The Art of the Graphic Novel

by Doug E. L. Haynes

Stark by Steve Chappell
The graphic novel has shown a surge in popularity and some interesting innovation in content lately. Wisconsin is home to a number of artists who use this form. One of the more prominent graphic novelists residing in the state is Neil Gaiman, who created the Sandman. Another notable talent is Linda Barry who’s words and pictures evoke all the sad and joyful memories of childhood. The graphic novel “Blankets” by Craig Thompson is a semi-autobiograhpical story of family dynamics and first love that is set in Wisconsin. Mike Konopacki uses the form to tell political history. Other talents worth mentioning are Jason Asala’s “Poe” Rich Koslowski, Jim Mitchell, James Sturm, John Kovalic, Douglas Paskiewicz, Max Estes and our own WVA member Steve Chappell creator of the online comic “Stark” shown here.

As a child I enjoyed comics as a guilty pleasure. As I grew older, I still read the funnies but I outgrew my need for superheroes. Many years later, I became aware of the emerging movement of comics spearheaded by Will Eisner and Art Speiglman. Although I was not an early adherent, recently I have been drawn to the art form and my visits to the local library have been richly rewarded. I find text infused with images to be a compelling way to present a story. If you are still unconvinced of the redeeming qualities of the art form, the writings of Scott McCloud, (in comic form), lay out the philosophical, historical and aesthetic aspects of comics. He shares many interesting insights about what makes the form unique. He argues that the generic features of a cartooned figure allow the reader to imagine oneself as the protagonist thus making the viewer / reader a virtual participant; furthermore the implied jumps in action created by the break between one panel and the next invite the reader to recreate in one’s mind the omitted actions. This active engagement on the reader’s part further draws the reader into the story. If you have not read a comic in a while, it is time to lay aside preconceptions and imagine what comics can be. There is no rule that says they have to be about superheros in tights, which are suitable for adolescent boys. If one looks over the reading list provided in the sidebar, one can see that already a good number of titles have been written that break out of traditional stereotypes of the genre.

I would hope that as you read this you might be inspired to visit the library and sample some books from the list provided. As you visit be prepared to ask for help as some libraries will shelve various places in the library depending on the age appropriate audience. I would hope that you will pick up a book and become hooked, or perhaps some of you might even take up a pen or brush and start producing them.