Posts tagged graphic novels

The Adventure of the Dying Detective

Sherlock Holmes is one of the smartest (fictional) detectives in history. I love his stories and that’s why I was so pleased to see the new Graphic Novel Adventures of Sherlock Holmes!

The Adventure of the Dying Detective book coverMy favourite so far has been The Adventure of the Dying Detective. Sherlock Holmes is near death from a mysterious tropical disease; can his loyal friend Doctor Watson track down Holmes’s enemy,Mr. Culverton Smith, who may be the only person who can cure Holmes?

A gruesome one is  The Adventure of the Cardboard Box. When Susan receives a cardboard box that contains two human ears, she calls in Sherlock Holmes. He knows at once that a sailor has committed TWO horrible murders and thinks the solution to the mystery is so easy that he doesn’t want people to know that he worked on such an easy case. I didn’t find the mystery so easy to figure out but maybe you will!

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The Art of Hybrid Novels, Part One

I am currently immersed in the last few months of work completeing a hybrid illustrated novel. “Monkey Boy” (Scholastic 2014) is not a graphic novel or comic, but a hybrid of traditional novel and comic sections. As an author and illustrator it was a natural format for me to be drawn to as there are things that each art form does better than the other. But there are also things about each art form that really bug me. However, when I started working on this hybrid idea five years ago, I didn’t know that any such thing existed. In those five years (it’s taken me so long because I have too many other books to do) the art form has come a long way. In part one I’ll talk about some comic/novel background and in part two I’ll give you an exclusive glimpse into the world of my junior fiction hybrid novel “Monkey Boy”.

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I first encountered comics in the form of my dad’s Eagle annuals from the 1950s. These were a great source of entertainment when we visited my grandparents orchard in Twyford, Hawkes Bay. The artworks were (and still are) stylistic and sophisticated – especially the fantastic “Dan Dare”. And being post WW2, it was full of guns and violence with nary a hint of PCness. Eagle annuals were also my first exposure to the amazing Ronald Searle. The inside covers sometimes had one of his crazy scenes and, although I have never studied Searle specifically, those images must have had a subconscious influence on my work, especially the busy and crazy pages of my “Looky Book”.

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ABOVE: my “Looky Book” and Searle’s “Fall of St Trinian’s”

When I was about eight I discovered Footrot Flats, the wordless comics of Mordillo and the wonderful world of Asterix. The last has gone on to have a huge affect on my work. Not in style, but in the energy and action, the atmosphere and environment of Albert Uderzo’s art. One of the biggest influences have been the references in Asterix. The series pays homage to everything from popular TV shows, to Shakespeare and latin quotes, to famous events in history and great artworks. For me, this is something very important that keeps a book alive. As you get older you keep going back and discovering new meaning and appreciation of these books. It also helps keep parents enthused when reading over and over and over again – or just passing on their love of books to their children. This is something that I try to do in my work too.

I had a brief interest in 2000AD, but it was at the Auckland University of Technology that I was exposed to the serious world of comics, however, not through the arts faculty, who considered comics and film making to be nothing worthy of a degree in Graphic Design. Maybe that was why I ended up doing both comic and film studies! (contrary little tyke!). It was here I discovered an unknown young comic writer called Neil Gaiman (who has since gone on to become my favourite author), who along with Dave Mckean (the Picasso of comics) practically invented the genre of graphic novels. Gaiman and Mckean didn’t produce cliched superhero stories – but novels, told in comic format. “Mr Punch”, “Violent Cases” and “Signal to Noise” are among the finest examples. Mckean, along with other artists like Kent Williams and Bill Scienkiewicz made comic panels that looked like works of high art and whilst incorporating film editing ideas into their storytelling. Below is a panel from Gaiman & Mckean’s “Signal to Noise” about a film maker trying to make his last great film before cancer takes him (If you can’t read it – the guy in the first panel asks ‘how long have you got to live?’)

