The examples above are comics and graphic novels that I’ve read and want to read. The relationship between the narrative and the style is interesting in Thornhill by Pam Smy. She went for a traditional illustration on one page and full text on the other. It felt like a graphic novel and a book of fiction mashed into one. Normally you expect to see panels and dialogue or captions. That wasn’t present and it was really interesting to see how much energy was in the pages. You could get lost in the words knowing that you didn’t have to read a ton of dialogue, but then look at the picture to get a sense of the world being created and examine the details. This style really appealed to my inner child as the format was something I would have experienced in the Enid Blyton books and coloured graded readers books from the Ladybird series. As an adult, I could engage with this realisation while enjoying an excellent read.
Craig Thompson is well known for Blankets. A giant of a graphic novel and one of my first introductions into this area. The image here features his travel journal sketches. I engaged with this more as I felt the energy from his line work and the text was a lovely way to engage with what was viewed at that moment. His graphic novel is full of varied panels, some of it I found engaging but there were parts that I found didn’t work for me. It has been a while since I read it, but the black and white brush pen style was chunky and easy to follow. A lot of the styles I’m drawn to are often made with brush pens and in black and white. The brush pen captures a lot of detail in the stroke and the variation of the line adds interest. It creates a beautiful flow rather than a straight line.
black and white formats are easier for printing as it is cheaper, but it is also easier to produce if you are looking at a tight deadline. On saying that, the skill of knowing where your blacks lie in the panel is important so that it stands out. For the City of Glass, a number of hatching techniques created a contrast for the panel and some texture for material. The main character had black hair, so it was easier to follow him in each page.
Tillie Walden opts for a light watercolour wash to bring her images to life. The black and white works well and the watercolour just lifts it a bit more off the page. Her style of drawing oversized characters is a wonderful way to show how they place themselves in their world. They are the big features of their life, everything else around them is just insignificant to them. Their speech is easy to follow, and the text is simple. No complicated dialogues.
Tintin is here because I love the figures and have always been drawn to the colour palette and simple and clean lines of the details in each panel. I’m aware that it hasn’t aged well, and controversy surrounds it, but from a stylistic perspective it has such a great relationship with primary colour and secondary colour palettes and the pacing in the panels is great. There is a definite sense of well-timed action.
As a stark contrast to all these well drawn lines and accurate depictions of anatomy, Becoming Unbecoming Una has a delicate subject matter addressed through the use of simple lines and mixed media. There are not a lot of tight boxes with dialogue in this book. It is telling a story from the 80s and tells it with a mix of childish drawings to echo the persons experiences and thoughts at that time. It is a tricky read and may trigger some but the manner in which the subject matter is addressed is very well considered.
Which is most important in making the story work?
There are many times when I despair that the artwork in a comic is not great and the story is harrowed by it. