Saturday, 3 July 2010

Comics will be the culture in the year 3794 - Salvidor Dali

The Guardian featured a recent article on graphic novels, which immediately caught my eye. What particularly interested me was the writer's admission that for years, 'picture books', were to her, just read by nerdy men.

In a lot of ways, something there resonated. However, I grew up with graphic novels, mostly in the form of Asterix, but more importantly, the work of the legendary Posy Simmonds. I did not realise it at the time, but they were helping to shape my humour, as well as beginning to hone my observational skills. As a child, I thought in pictures. I lived in pictures. I drew things daily. I played out my drawings, creating characters with costumes and accents. The world was a giant, living, colourful graphic.

Then I suddenly stopped reading graphic novels. Perhaps it was a time I was discovering Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen. I became entangled amongst Chekhov and Harold Pinter. I wanted the word. I dreamt pretentiously of acting. I also became obsessed with film and cinema, particularly Hitchcock, and perhaps this fulfilled my visual need.

But I forgot. I forgot the magic of the drawn image that had been conjured as a kid. I forgot that graphic novels weren't all superheroes in silly tights, read by greasy teenagers (an unfair stereotype if ever there was one). I forgot there was more to a cartoon than met the eye.

Fancying reading something different, years later I remember picking up a copy of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta that was lying on the floor of my friend's bedroom, amongst fag ends, Vogue mag, Sex in the City DVDs and photograph negatives. It seemed a tad out of place.

I quickly rediscovered my love affair with the graphic novel. I stayed up all night to finish it and the next day I re-read the Posy Simmonds books. It was back. For not only did I enjoy the comedy and witty observations of 1980s life, I could appreciate fully, for the first time, jokes and insights that had been lost on me as a child.
I dug out the Asterix books from the cobwebs of my parents' attic. I even rescued the Tintins. The drawings were visual delights. The stories entertaining yarns. Tintin books had taken me to far away lands as a kid. And I still used to refer to Asterix books for a lot of my Roman history knowledge.

I have since been amassing and reading as many graphic novels as I can. I had already spent years studying photography and art. I was being submerged back towards the still. And whilst I am not a particular fan of superhero books, I adore the medium more than ever. And it brought me back to drawing.

What fascinates me most about the graphic novel is how diverse they come in style or form, in theme or type. A Posy Simmonds novel is beautifully drawn in intricate detail, but often with a lot of text. Her observations portray the minute of middle class life perfectly. Daniel Clowes' Ghost World is more 'cartoony' and yet simply beautiful in the illustration, depicting adolescence so wonderfully tragic and yet so humorously enjoyable. Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is graphicy and drawn on computer and more text heavy, a memoir of personal experience, tender, tragic, self discovering, dealing with sexuality, of coming of age. Alan Moore's From Hell is a sketchy graphic tale of gloom and grim 1880s London, taking you back to the Ripper murders, in a wonderfully gruesome world that seems so vivid and real. Like Maus, a rather more crudely graphic novel that deals with coming to terms with the Holocaust, with the characters as animals, these images stay in your vision when you have long put the book down and closed your eyes tight.

Do not be fooled into thinking graphic novels are not literature, not worthy for study, not 'serious' enough to be treated as art. Or that they are just for kids. Or for nerds. Even if I, admittedly, am both a nerd and a kid.

My top ten favourite graphic novels at the moment, it changes (and is in no order):
1. Ghost World - Daniel Clowes
2. From Hell - Alan Moore
3. Tamara Drew - Posy Simmonds
4. Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth - Chris Ware
5. A Drifting Life - Yoshihiro Tatsumi
6. Fun Home - Alison Bechdel
7. Roach Killer - Jacques Tardi
8. Maus - Art Spiegelman
9. Exit Wounds - Rutu Modan
10. American Splendor - The Life & Times of Henry Pekar - Robert Crumb

1 comment:

José said...

I have always thought that graphic novels have been unfairly treated. As you point out, so many of them contain a depth of detail and observational acuity that belies the initial impression.
I love graphic novels and try to read them as often as possible. 'Watchmen' and 'the Dark Knight Returns' are two favourites in the traditional 'superhero genre' but I am still struck by the graphic novel version of 'When the Wind Blows', more so than the film. Asterix and Tintin were huge influences on my life, I learnt to read because of the Beano and the Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks (not graphic novels per se but still of the artform)
I haven't yet read a number of those you list, but will be seeking them out to do so.
A very interesting post.