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But not all comics are as elegant. Basically I find it’s largely an form where each artform is in competition instead of harmony. Humans are trained to follow the words and they flick over the artworks to get to the next line (unless you have a lovely panel like the one above). Meanwhile, incredible bulging superhero artworks try to outshine everything else on the page. I personally read the two art forms separately. First I read the story and then I go back and look over the pictures – which I find is an unsatisfying combination. I feel bad when I read a comic, as I flick over the pages and worry about the poor artist who spent a week painting one panel which takes me 10 seconds to glance at. There are incredible graphic novels – but like any artform, 90% is fairly average. Then we have a work of real brilliance like Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”, where the comic format is allowed to unfold, without the need for words. In this book I find myself lingering on the images and it can take 15 minutes just to ‘read’ one page.

So what about novels? I have to laugh when people claim that there is a NEW trend to put illustrations in novels. Pictures in chapter books have been around as long as the printing press. 100 years ago, some of my favourite artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Maxfield Parish were doing incredible work on books aimed largely at adults – I have a gorgeous “Romeo and Juliet” illustrated by Rackham a century ago. Today the tradition of novels with chapter illustrations has been largely confined to junior and teen fiction. In the best of children’s books and comics, words and pictures work together to fill in the spaces left by the other artform – but for some reason, as we become more sophisticated and move up to junior fiction and teen novels the relationship between words and pictures gets dumber.

My main problem is that often each artform repeats the other. That may be Ok when reinforcing words with beginner readers, but as a sophisticated art form I find it a bit shallow. In particular, I often find that English and American books have the strong hand of an art director telling the illustrator what to draw (usually something passive and inoffensive to the reader’s imagination). When I have illustrated novels I have pushed hard to inject something new in-between the lines of the text and capture some of the energy and action of the scene.

In the last ten years we’ve had a zeitgeist moment – obviously many artists across the world have come to the same conclusion, myself among them, that putting large illustrated sections into novels is a really cool idea. Hybrid novels are often the work of author illustrators and I’ve been thrilled to discover the variety of forms they can take. There’s Brian Selznick’s “Hugo Cabret” and “Wonderstruck”, where the novel and illustrations are clearly separated, allowing you to really ‘read’ the illustrated panels (as I mentioned with Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”). What about Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” – I love the simplicity of his line drawings and how he makes great use of the two art forms. Often the pictures tell you another story than how our narrator sees things as in this hilarious page from ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Days’.

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Chris Wooding’s “Malice” is a great concept when a group of teens are transported into a comic world, with these sections naturally told in comic form (although I think it is let down a bit by the artwork). My own work on “Dinosaur Rescue” with Kyle Mewburn has been a great experience/experiment. There is often a great merging of storytelling with words and pictures each filling in the other’s gaps. One of my favourites hybrids is by one of my best-loved illustrators – Chris Riddell’s “Ottoline” mixes perfectly a sparseness of words which are completed by his magical illustrations. It is something that I believe can only REALLY be achieved to perfection by a single author/illustrator, and there are many others out there.

I’m thrilled that my “Monkey Boy” is being published by Scholastic as they are the natural home of hybrid novels (including several mentioned above). In part two I’m going to talk about my five years work on “Monkey Boy”, and what form I’ve tried to achieve.

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A white-edged raging defence of comic books

There are two words which, when mentioned together, are guaranteed to get me frothing at the mouth in a barely controllable rage: ‘reluctant’ and ‘reader’.

The term reluctant reader is tossed about by the unthinking and the well-meaning in equal measure. It’s usually aimed at boys of a certain age, and I find it completely and utterly repugnant. I’m probably over-reacting (I have a tendency towards ranting) but hear me out.

I’ve seen it used as a pejorative: I suppose this book might be popular with the reluctant reader set. As if a book that kids actually want to pick up and read is somehow a bad thing. This sneering condescension is at the heart of a boorish them-and-us mindset from adults who ought to know better. You know the type: Tarquin and Jacinta devour books like starving geniuses, but Johnno (eye roll) well, I suppose not everyone can be a READER.

First of all, bully for Tarquin and Jacinta — good for them. Second of all, geniuses or not, they warrant no more or less consideration in their learning than does Johnno. How dare anyone be consigned to the big bin labelled HOPELESS because they don’t happen to share your ideal of what constitutes a good book. Perhaps if snotty parent/teacher/librarian could put a clothes peg on their nose for long enough to consider for a second that maybe Johnno doesn’t read because he thinks The Famous Five is outdated tosh, and he would be more than happy to lose himself in a story if only someone would show him a good one.

