April 14, 2008

various publications

I have an article about a maternity hospital in Haiti in the May issue of The Walrus, and a little essay about writing graphic novels up on the The Guardian's books blog.

I actually sent The Guardian this version first, which if you ask me was far more interesting and appropriate, but it got bounced for failure to comply with their house style rules, alas:


Panel One
Young Jon – chubby, bespectacled, geeky – stands in front of a rack of comic books, totally engrossed in an issue of The Uncanny X-Men. Batman, Spiderman and Superman stare out at us from the rack behind him.
CaptionTwenty years ago, this was what comics meant to me: melodramatic tales of implausibly proportioned superheroes.
JonThis is awesome!
CaptionNot that there's anything wrong with that.
Panel Two
The same layout as Panel One. Present-day Jon – tall, strong, devastatingly handsome – stands in a modern bookstore, in front of a rack labelled "Graphic Novels", reading Louis Riel. Among the books behind him are Sandman, Maus, Palestine, Persepolis and Watchmen.
CaptionBut they have long since escaped that literary ghetto, and of late many authors who made their names as novelists (such as Jonathan Ames and Mat Johnson) have turned their hands and minds to comics.
JonThis is excellent.
CaptionSo when Vertigo Comics asked me to script a graphic novel for them, my initial reaction was -
pure trepidation.
Panel Three
Over Jon's shoulder as he stares at a laptop screen, on which is written:
The Executor
(a thriller about dark secrets and racial tensions in a small town near a Native American reservation)
Jon (thinks)What am I doing? I'm a novelist. Words in a row, that's what I do, that's what I love. How can I turn my back on them in favour of pictures?
CaptionI needn't have worried. Anyone who has read eccentric British genius Alan Moore knows that elegant, inventive prose and compelling images can live in perfect harmony...
Panel Four
Close on Jon as he reads a book called Understanding Comics
and a light bulb goes on over his head.
Caption...though that wasn't the direction I took for my first script.
Jon (thinks)Aha! Visual storytelling. Like directing a movie in my head! I'll dive into the deep end and make it as visual as possible; strip the story down to nothing but pictures and dialogue.
CaptionGraphic novels are naturally cinematic, which is why so many – such as A History of Violence and Road to Perdition – have been adapted into excellent films.
Panel Five
Split panel. On the left, artist Andrea Mutti working at his sketching table. I've never met him but imagine him as Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh in Lust for Life, except with more ears. On the right, an irate Jon reads from his laptop.
CaptionAnd like films, they're a collaborative medium. Authors are accustomed to being dictators, but comics are a bad medium for control freaks.
AndreaAh, yes ... the rules of visual storytelling, which I have been studying for twenty years, require a whatchamacallit here.
JonWhat is he doing? The script clearly calls for a doohickey, not a whatchamacallit!
CaptionA lot of negotiation and letting go of ego was required on both sides for the book to work. But I couldn't be happier with the results.
Panel Six
Jon leans back in his Aeron chair, reading The Executor in book form at last.
CaptionIt's nice to be working in a burgeoning medium, and for a publisher eager to experiment, at a time when agents and editors speak grimly of the "declining readership" and "tough market" for most novels.
JonThis is awesome!
CaptionBut I think the main reason authors are turning to graphic novels is simply this: they're all kinds of fun to write.

2 Comments:

Blogger Matt Hobbs said...

Shame they didn't run that version. Chris Ware would have been artist of choice for sure.

9:19 a.m.  
Blogger Finn Harvor said...

"Graphic novels are naturally cinematic"

Yep. But getting publishers to accept that this is the dominant cultural reality of narrative is another story ... partly, I think, because of hide-bound ideas of how literature should always work (the key word here being "always"; there's room enough in contemporary culture for both traditional novels and more cinematic ones).

4:04 a.m.  

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