July 5, 2011

Graphic Novels: An Introduction

A graphic novel is essentially a story illustrated in sequential panels of art and dialogue—not something assumed to have violent or pornographic content, as some who are unfamiliar with the phrase may assume. Think comic book, but on any topic. Not all graphic novels are of traditional novel length or scope, but they do have in common with text-only novels and short stories a classic story beginning, middle, and end.

Graphic novels are an increasingly popular format for stories in almost any genre imaginable, from speculative fiction to gritty war and detective stories. Their popularity is not limited to kids and young adults, the audience they’re most associated with, though the format is gaining respect in educational circles. The main audience is adults. Manga, which is the Japanese style of graphic novels and comic books, is given much credit for this trend, though other cultural influences have contributed, as has a group of fans of the medium who’ve simply transitioned into adulthood. An adult rendition of the superhero theme came out in Watchmen, a sophisticated nonlinear story that gained attention from numerous awards and made Time magazine’s list of the all-time 100 greatest novels. Graphic novels have also been an increasing source of inspiration for Hollywood films. An early example of a graphic novel made into a film is Road to Perdition.

Because graphic novels are not heavy on text, and developing the art consumes the majority of time in developing one, many artists double as writers, either for artistic control or to save money. Teams of artists and writers may rely on their collaboration to tell a strong story without the added cost of an editor, though an appreciation of the importance of writing quality and thus story editing is becoming apparent as both interest in the form and competition for sales increase.

Though large publishers like DC Comics, Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, and Viz Communications will have in-house editors, this trend still offers an opportunity to freelance developmental editors, as a significant fraction of graphic novels is either produced by independent publishers or self-published. For cheaper production and distribution, many works are produced digitally as webcomics in serial form. (Graphic novels are not yet popular in the form of ebooks due to the limited availability of color reading platforms, the large file sizes required for satisfactory image resolution, and difficulty in reading the text at such a small final size). However, an interest in professional editing is more likely for those novels designed to be distributed in print, since printing costs are much higher than digital production, and thus a return on investment is more important. A trend that may make it easier to invest up-front in editing is the Kickstarter funding platform; graphic novels are becoming one of the more popular project types.

A writer’s interest in ensuring a high-quality story led to my first graphic novel project. I’ve been hooked ever since. My interest also led to editing a nonfiction book on the influence of culture on graphic novels (and vice versa).

My next post will describe how developmental editors can approach a graphic story and will include a few of my favorite resources.

—Marta Tanrikulu

1 comment:

  1. It's a sign of how far graphic novels have come to read an intro and *not* see mention of "Maus." I'm currently enjoying "Mouse Guard" (no relation).