Thursday, May 28, 2009

Picture This

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Way back (okay, showing my age), there were comic books. They were mainly about superheroes or funny kids and teenagers, and the audience market was children and male teens. Oh, and all those adult men hung up on comics as collectibles. Then graphic novels joined the "stories in pictures" world. Followed by the evolved Japanese version, manga. But basically the subject matter and intended market were pretty much still the same.

However, graphic novels aimed at the adult audience, and at romance readers, have been around longer than many people realize. Kafka's books were available as graphic novels by the early 90s. Harlequin was putting out romances as manga in Japanese by 1999, labeling it "Harlequin Comics". (I've got Anne Stuart's Heart's Ease and Housebound, Deborah Simmons' Taming the Wolf. Too bad I can't read Japanese.)

There has been a recent surge in "real" novels presented in graphics. Books by best-selling romance/paranormal/urban fantasy (whatever you label them) authors Sherrilyn Kenyon and Laurell K. Hamilton. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice graphic novel is, according to the publisher, aimed at pre-teen and teen girls.

I'm not sure how I feel about all this. Even as a kid with comic books, I read the balloons and barely noticed the drawing. I lifted the Hamilton and Kenyon graphic novels off the shelf in the bookstore, glanced through them, and put them back--I realized they would not be an enjoyable or satisfactory reading experience for me. I'm very definitely a word person, not a picture person. So a graphic novel, which contains a fraction of the text of the original book, just doesn't do it for me. I want the beauty of language, the flow of sentences, the descriptions and musings and nuances.

I hear the argument that our children aren't interested in reading, that comics are a way to tempt them to the classics, to interest them in books and ideas. And isn't it better that they be reading something, rather than just staring at a video or a video game?

I don't know. I wonder if we aren't, instead, teaching our children that the written word doesn't matter. That any idea can be reduced to a line drawing, that spelling and grammar are unimportant, that communication via words isn't important. I don't believe any of that, and I don't want to raise a generation who believes it.

But that's just me. Maybe graphic novels are indeed where "books" are going in future, and maybe that won't signal the fall of civilization. What do you think? What graphic novels have you read? Did you enjoy the story presented that way? Had you read the original novel first? I'd really like to know how adult authors and readers feel about this trend.


Debra Glass said...

I bought a historical graphic novel entitled Cleburne about Civil War General Patrick R. Cleburne. I thought the graphic novel was a great way to teach history, especially to younger, male audiences who seem to learn visually more than by reading.

I don't know what I would think about a graphic romance novel. What I love about romance is being swept away by the characters and characterization - by the emotions the writer conveys to me through word pictures.

However, graphic novels might be fun for the YA genre.

Ari Thatcher said...

I haven't seen the graphic novels, but the idea concerns me. We're raising illiterate kids as it is. I can see where they might be a good tool to get a non-reader to see what is interesting about written stories, but I would miss the best part about books - creating the pictures in my head. How many Lord of the Rings fans were disappointed by the movie not living up to the imagination?

Betty Hanawa said...

Part of the appeal of graphic novels to my son and his friends (and he's 28, btw) is they are a fast read. He also is a big fan of audio books which he listens to on his work commutes. Recently, on my son's advice, I picked up #3 and #4 of the Star Trek graphic novels that were the intro to the new Star Trek movie. The layout of drawings and dialogue were easier to read than Watchmen or The Dark Knight.

I don't see myself reading a romance novel in this format. I like my own visualizations. Then again I've always been bored with the Jane Austen novels, but thoroughly enjoyed the 6 part BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth and a movie version of Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, Kate Whiselt, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman.

My son gave me a retelling of a classic Jane Austen book for my birthday. Pride and Prejudice and Vampires I don't think I'll be bored with this version.

Hot Ash Romance Novels said...

When I was about 11, I stayed at a friend's beach house. I happened upon the teen girl's stash of graphic romance novels. Even though the only contact was a kiss, I was captivated! I didn't dare tell my parents I'd found them and I think they were just happy I was amusing myself.

But the seeds of loving the romance genre were planted that summer. At that age, I doubt I'd have devoured adult novels with no pictures. Kids are visual and they love color. Those graphic novels were beautifully illustrated.

Sure, not every story lends itself to such an abbreviated format. Films that are 2 hours long equal about 120 pages. Books are almost always better than the movie.

Perhaps graphic novellas would be more appropriate.

Carrie said...

Graphic novels that were written that way from the outset (e.g. Persepolis) can be amazing. But I'm very much against the "conversion" of (standard) novels into graphic novels. How is that different from an illustrated Cliffs Notes? It's not really reading the work as authored.

Roxie Rivera said...

I view graphic novels as separate art and literary forms from novels. Like manga, they allow stories to be told in an extraordinary and vibrant manner. If you look at the classics of the genre (Watchmen, Persepolis, Sin City,) the power of pictures and text enhances the storytelling and crafts these amazingly beautiful worlds that just suck you right in and hold you hostage until you finish.

I've been enjoying the monthly installments of Marvel's Pride & Prejudice comic. Having read the novel a bajillion times, it's fun to see it presented in a new and different way. I'd be first in line to pick up a graphic novel version of an old skool romance like, say, The Flame and The Flower. How nifty would that be?!?!

I think graphic representations of the romance genre can only help. Think of all the new readers out there desperate for something different. And, really, it's not a new concept. Yaoi and other romantic manga works have been huge in Japan for years (and here too among a certain subset.) I mean, heck, Yaoi and online slashfic started the m/m erotic romance scene.

So I say bring it on! My manga/graphic novel/comic book shelves still have a few inches of room on them!

Anonymous said...

The only graphic novel I've read is Blankets by Craig Thompson. I bought it for two reasons. First, it's about 2 inches thick and someone was reading it on the subway in NYC, which told me he was hooked in a big way - that's usually skinny Times/New Yorker territory. Second, it was reviewed by Time, the NYT Review of Books, Publishers Weekly and EW...all great reviews. It's an amazing story. Heartbreaking.

Other than this book, I have zero interest in graphic novels, and less than zero interest in graphic romance novels for the same reason Deb mentions - I like to create my own word pictures. But I highly recommend Blankets!

Solange Ayre said...

I don't think one form supersedes the other. As a kid I loved my DC comic books (Superman, Lois Lane, Batman etc.) for their adult and science fiction storylines, while at the same time I was enjoying books like The Wind in the Willows and the Dr. Dolittle series.

I also think there is some exciting work being done with graphic novels. Look at Maus and its sequel--underground comic artist Art Spiegelman's telling of his parents' imprisonment in a concentration camp, interspersed with his own interactions with his elderly father. And how about Achewood - Time Magazine's #1 graphic novel of 2007. It's actually a webcomic about cats, robots, and stuffed animals, but it's brilliant in its use of humor, characterization, dialogue, and surreal storylines.

Some of the great visual fiction, such as Star Trek, can be enjoyed in several media - television episodes, movies, novels and comic books.

People who love books are always going to read. People who dislike reading are always going to take shortcuts (I'm speaking of school now) by substituting movies, Cliff's notes, or the Wikipedia synopsis.

Anonymous said...

I personally don't care for graphic novels for myself. But one of my 5 year old's favorite book to read with me is Rapunzel's Revenge--that's a graphic novel for younger kids. I love that he can easily follow along with me because of all the pictures, but that we get to book mark it and come back to it later like an older book.

If anybody knows of any other graphic novels that would be appropriate for a 5-year old, let me know. We love to read them!

Ciana / Syneca said...

I tend to agree with Lolita. For me, graphic novels are a different form of "storytelling" art.

Being a fan of the Watchmen and captivated by the way the stories are presented. I don't see it as a "lazy" way to read, just another way to enjoy a tale.

And considering the growing popularity of graphic novels, I can't see how it could not be a good way to hook a new generation of readers into the romance genre. Like it or not, we're living in a time of two-second sound bytes and 1 second image clips - people want their senses to be bombarded with sight and sound.

While I still like the old-fashioned novels and will continue to do so, I'm still captivated with graphic novels and the unique way they present a tale.

In the end, for me it just boils down to how entertained I was by the tale.

EilisFlynn said...

The experience of image and text have worked together for hundreds of years; it's not a recent phenomenon. I grew up with comic books, wrote comic stories in college for DC Comics, and married a fellow comic book fan, so I may not be the best person to comment on this ... but the romance short story I wrote a couple of years ago was an eye-opener.

As novel readers, we're used to having the option of the description; if the description isn't to your liking, you can conjure up your own. The comic story I wrote for was based on my first romance novel (written back in the 1980s), and I was fascinated by the difference between my description and the way the artist interpreted it. It wasn't my version, but that didn't mean that it was wrong; it was just different. Pretty much the difference between the description in a novel and the one in your head.

