Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

"Graphic Novels" by Paul Gravett (Aurum, 2005)

An introduction to the form/genre. Some history is offered. I didn't realize how legally constrained comics used to be - "an epidemic of moral panics spread across North America, Europe and elsewhere about what was perceived as comics' corrupting influence on impressionable youngsters ... Governments in Britain, France and Canada enacted severe new laws, while the American industry only avoided legislation by financing an independant Comics Code Authority from 1955 to censor anything that failing to comply with its infantalizing code" (p.22).

When Hitler was punched by Captain America in late 1940, the authors got round-the-clock police protection. "many of these 'superheroes' were fabricated by the city's predominantly Jewish comics industry" (p.74). The Superhero genre became popular. "At first, for each issue to be instantly accessible to an absolute beginner, superheroes would usually operate in consequential short stories and isolated worlds, unaware of any others of their type, unaffected by any previous story's events, always restoring the status qo at the end of every case" (p.74). But the superhero genre accounted for only 3-5% of the market in in 1950s. They made a come-back by humanising the characters, as in "Dark Knight Returns".

In the "Things to hate about comics" section they cover many issues, amongst them

  • Comics leave nothing for the imagination - "There is less space for words than in a novel, so they have to be all the more precise ... Remember the words don't always literally describe or reinforce the pictures; one can clarify and amplify the other, or they can be entirely separate" (p.10)
  • Which do I read first - words or the pictures? - "Part of the knack of reading comics is being able to enter and move your eyes around inside each panel ... It's a bit like reading a map, diagram, or painting (p.11)

30 books are highlighted, and many others mentioned. The criticism deals with text and graphics. Conventions are described. It rarely goes over the top, though the following comes close - "Imagine Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' played by sordidly human cartoon mascots from Italian 1960s advertising and directed by Luis Bunuel and you'll have some notion of Francesca Ghermandi's noir fantasia of desire and deceit" (p.138)

Art Spiegelman got a Guggenheim fellowship to complete "Maus", which won a Pulitzer in a one-off category. "Persepolis" became a film. Edward Said wrote of "Palestine" that "With the exception of one or two novelists, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco, ... a political and aesthetic work of extraordinary originality". Lorenzo Mattotto's "Fires" uses post-impressionist, Futurist and Expressionist techniques. Am I impressed enough to dash out and buy one of the suggested books? I've read "Fungus the Bogeyman" and was impressed. Chris Ware's "Building Stories" (Pantheon) has attracted attention. I might borrow it from the library.

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