The comic book and the graphic novel
Works of art are considered art in what they can make viewers, readers, and listeners portray and feel within their minds. A painting can dispense certain emotions with its scenery and colorful display or wonders on how the artist was able to articulate certain brush patters in a certain area. A story book requires human imagination to take the wheel as the words build structures and exposition in the mind. Both are art, but both require something from the participating human in order to get the full effect. Movies require no effort from the human besides their attention and basic understanding to achieve their sensory goals. The beauty of film is what they can manage in terms of emotion given visuals, color, sound, music, artwork, and CGI. Comics, on the other hand, can do something no other work of art can: give the reader a choice.
Comic books are works of literature with artwork of varying detail and quality laid about the pages, typically confined in rectangular outlines known as panels. As of more recent times, the term “graphic novels” has sprung up as series of comics have begun to age and have multiple versions. See, comics are usually released in soft cover books, called issues, over a schedule. The stories are not released at once, instead having each issue be a continuation of the last, more-or-less. Think of it as releasing five minutes of a ninety-minute movie in sequential order on YouTube every week until it is over. When a plotline is over, the authors can release the next issue as if it were a whole-new beginning without the need to wait a few years, slap a number two on the end, and have a horrible “punny” subtitle.
Graphic novels have come into existence for multiple reasons. The first reason is that they are compilations, collections, and anthologies of already existing series. Take the character Spider-Man, for example. The Amazing Spider-Man series of comics has reached over eight-hundred issues as of 2018 and continues to this day. Tracking down all eight hundred just for the sake of the pleasure of reading is too much effort, so putting all of them into one binding and calling it a graphic novel works much better. The second reason is that authors and artists have been able to create comic books the length of your everyday novel. An example would be Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which is around three hundred pages. The last reason is the fact that comics and its characters have hit the mainstream and people want to justify them by giving a more mature name, like graphic novels. It recalls me to a cartoon where some snooty girl made fun of a boy’s toys and called them “dolls,” for which the boy replied saying “no, they are action figures.”
Thanks to the efforts of Marvel Studios and Disney’s acquisition of the brand (and other companies that owned Marvel’s intellectual property), comic-book movies have skyrocketed in popularity and quality. Superheroes and comic characters have become a normal thing in entertainment. This normalization and the rise of the web has led to comics being distributed digitally for all to enjoy. People have started drawing their own comic panels and teaming up with writers to incorporate dialogue and narrative to the artwork, proceeding to release them online.
Saturation in the medium provides options upon options for all. With more artists and storytellers, more comics are requiring different things from readers. Some artists have many movements happening between panels, only being supported by the before and after frames of the full movement. If you have a panel with a character walking down the street at night, have he or she be in front of a coffee shop. To encourage the sense of movement, create the same image, but remove the coffee shop and replace it with a bank. The reader must decide whether or not there are buildings between the shop and the bank or what color they are, etc. Unlike animation, not all aspects of movement are shown. The black lines separating the panels are the thirty frames missing from the animation of walking. This is the middle-ground between a movie (film, animated feature) and a novel. Hand-drawn animation, when each piece of paper making up each frame is laid out in sequential order, is a comic without the speech bubbles. A film, when shot on reels of film, is, once again, a comic. The difference between these are the fact that every bit of movement and detail is shown when every piece is present. Comics don’t do that. They leave bits and pieces, even large portions, to the intuition of the reader. It is exactly like how a novel creates images in your mind as you read it. The one difference is how quickly and accurately those images are created. The sentences “Mom washed the dishes in the kitchen. Joey snuck himself a piece of candy in the meantime” have the brain create the scenery in a certain order. Switching it around and saying “Joey snuck himself a piece of candy while Mom did the dishes” is a bit better in terms of the speed in which the brain constructs the scene. Still, there is a sequence. Words need to be in an order and need to meet certain criteria in grammar before introducing new subjects and prepositions. An image lets the brain download the entire scene at once, since comic panels are somewhat small most of the time. So, a comic doesn’t leave the reader entirely alone visually like a novel does, but doesn’t show everything like a film or animation does, giving comic readers some room to use their imagination, but gives a great sense of how things should look, displaying the comic illustrator’s artistic vision properly.
Durham, Meenakshi Gigi., and Douglas Kellner. Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Blackwell Publishers, 2001, https://we.riseup.net/assets/102142/appadurai.pdf.
The MIT Press. “Understanding Media.” The MIT Press, The MIT Press, https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/understanding-media.