Which brings me to the subject of comic books. 

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I read a colossal number of comic books when I was a kid. Cracked, Cor, The Beano, Peanuts, Donald Duck, Richie Rich, The Archies, Phantom, Commando, Twilight Zone … and the daddy of them all: Mad Magazine. Under the careful tutelage of Alfred E. Neuman, I was introduced to literature and movies, to history and geography, to satire and word play. It piqued an interest in US history that continues to this day. Its soft scepticism and lack of reverence for authority probably nudged me towards my early career in journalism. When I was done reading textbooks or set novels, it was towards my stack of Mad Magazines that I gravitated. The owner of the local second hand bookstore would keep any fresh titles aside for me, knowing full well that I would buy them. For an inquisitive 11-year-old, they were my window to a mad world.

So rather than branding a kid as a reluctant reader, maybe they just need the right thing to read. There aren’t so many classic comics being published these days, but there has been an explosion in the field of graphic novels. If you’re worried your kid isn’t reading, I’d spread a bunch of graphic novels around the house like cockroach baits. Just like the real thing, they’ll start nibbling soon enough. You’ll be surprised where it can lead.

 

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The Adventures of Tintin movie trailer

I’m so excited about this movie!  I’ve loved Tintin since I started reading about his adventures when I was 8 and the movie looks amazing.  We have all of Tintin’s adventures for you to read in the library and you could read The Secret of the Unicorn before you see the movie.

Want to win some Tintin books?  Make sure you tell us about your favourite graphic novel for your chance to win this week’s Reading Crusade Challenge prize.

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Graphic novels – just another way to tell a story

My name is Garen Ewing and I’m the author and artist for a graphic novel called The Rainbow Orchid.

Graphic novel? What’s that?

Put simply, a graphic novel is a term used for a comic (as in ‘comic strip’) that is published in longer book form. It may be a book that collects lots of shorter episodic comics together under one cover, or it may be a comic that is created and published as a book in its own right. Graphic novels and comics can be about anything – adventure, science-fiction, biography, superheroes, soap opera, comedy – it’s a medium that is able to accommodate any genre you you can think of! There are comics for boys, girls, children, teenagers and adults … everyone. It’s just another way to tell a story.

But what an excellent and compelling way to tell a story! Comics are a wonderful fusion of words and pictures that engage both halves of your brain and pull you right into the tale from the first panel. You can make anything you want happen in a comic and you don’t need a huge special effects budget to do it. Basically, comics are great!

So what is The Rainbow Orchid?  A few years ago I wanted to make a comic that would be the perfect story to suit my own tastes; a comic, basically, aimed at readers just like me. So it’s got everything in it that I love – a soaring adventure story featuring ancient mysteries, exploration and plenty of excitement and intrigue. Many of my favourite comics come from the ‘Franco-Belgian’ tradition, particularly those that are drawn in a ‘clear line’ style (such as Hergé’s Tintin, Jacobs’ Blake & Mortimer, or Chaland’s Freddy Lombard adventures), so that’s the style I decided to lean towards when I drew it.

The story itself concerns the search for a rare and possibly mythical orchid that takes the main character, Julius Chancer, and his friends from the south of England to France and then on to India and the hidden valleys of the Hindu Kush, with a bunch of nefarious villains in hot pursuit.

Read my next post to find out how I create a graphic novel.

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Reading Crusade Challenge – Week 6

Week 6 Challenge – Graphic Novels

Try a graphic novel, comic book or manga this week.  There are lots of different ones to choose from, whether you like Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke, Avatar: The Last Airbender, X-men or Spiderman.

Tell us about your favourite graphic novel and you’ll go into the draw to win Volume 1 of The Adventures of Tintin and a book about the author and characters behind the graphic novels.

See below for Terms and conditions  Read the rest of this entry »

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What is your favourite graphic novel?

Vote for your favourite graphic novel now.

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