Fast Forwarding Graphic Novels

Fast Forwarding Graphic Novels

If you wanted to start an unending argument at this week’s Wheeler Centre event try saying “But what is a graphic novel?”. Nothing incenses comicocenti more. For some the graphic novel was a movement, a kicking open of a creative door that had kept comics locked up in the same form as Scrooge McDuck and Superman. Depending on where you stand the form was hijacked by superheroes, marketing departments repackaging serials as trade paperbacks or, worst of all, literature professors labelling Maus as paraliterature.

March of the Machines

While the rest of publishing is twitching nervously about the e-book, the graphic novel has a healthy future. Rather than fearing e-books, the graphic novel has more to offer new technology. Don’t just take my word for it – look what the iPad has done with Alice in Wonderland based on the original illustrations by John Tenniel from the 1860s.

We’ve already seen web comics skip print, but the graphic novel will interact, shake and play to become a new species.

Illustrators looking for a career path should see Jamie Hewlett. In the 1990s Hewlett came to fame as the illustrator of Tank Girl, but he slipped out of comic covers to dream-up the visuals for Gorillaz who in their latest album, Plastic Beach, have become an animation, game and live shows of a fictional band.

Jamie-Hewlett Copyright © Jamie Hewlett.

Then there’s the stage show Monkey: Journey to the West that featured animations and costumes that meant Hewlett had moved right off the 9-panel grid.

With the visual power of the internet and new devices, comic artists have the potential to create some of the most exciting cross media stories.


Just as the job description for comic creators we’ve already seen the graphic novel change. Shaun Tan’s Tales of Outer Suburbia nimbly mashed text and images to be something between short stories and comic strips. The forthcoming Five Wounds by Jonathan Walker calls itself an illuminated novel harking back to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

The boundaries between graphic novels and novels have become murky - if there ever were any. ‘Literary’ authors are moving closer to comics from David Mazzucchelli’s adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass to Jonathan Lethem resurrecting Marvel superhero Omega Man to crime writer Ian Rankin penning DC’s Hellblazer.

Depending on where you are in that debate about what graphic novels are, this may be the corruption of the great write hope or evolution of a new graphic artform. In Australia the answer lies in how well-supported creators are to increase audiences and take creative risks in whatever you want to call the form.

George Dunford will be chairing the panel Australia 2050: The Future of the Graphic Novel with Zoë Sadokierski, Bernard Caleo, Dylan Horrocks and W Chew Chan on Saturday as part of the Wheeler Centre’s Graphic Novel weekend.

In support of the Wheeler Centre’s Drawing Out, Drawing In: Spotlight on Graphic Novels events happening this weekend, Readings has had guest bloggers talking about Comics and Graphic Novels online every day this week. We’ve also heard from:

Five Wounds

Five Wounds

Jonathan Walker, Dan Hallett

$39.99Buy now

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