Saturday, November 26, 2005

Graphic Gets Respectable!

This post is for Amir who dropped by the other day to leave a long list of must-read graphic fiction. (Am for sure learning lots from my blog readers!) As a literary form it had slipped beneath my radar, although I grew up on a diet of superhero and science fiction comics.

Alice O'Keeffe reports in the Observer that two of Britain's best known graphic novelists - Posy Simmonds (more of her work here) and Raymond Briggs have just been made fellows of the Royal Society of Literature. I've enjoyed the work of both "cartoonists" for years, and am so glad that they are being recognised.

Briggs says:
On the Continent, graphic novels have been as accepted as films or books for many years, but England has had a snobby attitude towards them. They've always been seen as something just for children ... When my Father Christmas was published in 1973, many people didn't consider a strip cartoon to be a real book at all. ... Cartoonists share some of the blame for the fact that their art has not been taken seriously. Too much of it has been superheroes socking people and semi-obscene stuff. But lately there has been much more work with a dignified, serious subject-matter. And as a genre it's increasingly commercially viable.


An article from Newsweek on the same theme.


amir said...

Ah, thanks for the post.

Nice to hear the news. It's about time, really.

Comics are more respected in Europe than in AMerica as a serious medium.

Countries like France and Italy have a thriving comics industry, or so I've heard.

In the States, there have been cases of adult comic book creators being charged for selling adult comic books to undercover adult police agents!

Oh well. There are usually news concerning these things at

He is a supporter of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which has dealt with many interesting cases (and sold many interesting merchandise) over the years.

Ivan Chew said...

To better appreciate the development of comics, I'd recommend Scott McCloud's "Understanding comics: The invisible art" and the sequel " Reinventing comics: How imagination and technology are revoluntionizing an art form". I've posted some notes about them here and here.

I've noticed that mainstream superhero-themed comics, while having become grittier and graphically more violent, have injected more emotions and human fallacies into its superbeing characters or plots (like Batman)... and then there's the Wildstorm 'Team Achilles series' where it's the non-superpowered humans who hunt and kill superbeings). Increasingly, what's getting acceptance among libraries are graphic novels that have well-developed plots and storylines. I can think of Paul paul Chadwick's "Concrete" series, to name one. Try also the "AstroCity" series (a refreshing treatment of the "Super-powered human", where they are more humanised and the plots are often non-violent).

Cheeky Monkey said...

I hope when you say graphic novels, you're including japanese mangas (that are translated into English of course). I'm a big fan of manga and they are not all for children only as some contain graphic scenes not suitable for kids such as violence etc.

You might want to check out,, and

My mum always discouraged my kid brother from reading these kind of comics, saying that it has no educational value, but look at him now. He's studying in a good art school, One Academy, and pursuing what he loves best - drawing.

The manga industry has also been said to rival the western comics. So, I think that says a lot.

bibliobibuli said...

ivan, cheeky monkey - thanks so much for your recommendations and pointers ... i feel like i'm dipping my toes in a very large sea that i hadn't noticed was there before ...

Ivan Chew said...

Cheeky Monkey: yup, I meant "graphic novels" in the general sense. Manga more than rivals the North American comic industry in terms of the range of themes, readership and sales. Like all things in life, there are the positive role models and negative ones. Manga is no exception. A positive example would be a comic credited for reviving a nationwide interest in the ancient game of 'Go' (sorry, can't remember the manga title). Oh, and who doesn't know Gandam? :)

Bibliobibuli: "dipping my toes in a very large sea that i hadn't noticed " -- That's the power of conversations in the Blogosphere!

amir said...

The title is Hikaru no Go, I think.

It's Gundam, by the way - prefer to go by authorised spelling. The peak of the Real Robots craze after the decline in popularity of Super Robots in the Go Nagai era.

While I agree that there are many more varied titles in Manga, the so-called Western comics have as much varied themes.

The difference is that most manga would have a different topic to put forth the same idea.

For example, appreciation of craft, skill, getting recognition or just a simple many-girls-love-one-boy is a pretty common theme in manga.

However, the manga could be about anything - baking bread (Yakitake Japan), cooking (Cooking Master Boy), pirate adventures (One Piece), Ninja adventures (Naruto), space cowboy adventures (Cowboy Bebop), high-school love (Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, Marmalade Boy, Tenchi Muyo, Ranma 1/2) and many more.

Western comics usually use the same topic to tell about different themes or stories.

For example, the super-hero genre is overused, but could still be a vehicle to tell stories of teenage angst, religious belief, critical thinking, cultural clash, ambiguity of morality, the nature of people, and many more.

End of the day, the medium, which I consider to be the first form of literature ever and a predecessor to language and writing has immense potential.

Saying that comics is not a viable form of art is like saying poetry should be wiped off or declaring that pottery is stupid and meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. I think you forgot to include fair warning that anime can be complete *crack* and brain damaging from the POV that they don't bother to make any sense or explain themselves! I'm completely obsessed with Yakitate!! Japan atm - the puns!

And I'm impressed by the reading list of the ppl who have commented. Concrete esp is one of my all time favourites and I didn't think anyone else read that here. Scott McLeod is brilliant, if you need to intellectualise things you read.

I'm recently transplanted - is there like an online group of comic readers of KL? Any direction sign will be much appreciated, thanks.


bibliobibuli said...

Goodness - what have I started? An online graphic novel convention?! It would be nice somehow to harness all this enthusiasm for the form ...

Cheeky Monkey said...

Lol. There are lots of fans out there on graphic novels. And anime is not far off from the subject either.

Anyway, Yakitate Japan is all about baking bread. To me the appeal isn't really so much of the process of making bread but the reaction of the tasters. They are hilarious! Imagine tasting a bread and suddenly you start walking around like a crab. hahaha

Biblio, maybe you'd like to try reading one those graphic novels and who knows, you might be as crazy as us. ;D

bibliobibuli said...

i have to now, cheeky monkey. i don't want to be left out. next book shop trip i'll see what i can pick up ...

hmmm ... just a thought .... i suppose Lat's Mat Som was a Malaysian graphic novel?

amir said...

Yup, Mat Som can be desribed as such, I believe.

As for local online communities on the net, try I think those guys still exist.

It's mostly in Bahasa Malaysia, though.

Comic Fiesta was also held recently at Sg Wang.

I also read an old edition of Asiaweek while at the doctor's a couple of years back and a conservative estimate of the worth of Japanese manga and anime industry back then was a modest US$3 billion.

I'm not sure how much the economists would rate the thing now and whether or not the last figures were reliable. Or my memory for that matter.

Ivan Chew said...

Hey Sharon, I think you'll like Paul Chadwick's "Concrete" if you intend to buy one. There's a compilation of the complete series. Not sure if they have that in Malaysia (I'd like to know though). Oh, and how can I forget about Mike Mignola's HellBoy? The art is some kind of wonderful, I tell you. As for storyline... if you like Indiana Jones type of plot, then I think you'd love it.

Ropey the Unlucky Stickfigure Man said...

One of the best things about graphic novels is that it is the greatest source of new ideas. Some of the most innovative work in fiction are not in the traditional book format, but are in comic book format.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sharon, I don't have an extensive collection with me in KL, but will bring something to lend you next book meet. :)


bibliobibuli said...

amir, ivan - thanks as always for the info and the links

thanks alina for the promise to lend me some

ropey - loved your site! my mind is wide open to new possibilities ...