Saturday, August 02, 2008

Graphic Novel; the Pondering (Part i)

I consult on websites; information architecture, usability, accessibiliy, captology, etc, etc. Sometimes my work involves sitting in a group defining and discussing abstract concepts. During one meeting we were talking about improving our Document Management System; defining what a circular is, what a memo is, what a briefing is....when is a Policy a Policy and when is it a Guideline. It is more intreresting than it sounds (well to me anyway).

Well I ask "What's the difference between a factsheet and a manual?" and i got a incredulous stare in return "its the same difference between a comic book and graphic novel" (they had read Preacher and knew about Alan Moore).

"That's stupid!" I stammered.
"Graphic Novels are thicker with a spine"
"What! You have no..."
"oh there's other stuff like better paper"

I had already started to think about what is a graphic novel based on Anthony Woodward's post
Using format is a pointless exercise; that's more a defining medium thing.

There needs to be something else. The very smart chaps at Comicspot use the cute "Bookcomic" and "Comicbook", i think that's still very formatty but its not coming up with new terms to be wanky about. Something is either one or the other. Using Graphic Novel opens up to many terms of conjecture; what's graphic, what's novel. What about trade paperbacks (another format which is at least industry standard sizewise).

For me anyway - I like defining stuff. I like discussing stuff and you need to be able to define Film Noir if you are going to talk Film Noir. If you want an opinion on bebop jazz then you better know what bebop jazz is, otherwise you'll look foolish. And since i look foolish most of the time - i like to think stuff through and get my ideas straight.

The best point to start is compare it to other mediums. Do other mediums create these groupings based on its materials. Pretty much every medium uses genre; a comedy is a comedy no matter if you see it on the big screen, on dvd at home or have downloaded it to your iphone. A story told using sequential images can be essentially the same story if delivered in a serial comic, a compliation tradepaper back or if its on Wowio.

I say "can be essesntially"; serials need that regular catchup exposition, digital content can't be as detailed as printed material because the technology isn't as precise (72dpi vs 300dpi). But i would contend that the story is the same; just told differently. War and Peace the book tells the same story as the movie with Henry Fonda. Doctor Zhivargo has been told as a book, movie and made for TV miniseries and they all tell the story of a bloke in Russia.

The quality and success at telling that story though is totally up to debate.


LFW said...

ah, this old chestnut. I hate this one.

As I understand it (and some stupid irish artists try and force upon people without actually giving an proper answer) graphic novel is more specific whereas trade paperback can mean anything.

Comicbook or bookcomic is a bit of a misnomer, and kind of a bit stupid in my opinion, switching the words around doesn't change anything, it's just being lazy.

But, I guess the crux of it: comic is also another word for a comedian, yet you can't read comedians from cover to cover. So graphic novel was created because sequential art, as a medium, isn't just about funny animals and punchline gags anymore like it was in the innocent 1950s (it's nearly 2010, incase anyone noticed). To call books with serious themes like maus a "comic" book i.e. a "funny" book really does a disservice to its content. Thats why people get hung up on the whole current labelling thing right now.

It's the same problem animation has. Sequential art is still perceived as a genre rather than medium that genres exist in, etc etc. I blame the baby-boomers for their lack of bothering to understand outside their own 1950's heads.

Also, your colleages are correct about that other point, a novel constitutes more than a hundred pages, otherwise its just a short story.

Hope I didn't get too off track there, that's another pitfall that most creative types fall into, then they just end up talking about themselves, lol

cheers, very excellent post


John Retallick said...

.blogspot.comIt is an old chestnut but one that hasn't cracked yet.

I was in Ballarat during the week and the graphic novel section of the library was all over the place in terms of content. sin city with graphic sex, violence and crime next to concrete, next to jimmy corrigan and goodbye chunky rice, next to manga of different varieties including narutu and buddha. All over the place. That's the problem with the term It doesn't differentiate beyond medium.

The bookcomic, comicbook line is more about the difference between serialised and one off books and it's about format.

I'm trying more and more to talk about content rather than format. But as a non artist(which i think many commentaters are)it's difficuldt to describe art and i think format has taken over somewhat.

Looking forward to hear about what you've been reading that's good and what's not so. Theres not enough of one over the other but at least the good pile is getting steadily larger and more diverse.


Mark Selan said...

LFW - yeah its kind of sucky that we are STILL having this conservation (we=comic fans) but i'm still not happy with where we are. We can't discuss the medium like adults if we can'yt figure out the terms of discussion.

Using the term "comic" doesn't bother me in the least. There is no Ham in Hamburgers, Automobiles don't drive themselves and skyscrapers don't really scrap anything. Its just a word, to be used as its needed. For a long time Romance literatuire was heroic swashbuckling adventure stories. Now it means lovey-dovey swooning embraces with pirates and mistreated handservants.
Have a definitive line of meaning and wait long enough and comedians will be complaining that people expect sequential art at their gigs.
To me Maus has literary themes, its textured and its a graphic novel.
If a Short story is published by itself as a book is it still a short story?

John - Yeah, i think shelving brings up another issue; in the end they are books so should be shelved under authors name not in a ghetto. Graphic Novel vs Comic book should only come to the fore when we look at sequential art as a topic of discussion.

So with you comicbook/bookcomic;
Kate Lawson #1 a self contained story is a bookcomic but the Sacrifice as part of a trilogy is a comicbook?

I've also was loved the diverstiy of the local comic scene.

John Retallick said...

touche re sacrifice.

I do like your qualatative diferential between comics and graphic novel in general. It forces us (the talkers) to actually describe the works accurately and that can only be a good thing.

It's the genre differences within the artform that bring some of the difficulties to the surface though. Where do we put Sacco?

In my perfect bookshop there would be a comic section and a graphic literature section. There would be fiction, non fiction, autobio, horror, sci fi, humour etc within these sections and some works would also be shelved within the non comics medium materials ie The Sacrifice in Aust Literature.

When i went to Readings in carlton recently i was happy to see Ords Rooftops in the GN section and also a couple of copies in the Aust Fiction section. That seemed a good way to do it for me. Hope it happens more.

I think we can be proudly in the ghetto and in the literary burbs simultaneously. The works we produce should lend themselves to this and comic specialty stores need to get there focus away from the tights and flights if they want to survive in the logterm and become genuine specialty bookstores.


Mark Selan said...

John - not describe the work but analyse and discuss; to look at what comics are about not just what they are- that's what excites me.

Ooooh; yeah non-fiction that's an interesting point. There are non-fiction texts which are considered literature Capote's In Cold Blood for example. But non-fiction is facts and figures its not really "art" its not really expressive in a traditional sense. But I'd like to think Sacco's work could be discussed as literature focusing on objectivism and bias.

Part of me doesn't really care about shelving. It would be great if sequential art was just shelved with, you know, "da proper books" but one battle at a time.

I love comics and graphic novels if they are good, borne from passion or the desire to be new and interesting. I love Jackie Chan and Jean Luc Godard.