Ever since childhood, we have been well-versed in the struggles between good and evil. The hero: a portrait of sacrifice, giving up the one he loves for the needs of the many, pectoral muscles that could crack a man’s skull and a licence to wear his underwear on the outside of his leotard. The villain: pure evil, with an obsession for world domination and occasionally sporting a moustache that would make Salvador Dali cry for his mother. This idealised version of the world that comic books have created and sustained has thus been synonymous with bed-wetting and infantile affairs. But then there was: the graphic novel.
Graphic novels and comics share the same medium, combining text and visuals, but there are distinctions that have created a niche in popular culture reserved solely for the graphic novel. The graphic novel narrative, unlike the story arc created by comics such as Spiderman or Superman, follows a storyline that has a beginning, a middle and an end. They can be serialised, but the subject matter often relies on an original script and the content dabbles in fiction, non-fiction and adaptations of literary stories or characters. That being said, the comic genre is no less worthy of artistic merit, but the recent surge of films adapted from graphic novels has catapulted the genre into the realm of high art. No more will adults have to hide behind garage doors, guiltily stealing glances at their prized comic book collections in fear of ridicule.
Sin City, 300, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and the more recent Scott Pilgrim vs The World have all followed the trend in their film adaptations, often copying the comic book format frame by frame. The translation from a static to a moving visual image has brought about a revolution in film narrative by hybridising formally exclusive genres. More specifically, in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, there is a combination of film, graphic novel and video-gaming stylistic elements. Characters burst into coins, Scott gets an extra life and onomatopoeic text (reserved for the arena of comic and graphic novel genres) is incorporated into one mind-boggling visual buffet. And everyone’s invited.
This exposure is well-deserved for the adapted graphic novels and there’s nothing quite like going back to the source. But it is a source that opens up the door to a plethora of graphic novels equally deserving of artistic merit. Here are a few of Perdeby’s favourites to start your journey into the world of the graphic novel.
The ten-book series by Neil Gaiman revolves around the seven brothers and sisters (Dream, Desire, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Delirium and Despair) who have been around since the beginning of time. Things go awry when a coven tries to capture Death but captures Dream instead. They have no idea who Dream is and keep him imprisoned for 70 years before he finally escapes and sets out to repair the damage done to the dream world in his absence (and to exact his revenge). With the lines of reality often blurred, The Sandman makes for a harrowing exploration of the subconscious and of how fragile the ties to reality really are.
Revolving around the most popular characters of Shakespeare’s plays, Conor McCreery and Anthony De Col have created a universe in which Shakespeare himself is a wanted man. Juliet Capulet is backed by Othello and Falstaff in their journey to find Shakespeare so that he can lead an uprising against the rulers of their world. Not far behind is Richard III who forms an alliance with the Macbeths in order to steal Shakespeare’s quill to gain control of their world. In the middle is Hamlet, who is believed to hold the key to finding the elusive playwright. Even though the story is a complete distortion of the classic plays, each character retains their original psychology while functioning in a completely new context. A pioneering and contemporary take on Shakespeare, if ever there was one.
This is a relatively short graphic novel but is nonetheless just as captivating. Seeds is based on how author Rob Mackintosh dealt with his father’s death after being diagnosed with cancer. It’s not as flashy as the other adventure- and mystery-riddled graphic novels, but it goes to show how flexible the medium is in dealing with non-fictional as well as fictional circumstances. It offers an introspective account of loss and grief, which has implications as to how other familial bonds are viewed in the wake of a parent’s death. The selling point is the emotional value of the graphic novel, as it transcends barriers with an honest insight into the shared human experience of death and family.
Illustration: Ezelle van der Heever