Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday Times has more Comics-Related Articles

The Sunday Times is trying to out comic the Gruniad and the Indy, in comics-related articles that is. There are two, side by side, in this Sunday past's Book section.

The cover features a jolly looking plump man, who could possibly speak as loudly as Brian Blessed, wearing a bow tie who is hailed as '...the man who's bringing back the great British comic'. You remember that, the 'great British comic', that's the comics we produced work for, and they demanded all the rights to our characters unless we went through the costly and injurious to health task of dragging them screaming into court to get our rights back. Those things that, you know, in Scotland, our comic artists finally won the right to sign their art work in - those 'great British comics'. I mean, fair enough it was a market, and a good one to experiment in, but it was never a 'Great' one. That it ended up ever so slightly less exploitative is hardly a cause for hyperbole.

Speaking of hyperbole (neat, eh?) the article 'Rebirth of the great British comic' is by Tom Gatti and it does read a bit like one of those 'advertisement features' for DFC (David Fickling Comics), which I have written a little bit about below. Meaningless phrases like '...charming panel' abound and David Fickling is allowed to get away with saying "We opened the doors and the most wonderful illustrators and storytellers came out of the cupboard." and as an example John Aggs, Simone Lia, Chris Riddell, Adam Brockbank, Paul Stewart and Philip Pullman, are mentioned. Excuse me, exactly how deep was that 'cupboard'?

John Aggs (who won Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga, UK division) is illustrating The Adventures of John Blake by Philip Pullman. Pullman says “Normally I write a book, give it to the illustrator and he gets on with the pictures...With this project, it is as if I’m doing a film script with me specifying what I want drawn.” Oh my God, could there be a worse scenario? Pullman is an avid graphic novel reader (aren't they all now), apparently, but he has just committed the cardinal sin of thinking that comics are just like little movie storyboards. And besides, I'd rather have seen a nice new creator-owned story by John Aggs.

This confusion about graphic novels being faux-filmscripts might explain why Harry Potter storyboard artist Adam Brockbank is involved with this project. I suppose that seeing graphic novels like Ghost World and A History of Violence and Road to Perdition and Sin City and Persepolis turned into movies has given some people the impression that graphic novels are just storyboards waiting to be shot - which will come as news to Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff who were silly enough not to just point the camera at Eightball and shoot (which would have magically churned out the movie Art School Confidential too).

Simone Lia is at least well know, and respected in both the mainstream and the indie comics community so her name lends at least a little credibility to the hyperbole, but how far and how wide did Random House have to open the 'cupboard' door to find her? Didn't they publish her book Fluffy?

My complaint is not, however, about the artists, and it's not even really about the hype. I have mentioned before that my great fear is that the British 'explosion' in the popularity of graphic novels will not happen because established mainstream publishers will attempt to employ the old tried and tested 'great British comics' model of using illustrators as 'work for hire' drawing monkeys , while their established authors will be given the job of 'creating' in-house graphic novels; and that will mean this country will never create anything approaching Jimmy Corrigan or Black Hole or Persepolis or Ghost World. Trust me, Katie (Jordan) Price's graphic novel will never top the best seller charts anywhere but in Britain. You get the graphic novels, and for that matter the comics, you deserve I suppose.

Now, sitting neatly beside the puff for DFC was an article by Paul Gravett, called Graphic novels down to a fine art. Paul Gravett knows his stuff, of that there is no doubt. He knows a great deal about comics and graphic novels, and even obscure manga titles. Reading between the lines, when he says read '...the original you will find in almost every case it outclasses its big-screen abridgement.', gives me the impression he is aware that Cosmo Landsman's piece of the previous week where Cosmo declared the graphic novel of Persepolis must be good because the movie was a loyal adaptation of it, and the movie was good.

In an otherwise excellent piece, Paul Gravett's only mistake, in my mind, is giving credibility to Hannah Berry's 'graphic novel' about a detective and a tea-bag. I don't mean to be cruel, and bear in mind she is young, but this book, by a young woman who seems to think she discovered the medium of graphic novels, is not a good example of what comics can be. Perhaps one day, when she has actually built up a portfolio as a cartoonist, and developed as a writer, she will produce a book that can sit easily alongside books like Ghost World, Road to Perdition, Sin City, Jimmy Corrigan, Blankets, et al; in the meantime, this is not that book.

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