Graphic Novels Get Bloody Good

In the next few weeks or days or eons, depending on my ever-shifting ability to concentrate, I will be posting about a lot of different forms of writing, more specifically niche genres. We will explore their significance, their uniqueness, and famous works in each genre. Today, I really want to start off writing about graphic novels, even though they are a medium, not a genre.

Batman springs into action, catching the bad guys unawares.

BAM!

ZOOM!

SPLAT!

It began with comic books. Superheroes represented the ideal of good. There were heroes who were purely good and fought evil. And people certainly needed heroes in  the times of war during which comic books hit their boom. During the 1950s and 60s, comic books saw a dramatic rise in readership. Superheroes ruled the day from Superman to Aquaman to the X-men. The graphic novel is an extension of that same idea. The story is written in panels, longer than an issue of a comic book. Instead, it is novel length and contains its own plot. Superheroes such as batman and the X-men have seen their fair share of graphic novels, but the medium is used for more than that.

The most fresh use of the form I have seen recently is Craig Thompson’s Blankets. The novel simultaneously tells the tale of sibling rivalry, childhood repression, and budding romance. To read more about it, go here.

What makes this work unique is its use of the graphic novel panels to write not a fictional story but an autobiography. The story also includes themes such as sexual curiosity, first romances, and molestation… which means the panels contain a bit of nudity. Even nudity of children, which is an interesting and bold choice. Even a nude drawing of the author himself as a child. It sounds creepy, but instead it’s rather interesting because it does what you don’t expect it to. In graphic novels, writers can surprise me more because I am not overly familiar with the medium.

Is reading a graphic novel like reading a word-based novel?

Not exactly, but it can still be quite literary. Because you’re bombarded with panels of images, symbolism can effectively work. There are quite a few things you can do there that you cannot do in a normal novel and certainly, action scenes play out better. You can tell a different kind of story, sure. But you can also tell the same story differently. Which gives new breath to it. Take for example the upcoming The Gunslinger graphic novel adaptation, based on Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series. It will not be like reading King, but think of this as an alternative to making a movie out of it.

With the advent of e-readers, graphic novels are better than ever, some even interactive. Books can be cumbersome to carry and only avid comic fans buy every issue of a comic. If it’s sent straight to an e-reader, though, it is much easier to deal with. I’m certainly looking forward to buying some graphic novels for my Nook tablet to see how it might enhance the experience.

Though some contest it runs people’s literacy, I’d say no. I say it offers unique stories to people who may not have been exposed to the story before. Certainly, in future novels, I would like to try to make some of the more action-heavy scenes written as panels. It adds a lot of dimensions to a story.

To really understand how the medium affects the storytelling, go read a graphic novel. Though I would suggest Blankets and any Batman graphic novel, I believe the absolute best place to start off is Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It was the first graphic novel I ever read and certainly turned me on to reading that medium. The storytelling is simply fantastic, the characters compelling, and the artwork reminiscent of comic books of old with a modern twist. Though written in the 70s, the story still reverberates today and signifies much about American society and its view of heroes. If you were disappointed by the movie, don’t fret. The book is much better (as always!)

Before I take my leave, think of this. Blood on the page is hard to write. Crimson goo. Vermillion fluid. Life’s elixir. How should a writer describe it? In a graphic novel, it splatters across the page in a much more colorful way.

I definitely suggest checking out the medium and want to know your take on this.

Also, what genre/medium should I discuss next?

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on January 19, 2012, in books, genre studies, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The Watchmen is one of my favorite graphic novels ever. Actually, it’s one of my favorite reads ever.

  2. Romance Novels! Read one. I dare you.

  3. I really like when graphic novels move away from the standard super hero forum.

  4. I may be wrong, but in my day, weren’t these “graphic novels” called comic books? Why the switch? Is it to give them more credibility? Or are they a different beast altogether? Remember, anyone who says “in my day” is old…

    • In a way, yes. A graphic novel is a lengthy version of a comic book and usually deals with heavier topics (though both have made great strides in content over the past decades). I personally think of “comics” as serialized, the plot spread out from issue to issue while graphic novels have a self-contained plot while also contributing to the grand story of a character. There are also stand-alone graphic novels.

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