graphic novels

graphic novels
   Graphic novels are comic books (see comics) of novel length published in hardback or paperback and unified by a main theme. They can be complete stories in comic book form, or serials collected into one book. Most graphic novels published in Britain are reprints of American and Japanese texts. However, many originators in America such as Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and Neil Gaiman are British. Main publishers and distributors for the British market are Titan Books, Boxtree, Penguin, Manga and Mandarin.
   Although there have been graphic novels in America and Europe since the 1940s, mainstream popularity in Britain remained elusive until the 1980s. Promotion of graphic novels may have been a public relations exercise by the American comic book industry to gain a wider audience for their products. In 1986–7, three key texts reworked traditional comic book genres. The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, and Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, interrogated costume, identity and power in the superhero. In Maus, Art Spiegelman described the Holocaust using ‘funny animals’: Jews were mice, Nazis were cats. The success of the Big Three led to a boom in sales. Graphic novels seemed to have achieved respectability by being stocked in public libraries, reviewed by the quality press and included in popular culture, art history and English academic courses. However, the hype surrounding the ‘Big Three’ and the notion that comics had grown up proved hollow when sales slumped in the early 1990s. The graphic novel audience remains predominantly male, aged 16–30. In the past five years, readership has broadened and become younger. This may be due to easier accessibility through major book chainstores rather than only through specialist comic books shops. Globalization of mass media has led to a growth in syndicated texts. There is a increasing popularity of spin-off stories from American science fiction television shows and films such as X Files, Star Trek and Aliens. Interest in Japanese manga is fuelled by video games and animated films (anime). Some graphic novels have achieved mainstream recognition by crossing over into other media such as radio (Death of Superman and Knightfall were serialized on Radio 1), animation (Spawn, Batman) and film (Tank Girl (1996) and Barb Wire (1996)). The potential for exploration of adult themes promised by the boom remains largely unfulfilled. Mainstream British audiences tend to perceive comic books as a children’s medium. Some creators have produced books that explore mature themes. Mr Punch (Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean) and The Tale of One Bad Rat (Brian Talbot) deal with child abuse. When the Wind Blows (Raymond Briggs) explores the effects of nuclear war.
   See also: comics; comics culture
   Further reading
    Sabin, R. (1993) Adult Comics, London: Routledge.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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