The Rise of the Graphic Novel

When I first started my blog, I figured I’d be reviewing books about once every fourth entry or so. That was every two weeks when I was writing here twice a week. Now that my entries come once a week, that’s only once a month. You’d figure I could stick to that since I read more than that.

I would promise you I’d get better…but I’d be afraid I’d break that promise. So, I’ll just say that I’ll try (not that any of you are screaming for more book reviews from me).

So, Full Sail recently hired Dr. Simone Caroti to teach in the Creative Writing BFA program. Dr. Caroti is an old school chum of Dr. Tof Eklund (who also teaches here), and both have a strong academic interest in the comic/graphic novel medium. They have provided me with a mighty large supply of “new” material for me to read.

My first read was actually a book on Kirby, but the one I’m going to talk about here is The Rise of the Graphic Novel by Stephen Weiner and published by NBM. If you were to ask me to guess—and I know ONE of you would have—I’d say this was probably written for a different format initially, maybe some academic journal? The book itself isn’t that long, only about 60 pages long. Each of the 14 chapters are only a few pages long, making for a very quick read.

That said, it still seems pretty thorough. The “origin” of comics seems very short, but once he hits the 1950s, Weiner pretty much discusses every major “period” in comics. In fact, the first half of the book is pretty much just “comics.” While academically nearly everyone gives Will Eisner credit for producing the first “Graphic Novel” as well as coining the term, I find it odd that none of them, Weiner included, mention the Marvel graphic novels, which—I suspect—was the real introduction to the format for most fans. In the same irritating fashion as the “literary” publishing world, it seems academics are quick to ignore the things that sell well and are popular with fans and instead focus on the things that struggle to operate in the black (if at all).

The Rise of the Graphic Novel by Stephen WeinerI don’t want to give you the impression I don’t think Eisner deserves this credit. He does! He was a pioneer and his work is studied by many professionals today (including me). I simply think that most fans were introduced to “graphic novels” not by Eisner, but by the Marvel line of graphic novels. Additionally, I think most non-traditional comic fans were introduced to graphic novels via Pulitzer Prize winning Maus, which probably did more for the format than any other single publication or event. Weiner also emphasizes the important of Maus.

One thing that is still not clear to most readers is how loosely the term “graphic novel” is applied to a whole host of publications. Ideally, one would think of a “graphic novel” as a long form story told in comic sequential art style. The problem is that more often than not, publications deemed “graphic novel” are in reality a compilation of generally four of more standard sized comic books (22-28 pages published in a monthly format).

Regardless, this is a good read for serious comic fans and for the really-really curious non-traditional comic reader.

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1 Comment

Filed under Books/reading

One response to “The Rise of the Graphic Novel

  1. Dave

    Sound like SOMEBODY needs to write a small (or not) book about the early Marvel books and their influence.

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