Esther McConnell, The Graphic Novel: Introduction

This blog post is the first of a series by Esther McConnell, exploring graphic fiction and publishing. These posts are being written as part of Esther’s second project on the Project Management and Research undergraduate module at Cardiff University.

On this bright February day I find myself sat comfortably next to shelves colourfully lined with graphic novels. It is a quiet, sunny spot, in an otherwise deeply serious, bustling library. Unlike the dry and heavy law volumes, or the readings and re-readings of Freud; these books are bright with their colours and promise. They offer up a world of visual and narrative experiences in (thank you Cardiff University) a vast range of languages. It is against this distracting array of books that I must turn my back and begin to type.

This first blog post marks the beginning of a series based around this type of book: the graphic novel. The series will explore the history of the form, the publishing world that surrounds it, the scholarship associated with it, and, how it is reaching out into the world. This exploration into the graphic novel will take the form of a series of interviews, portrayals, reflective and research based blog posts. Nevertheless, before we get into all that, it is probably for the best if we first consider what on earth a graphic novel is.

Basically it is a novel (or story) set out broadly in the form of a comic book. It may be longer, or more complex, and is considered as a work entire (rather than a periodic publication). The representations of the story are always pictorial and often include written speech or narratorial annotations. They tend to be sequential, meaning the reader can follow image and text with the narrative.

Graphic novels do not realistically make up a genre. In fact they are a more of a form or mode of writing that crosses many genres. In graphic novels we can find autobiography (Spiegelman’s Maus), science fiction (Moore’s Watchmen), topical political commentary (Briggs’ When the Wind Blows) the list is endless. Their diversity reflects the distinct flexibility of the form. Like poetry, art, short stories, and literature it has an ever-extending depth of expression and narrative opportunity.

     

Though widely used the term is a contentious one. Between the very authors there is disagreement. Where many embrace the weighty feel of the term, others find it superfluous and even ridiculous. Author Daniel Raeburn has written that ‘a “graphic novel” is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.’ For ease and exactness the term ‘graphic novel’ will be used implicitly in this series.

Accepting but laying these disagreements aside, this blog post must come to an end. But this end is only really a beginning, opening the way for a series based on this form. Coming up next will be ‘A Short History of the Graphic Novel’.

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