Graphic Novels and Comic Books have a long standing relationship with Super…things. Superheroes, Super-villains, Super-agents, Super-teens…and super-zombies? Sure, why not.
But the tide is changing has changed. And we have a new superhero.
Back in 2004, Charles McGrath wrote a piece for NYTimes, entitled, Not Funnies. He wrote:
What you’re looking for is shelved upside down and sideways sometimes — comic books of another sort, substantial single volumes (as opposed to the slender series installments), often in hard cover, with titles that sound just like the titles of ”real” books: ”Palestine,” ”Persepolis,” ”Blankets” (this one tips in at 582 pages, which must make it the longest single-volume comic book ever), ”David Chelsea in Love,” ”Summer Blonde,” ”The Beauty Supply District,” ”The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Some of these books have titles that have become familiar from recent movies: ”Ghost World,” ”American Splendor,” ”Road to Perdition.” Others, like Chris Ware’s ”Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” (unpaged, but a good inch and a quarter thick) and Daniel Clowes’s ”David Boring,” have achieved cult status on many campuses.
These are the graphic novels — the equivalent of ”literary novels” in the mainstream publishing world — and they are beginning to be taken seriously by the critical establishment. ”Jimmy Corrigan” even won the 2001 Guardian Prize for best first book, a prize that in other years has gone to authors like Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer and Philip Gourevitch.
And certainly over the past few years, these characters, these literary equivalents of superheroes, have further emerged. The super real life person. Graphic novels and comic books have expanded to detail the lives of wimpy boys, alcoholic novelists, and even our President. There is nothing particularly super about these people, except that they are super real, which makes the graphic presentation of their story feel somewhat surreal.
Following side-by-side with this trend is the novel-to-graphic novel adaptation. My favorite books at the moment are Sterling Publishing’s Illustrated Classics series. Including Kafka’s The Trial, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a collection of short stories from Edgar Allan Poe, and (GASP!) Wilde’s Dorian Gray.
With the increase in attention for graphic novels, it’s clear that publishers are starting to see this comic-style presentation as a true literary art form, not just a flimsy, monthly release to keep the extroverts at bay.
And truly, we owe it all to Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar.