Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

The Joy of Graphic Novels

This week I learned you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy comic books. . . er, graphic novels.

I’m feverishly working on a complete make-over of my book on dialogue for writers. The new book, Dialogue Mastery for WritersCreating Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction is in the proofing stage, yet I keep adding new material.

This week I explored the world of comic books and graphic novels, and then wrote a chapter on creating dialogue for the action packed world of superheroes and super-villains. As a kid who grew up loving comic books, I have no gripes with this genre. Comics are definitely lightweight reading, but now, calling them graphic novels makes this genre seem downright artistic.

As author Daniel Raebum wrote: “I snicker at the neologism, first for its insecure pretension—the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’—and second because 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.”  (^ Raeburn, Daniel. Chris Ware(Monographics Series), Yale UniversityPress, 2004, p. 110. ISBN 978-0-300-10291-8.)

Writer Neil Gaiman, responding to a claim that he does not write comic books but graphic novels, said the commenter “meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”  (Bender, Hy (1999). The Sandman CompanionVertigoISBN 978-1-56389-644-6)

In order to write this chapter, I learned to format scripts for graphic novels, which turns out to be great fun. I can’t think of a better way to learn the art of writing no-frills dialogue. Graphic novel characters don’t stand around dithering and discussing: They act.  And I love the idea of writing sounds that match the action, such as:  POW!   SQUISH   DRIP. . . BANG! and ZAP!

Unfortunately, my artist abilities don’t stretch far enough to draw a book unless all the characters are flowers, clouds, and trees. Perhaps a talking flower?  Drone clouds?  Ent-like trees?  Anything is possible in this genre.

My new favorite is the SAGA series by author Brian Vaughan and illustrator Fiona Staples. The artwork is magnificent, the characters well developed, and the central plot keeps you wantimg more.  And, of course, Vaughan’s dialogue rings true. He even tosses in humor from time to time.


Comments on: "The Joy of Graphic Novels" (2)

  1. Sammie, I applaud your being a quick learner of graphic novels. You certainly made a wise choice with Saga as that is one of the best of the bunch these days. As you can well imagine, there is much more to say on the subject of graphic novels. You have a bit of an unreliable source with Neil Gaiman. He is indeed great writer and an all around good guy but he can lay on the foppish dandy persona a bit too thick and it can be difficult for some to know when he’s just blathering and being jokey as opposed to providing serious insight.

    I’ll try to lay it out to you in a quick nutshell. There is a place for the term graphic novel in more ways than one. For booksellers, it is a convenient category. To go deeper, a true graphic novel is a work of art in every sense that a work of serious fiction is. Now, with Saga, that originates as a series of comic books that gets collected into books and falls into being called a graphic novel, or series of graphic novels. But then there are works, usually by one person who both writes and draws the book, and is expressing a certain vision. Once you dig deeper, you’ll know it when you see it! You can look at my Guide to Graphic Novels to get a sense of what I’m trying to convey to you here. Just keep in mind there are many snobs in the book industry who love to dismiss what they have no real idea about.


  2. Thanks for helpful info! I will check out your Guide to Graphic Novels. I agree with you that some of these books are true works of art. I’m impressed!


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