Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Rise of Graphic Novels

The Guardian takes a look at the skyrocketing critical acclaim of graphic novels in the past years.

From the story...

A comic book about the Holocaust starring mice changed that. Art Spiegelman's Maus, a graphic memoir about his relationship with his Holocaust-survivor father published in full in 1991, was a critical hit and in 1992 Spiegelman was awarded the Pulitzer prize. "Art Spiegelman doesn't draw comics," proclaimed the New York Times in its rapturous 1991 review. "Maus … is a serious form of pictorial literature."

Pictorial literature was born. Then graphic novels, then sequential art, then graphic memoirs. All seemed more palatable than plain old comic books, which critics still couldn't quite get their heads around. "The success of Maus was something of a false dawn," said comics historian Paul Gravett. "The comics industry thought mainstream publishers were finally going to wake up to comic books, but it didn't happen. Publishers didn't know how to market them."

Instead, there was a gradual creep. In 1998, the publishing director of Jonathan Cape, Dan Franklin, was given a manuscript by his children's division. "They said, we don't think this is for children, do you want to publish it?" he said. The book was Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs, a heartbreaking graphic memoir about the author's parents. It sold 200,000 copies. "It gave me a rather distorted view of how well comic books might do," said Franklin, "but I fell in love with the form."

Jonathan Cape began publishing a select list of comic books each year. In 2001, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian first book award. "Chris Ware was a watershed," said Franklin. "Suddenly, people were talking about it. Comics had gone overground." Cape has since published some of the most respected comics of the past decade: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi about her life in Iran, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel about her secretly gay father, and Palestine, a long-form work of comics reportage by Joe Sacco.


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