Ari, the combination of words and pictures doesn't discourage literacy; the Japanese, one of the most literate people in the world, are big on the combination (manga).

Sorry for being long-winded. Basically, my opinion is that the graphic style of story telling is legitimate and while it may not to be the liking of some, others find it fascinating. (Ever been to San Diego Comic-Con?)

Anonymous said...

I haven't read a comic book since I was a kid and have no interest in graphic novels now, certainly not romances. I prefer the visuals I develop from the words the author uses. But I have a vivid imagination and am not particularly into graphic representation beyond technique instructions and the like (e.g. knitting, assembling, etc.). I much much much prefer erotica to porn movies (which can easily disgust me, make me laugh or just bore me). But there are a lot of people out there, many of them men/boys, who really like to have everything illustrated for them in graphic detail. I find it amusing that these same people are often the ones who choose not to read instruction manuals! My advice would be to consider your audience.


S said...

I got my degree in writing but my literary specialty in word/image combination and the modern American superhero comic. And I believe that they are two completely different mediums and should be viewed as such. It's like comparing a television show to a book.

With conversions it's hit or miss (think of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Secret of Nimh as good book-to-movie transitions and *shudder* Eragon as a bad).

Of course, original material written for that specific medium is better. Also, I loved Blankets as well, especially since I was living in the town the book takes place.


I have purchased The Priest graphics novels but I felt foolish reading them. They are for adults but they are still comic books to me. That said, I wouldn't mind seeing one of my the Western Wind graphic novels. It's an ego trip for the author. Whether or not readers get turned on by it remains to be seen. I would think in a way it would be like watching a movie of the book but still....

It's a comic book no matter how you cut it. Our kids need to READ more. From what I'm seeing from my grandkids' generation...and even the one before it...are semi-lituhruts who are barely edjukated.

Helen W said...

Manga is huge is Europe. Helsinki, the Finland airport, has whole sections of the newsagency stands dedicated to nothing but manga.... I'm talking floor to ceiling 8 rows and 2 or 3 shelves each, with paperback or classic books almost relegated to nothing. I'd say there would have been 50% magazines, 25-30% manga, and maybe barely 25-20% regular paperback, and that would have been ALL paperback in that 20% - not just romance or others, so romance books might have been 5% tops all up....
More and more now books are turning to TV shows to get new audiences (that is why Dresden files had a graphic novel released, which my daughter bought despite the fact it cost $40Australian) so they draw people in but they are not strictly interested in the books, so they turn to graphic novels.
Christine Feehan had one of her Dark (Carpathian vampire) stories Manga-fied 2 or maybe even 3 years ago now - daughter has that too.

Regina Carlysle said...

Like you, I prefer the ebb and flow of words found in a novel but I'm all for anything that encourages reading. My son wasn't a big reader until he picked up some manga. He graduated into other things from there. Not a bad thing if it sparks enough interest to have them reaching for a novel next time.

I actually think romance novels are fine in this medium. Like the deal with my son, those who aren't habitual readers might change their tunes. I also believe there is a level of 'poor' readers who might find this easier and serve to get them hooked on reading and advance their level of learning.

Just a thought.

I have long been interested in literacy issues and writing romance novels for women who are 'beginning readers'. Opening a new world in any way possible, would be so gratifying. Graphic novels might be beneficial in this.

Kimber Li said...

Having taught a few children to read, I'm not concerned.

All humans are born with a passion to learn. A parent only need nurture that passion. He or she can do this by reading out loud to Baby from birth. It's really not that difficult to teach a child to read before the traditional age of five. Surround and supply them with great books from early childhood and continue reading out loud to them, even into their teens. Besides educating the child or teen, you're reassuring them of your love.

Once the foundation is in place, the child will then devour whatever storytelling medium he or she prefers. Some humans are Visual Learners, as another commenter already mentioned. Most people go through phases of preferring one kind over another. This is all perfectly normal and not the result of dumbing down. And some like one kind of story for their entire lives. That's okay too.

I firmly believe parents should not wait on schools to do the job of reading instruction, because, as Maria Montessori said, "Education begins at birth."

Concerned about the lack of literacy in our society? Volunteer or donate to a literacy program. You can learn more at your local library. Donate books to women's shelters, troops in Iraq,afterschool programs, and other groups. Not only will you be promoting literacy, you'll also be nurturing hope.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I like graphic novels.
I like regular novels.
I like poetry from haiku to epic.

I own a number of graphic novels, including Dracula, The Black Pearl (the Mark Hamill crime fighter story, not Steinbeck), The Silver Metal Lover, Dark Empire (Leia's butt was drawn oddly square and chunky), Omaha the Cat Dancer and a couple of other erotic ones.

I love a writer who can raise goosebumps with their use of language. Harlan Ellison and ray Bradbury are two that do this consistantly.

But, even the best prose can't cover rotten subject matter. Nabakov left me wanting a shower in carbolic acid.

Sometimes the art adds to the story. To this day, the image of the bearded Dracula holding the limp, nightgown clad Lucy at the window haunts me in a way no film adaptation ever has.

I don't know how romance would work. I think erotic romance would work very nicely. Some things work best as a visual. And sex, like quiddich, is one.

Rena Marks said...

I'm definitely a word-person, although I read comics as a teen. I prefer the written word because it allows me to create my own mental visual, instead of depending upon the artist's.

I'm not into poetry, though, like a lot of others are. Bores me to death, I can't figure out the "hidden" meanings and lose patience while trying. Why not just spit it out?

Perhaps we all just have different switches in our brains?

Ann Bruce said...

Warning: (1) The following is written by a comic book-loving geek who reads Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Jeph Loeb, Alan Moore, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and oh-so-many more. (2) I haven't read the comments so my apologies if I'm repeating what others may have stated.

Just like non-graphic novels, graphic novels are all about the story. That the story is told with words (usually few words unless you're Alan Moore) AND art doesn't make it less than novels. To be able to convey meaning and feeling in the tightness of a character's shoulders or the tilt of a head is just as much an accomplishment as doing it with words.

I realized not too long ago my writing is greatly influenced by graphic novels. I'm not talking about plot, but about showing instead of telling. I never realized I pretty much show instead of tell automatically because that's what I see in graphic novels. When a character is angry, you don't see a little box with the words "Mike is pissed." You see someone with thinned lips and hands balled into fists.

I don't think graphic novels pose a danger to the written word because there are plenty of graphic novels with grammatically correct, moving prose (e.g. THE SANDMAN series). However, even the ones with few words can have great art (e.g. almost anything drawn by Jim Lee) that can inspire people to tell stories either through images or written words to invoke those images.

Spy Scribbler said...

I don't believe the graphic novel is in competition with the novel, or at least not anymore than paintings or sculpture or movies are in competition with the novel.

I used to skip the pictures, too, which makes for a poor reading experience. The trick to reading graphic novels is to study the pictures. The symbolism, the meaning of the colors, the meaning of the perspective, the distance, everything.

It's amazing, the depth and complexity. But it takes time. You have to pause for each picture just like you would pause to study a painting in a museum rather than walking on by.

Try starting with Watchmen. You can study the first page for an hour, easy, it's that poetic.

Anonymous said...

Haven't read one but if it keeps people reading I'm all for graphic novels. Having a variety of reading material-ebooks, print books, graphic novels-gives you something for everyone. That said, the writing, grammar, etc should be first rate with all "Books" regardless of whether it has pictures or is in your Kindle. We should have pride in our work and put out best out there always-period

Katie Reus said...

I don't think I'd like a romance novel as a graphic novel. Then again, I never read comic books as a kid. Don't get me wrong, I think it takes an enormous amount of talent to create them, they're just not for me. I enjoy visualizing the characters myself and love when a writer paints a vivid picture or evokes certain emotions with only his/her words.

N.J.Walters said...

I think they're two separate art forms.

As a kid, I read comics and books. Some of my earliest comics--classic illustrated and classic illustrated juniors. They were great comics.

I've never read a graphic novel. I think it would be difficult to turn a full-sized book into a graphic novel. Maybe a novella. I imagine most authors would love to see one of their books or novellas turned into a graphic novel. I know, I would.

My brother is a huge fan of graphic novels and has certain authors he buys on a regular basis.

I think there is a place for both. Although, graphic novels and comics could never take the place of books for me.

Anonymous said...

The best graphic novels are the books where the artist and the writer work in tandem to create an exciting, original product. I don't like the idea of abridging an existing novel and making it fit the graphic novel format. If a novel can stand alone-it doesn't need illustrations. To my mind that cheats both the artist and the writer of showing their full potential. A graphic novel must be the mutual conception of the artist-writer, not an after thought for it to a be a success.

