Fiona Purdon in The Courier-Mail January 21, 2011
They can be called visual books, long-format comics, comic-strip novels and picture novellas, but are most commonly known as graphic novels.
And while the graphic novel genre started out appealing mainly to teenagers, publishers are hoping the entry of blockbuster authors such as James Patterson, Dean Kootz and Audrey Niffenegger will change this.
Publisher Erica Wagner says the trend of heavyweight authors joining the ranks should boost sales. "It's a good thing," she says.
Brisbane Borders store manager Wayne Ewin, whose shop offers Queensland's largest number of titles - about 2000 - agrees. "It definitely makes it (the genre) more acceptable when larger authors get involved," he says.
"We are living in a golden age of graphic novels (in the United States). If it hasn't happened yet in Australia, expect a major tidal wave coming to your shores."
Niffenegger, known for her 2003 best-selling novel The Time Traveler's Wife, says The Night Bookmobile is her third graphic novel. The art teacher at Chicago's Columbia College considers herself only a small player in the genre which has a long and rich history in the US.
"People were surprised but most people don't realise that I'm an artist, that I've been teaching art for decades. That's what I do. The writing thing is a hobby.
"I like the idea that people might pick it (The Night Bookmobile) up by mistake . . . and like what they see."
Niffenegger says that unfortunately most graphic novels do carry an "intellectual stigma" and she believes many people who say they do not like graphic novels have never read one.
Borders' Ewin does not think graphic novels will ever reach the mainstream status in Australia that they have in several European countries, the US and Japan, where they account for 45 per cent of sales. He says the store's biggest demand (80 per cent of graphic novel sales) is for the Japanese-style Manga comics. He says that although the genre's popularity is growing, there is not yet a strong Australian culture for novels with pictures.
"At the moment people see them as a comic or kids' book even though a lot of the books contain adult content," he says. "People don't feel like they are reading a real book for adults."
Wagner says that if any book can convert graphic novel greenhorns it is Melbourne author-illustrator Nicki Greenberg's new release, a 423-page presentation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. "If we can't win them over with Hamlet, which is such an extraordinary book, and should appeal to people who love and collect books, then I don't know what will," she says. "It's a brilliant introduction to both graphic novels and Shakespeare."
Greenberg spent three years bringing Hamlet to life. She found the graphic novel form the perfect style to depict Shakespeare's complex story because she did not have the constraints of a normal text-based format when illustrating key scenes such as the dream sequences and the ghostly appearance of Hamlet's father.
"I wanted people drawn into the amazing story and gripped by the drama of it," she says. "There's so much to interpret with every character and scene.
"When people think of graphic novels they have in their mind the Manga (Japanese-style graphic novels) or superhero comics but they are two styles that don't appeal to me . . . there are a lot more graphic novels out there," she says.
Niffenegger says that Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (1986), detailing his father's experiences in the Auschwitz death camp helped bring graphic novels into the mainstream in the US and spark a renaissance.
There is more at The Courier Mail.
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