A Graphic Novel Odyssey

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With NGC Bocas Lit Fest just gone and the Bim Literary Festival and Book Fair right around the corner, I’ve been focusing a lot on  Caribbean literature. I’ve been also been reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth very slowly, which is not reflection on the book itself since it’s well written. However, I felt like I should take some time to blabber about something that I’ve loved since childhood: comic books.

All my reading life I’ve been vaguely aware of a literary hierarchical structure, with literary fiction and poetry on the top and comic books and/or graphic novels at the bottom.

I just didn’t consider comics with the same eye. My idea of comics was limited to either the superhero genre or works like Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Garfield, Dilbert and Archie. Shiny, soft covered, ‘saddle bound’ works placed before the cash register in JB’s Supermarket. Or as strips in the newspaper near the word games and horoscopes. It was not until sometime around 2008 or 2009 that I realised I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the medium’s potential.

Around that time I decided that I wanted to be writer and my uncle, who is an artist and sometimes contributes to various art and literary publications, gave me a couple web links to an eclectic selection of publications, just to get a sense of all the different forms of writing that were out there.

One of the sites he put me onto was The Village Voice. I loved its raciness and daring. I loved its fusion of intelligently written articles and it’s scandalously unapologetic vulgarity. The kind of stuff I would never see in a local newspaper or magazine.991197

It was there that I saw reviews for David Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp and Marjane Satrapi’s
Persepolis
. Around that same time I got copy of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman from an independent book seller in Trinidad that closed down last year. Mazzuchelli showed me the graphic novels’s capacity to tackle philosophical problems. Spiegelman and Satrapi showed me it’s potential as an autobiographical medium.

Then, last year I did a MOOC through coursera on graphic novels and comics. I got sense of the evolution of the comic book. I learned to look at superhero genre differently. I learned to consider text and images into the context of panel placement, size and shape and how the gutter width (the space between panels, rows and columns) could affect the pacing of the story.

I learned about other major players in the medium, like Chris Ware, who won the Eisner Award (named after Will Eisner, an important figure in graphic novel history), Alison Bechdel, Gene Yang and Daniel Clowes.

The course is being offered again this September for anyone who is interested.

My favourite superhero graphic novel is Batman: Year One written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzuchelli. My favourite graphic novel ever is Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Right now I’m into a new series called Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. A kind of intergalactic antiwar story, which I think is beautifully illustrated.

I’m also going to check out the local comic book scene. I’ve heard about a lot of good stuff coming out of Beyond Publishing Caribbean like Diskordia by Rivenis Black and Life and Death in Paradise by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch.

I think that the juxtaposition of art and text creates a lot of opportunities for storytelling and I look forward to reading more graphic novels.

Kwame

Photo Credit: Goodreads, Goodreads

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