Anonymous said...

I first read Maus: A survivor's tale in the early 90's. It left an undeniable impression on me; and I've read several graphic novels since. Akira, Deathnote and Laurell K. Hamilton's series are the only ones I bought. Manga is certainly influencing the ebook/print market, especially in the form of Shounen-ai /Yaoi style books. I admit to a curiosity about the manga that inspired those books, but I don't know if I would actually buy them without looking at them directly. I view graphic novels as an expanding market in the US in direct competition with print books. They're sold in large bookstores, in ever expanding shelves, competing right next to traditional books. Yes, they are a separate art form, but they still compete for the limited disposable income of consumers. And true, most are aimed at a younger crowd. However, a 17 year old buying Deathnote is a short step away from an adult buying a more adult version of manga.

Unknown said...

I think it would be only fair to give graphic novels with romance a try: Mars by Fuyumi Soryo if you like contemporaries (and bad boys with good girls), Midnight Secretary if you like supernaturals (though the first 4 volumes are the best), Can't Lose You, 100% Perfect Girl (very splashy rich man poor woman sorta- Harlequin presents) and Talking About (contemporary) by Wann. These last three series are all available as comic books so you can compare reading experiences--and you can read left to right, unlike the Japanese comics. You can also try Sorcerers and Secretaries if you want to read a English style graphic novel with sweet romance.

A publisher called Luv Luv is also releasing adult-themed comments with sexual situations, so you can see what an erotic graphic novel for women would look like, but I have found some of these to be hit or miss.

I do agree that an adaptation from one form to another can be disappointing--or brilliant.

Though reading words on a page is essential (basic literacy), the next steps are to gain the experience and ability to 1) understand narrative and progression (please give me a plot, cries the editor), 2) have sustained, intense reading in any form, and 3) develop a taste for your preferences. You can get that from audio books, theater, novels movies or graphic novels and they can all work together.

Unknown said...

whoops: i meant the books by wann are available as ecomics with their own reader, so you can compare them with an ebook

MsSnarkyPants said...

I'm with all the others who view them as two different art forms. The only graphic novels I've ever read are those based on books I've already read. (The Vampire Lestat -loved it - and the comics based on the Anita Blake books - didn't love them) I also have every intention of picking up the Kenyon books, just like I'd watch or read anything based on the Dark-Hunter series. That being said, I don't know that I would enjoy reading a story I've never read before in graphic novel form, but who knows, maybe I should try it. I tend to like stories whether they are in the form of really well written songs, movies, or novels.

Carol A. Strickland said...

First, I must highly recommend Scott McCloud's book, "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art," which celebrates the fact that comics take text and art and combine them to make something that is much more than either alone. That is, if they're done well.

Agreed that romance probably suits itself least with the comics art form in that romance tends to emphasize interior feelings and monologue. It takes a highly skilled artist combined with a similar writer to render the needed nuance.

As whether comics/graphic novels signal the end of literacy, well, if kids see something that interests them they'll find a way to take it in. That is, if something like TV or videogames or the Internet hasn't attracted their attention away from it. I remember reading "Classics Illustrated" when I was a kid. If the story was good, I found the book and read it. If it wasn't, that was one less book I'd waste my time on.

The majority of graphic novels seem pretentious to me, but if they were presented in pure text form, I'd find them the same. Yes, there are some that really hit their target, so be on the lookout for those!

Perhaps I'll just stick to reading Wonder Woman, which right now is enjoying a fabulous writer AND a great artist working on the book. How long has it been since we Wondie fans have been spoiled like that?! Good times.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher of ESE junior students and must admit I like the graphic novel scene. The kids I work with have behavioral/social emotional problems. For the most part, my students can decode the words they see. However, they don't understand them. They don't get the story. The main idea and purpose totally illude them. When I introduced a graphic novel version of Frankenstein, they were entranced. They made connections they weren't able to make in the past. We had brilliant discussions on who was the monster, should we pity the monster, was justice served. A few of the ones who could actually read made the attempt to read Mary Shelley's novel. It gave them a base to lean on. When used in education properly I believe graphic novels help reluctant readers take steps toward reading other forms.

Having said that, I personally don't want to read romantic graphic novels because I have a great imagination. I also tend to put myself into the heroine's place. I don't think I could do that if I had a pre-determined visual of her!