Graphically speaking

storytelling

What is amazing about this news is not that another children’s writer has become a best-selling author, but that the Dairy of the Wimpy Kid series is not your average traditional children’s novel — the format it follows it that of a graphic novel.

Graphic novels, also referred to as hybrid novels due to the way in which they blend words with pictures, have a single story to tell, are lengthier than traditional comic books, and can get quite serious at times. Children, many of whom live in a very visual world today, tend to prefer graphic novels to heavy textual novels.

What is even more incredible is that adults, along with children, are taking to graphic novels. For the young texting- tweeting-status updating-facebook-internet generation, the graphic novel is perhaps an ideal go-between, offering the right combination of the traditional novel and the visual treat of movies. The graphic novel is a quick read that can be finished during the daily commute.

As adults have started picking up more graphic novels, the issues tackled in these books are becoming increasingly serious, appealing to that section of the adult audience who might have more literary interests. The earliest serious graphic novel is credited to Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, published in 1978. Eisner is also credited with naming the genre and the prestigious Eisner awards, which is bestowed for any stand-out work in the area. One of the Eisner awardees was Japanese Manga artist, Osamu Tezuka, who won it for his Buddha series of graphic novels. This unparalleled masterpiece was created between 1974 to 1984 by Tezuka, who told the story of the Buddha with irreverent humour and witty historical asides. The books have been translated into several languages, with a little over 1,00,00 copies being sold.

But, what probably proved that graphic novels could be serious art was the award of a Pulitzer in 1992 to the graphic novelist, Art Speigelman for his Maus, a story about the holocaust, written in a George Orwellian style. Another major milestone for the genre was when Persepolis made a splash on the book scene in 2003. Written by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is an autobiographical account of the Islamic revolution, seen through the eyes of the young Marjane. Her illustrations are stark and often morbidly funny. Persepolis sold over 1,50,000 copies.

Meanwhile, in India, the market for graphic novels always existed in the children’s space, even as early as 1960, with the Amar Chitra Katha tales. But graphic novels only entered adult bookshelves with Corridor, a tale of four characters, in a secondhand bookstore in Delhi. When mainstream publisher Penguin picked up Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor in 2004, it opened the door for other talented Indian graphic novelists. Today, there are Indian graphic novels on militancy, gay rights and civic activism. Even a silent graphic novel consisting of only sketches has been attempted.

Walk into any bookstore today and you will come across graphic novels occupying more shelf space than ever before. Indian book stores are estimated to be selling nearly 10 to 15 graphic novels a day. The fact that the Indian market for the graphic novel is growing is particularly evident from the 15,000-odd footfalls the first Comic Convention (Com Con) has received. Comic Con India was launched in February this year in New Delhi, with nearly 35 publishers booking their space. Last month saw the Comic Con Express being held in Mumbai with the promise of travelling to different cities in the country soon, in order to promote local talent.

What better proof do we require to show that this niche market is slowly seeping into the mainstream other than the fact that classics are also being retold via graphic novels.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth can now be re-experienced from the graphic novel perspective. Besides classics, detective novels such as Satyajit Ray’s Feluds, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple have also been converted to the picture format.

The popularity of the genre has even got The New York Times (NYT) and The Guardian to set aside space for graphic novel reviews. In 2009, NYT also introduced three separate lists of bestselling graphic novels in hardcover, softcover and Manga. A number of interactive websites have sprung up for the genre. Disney, Marvel and DC comics all have their own websites. There’s even an Indian website, Campfire.

The world graphic novel market is estimated to be around $100 million and is continually growing. It’s a market that publishers can ill-afford to ignore. For the funnies make serious business today.
Pictorial A sneak peek into the graphic novel, ‘Persepolis’, by Marjane Satrapi, which charts the times of the author as she grew during the Islamic revolution  in Iran.

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