most embarrassing moment in my life.

So what are graphic novels and why are they so troublesome?

Looking within other mediums didn't really bring up answers to what a graphic novel could be - within other mediums, formats don't define anything; Harold and Kumar go to White Castle is still a movie at 88 minutes, like Lawrence of Arabia at 200minutes plus (too lazy to check actual runtimes). Sure there are novellas but the name makes sense 'Tiny novels' and I've never seen novellas marketted as a "novella" "just released a new novella!" like any comic book with a spine is bandied about with "Graphic novel".

But thinking about something like Harold and Kumar and Lawerence of Arabia started me thinking. I love both but there is something different.
Dude Where's my Car is a movie
Bicycle Thief is a film
Bad Boys 2 is a movie
Citizen Kane is a film

Its not a matter of quality, i like all the above titles; they are all good. Its not about source country, just because its foriegn doesn't mean its a film, Jackie Chan makes movies not films. Being old doesn't make it a film, Key Largo is a movie.

To me, movies are pieces of entertainment while films are peices of art that say something; there's more going on than just a plot. Films are subtextual or metatextual.

There's a similar concept with books; you go to a good bookstore and they'll be a Literature section and a Fiction section. There's art and then there's decoration.

Following this line of thought; comics are "superficial" and designed to entertain. Graphic Novels have something deeper going on - they carry a meaning outside of just have a plot. A graphc novel can be an 8 page story in an anthology or it can be a 32 book series released by Toykopop. If you can discuss the book without just rehashing the plot or talking about the art- then its a graphic novel. And I'd like something a bit more than "Spiderman is about the responsibility of power" especially when most Spiderman comics involve him hitting people.

Who decides what is a graphic novel and what's a comic book? Well for me its a 'wisdom of the crowd' scenario - i enough people say Blankets is a Graphic Novel and back this up with reasoning then it can be a graphic novel. If a creator just says their new comic is a graphic novel
or its publisher - I don't believe them.

I usually like my terms defined a bit better but i'm reasonably happy with this fuzzy and subjective definition because we can start talking about the books themselves instead of the silliness of the format.


Bobby.N said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bobby.N said...

Unfortunately 'comics' is saddled with a stereotype of superheroes that is 'branded' into the general public's head. That's the dictionary definition to the common person.

I don't enjoy spending 5 minutes trying to qualify the 'corner' of comics that I produce... which usually doesn't mean much to them anyway. Unfortunately 'graphic novel' is the best we have to work with to differentiate camps... but when DC or Marvel slaps 7 separate issues of 'Teen Titans' together and calls it a 'graphic novel' (somehow trying to place it in a literary category) - well, it muddies the waters even more.

It's interesting to note that Craig Thompson has the words 'An illustrated Novel' on the front of BLANKETS. I assume he wants to avoid stereotypes too.

It's analogous to the legitimizing and encroachment both camps have between 'pornography' and 'erotica'. One is suppose to be juvenile and the lowest animal form (that belongs in prison), while the other is elevated to the galleries of New York and the 'civilized'.

It's all marketing... which unfortunately is tied to making a buck. Art & Authenticity has a hard time in the face of these sharks. It shits me.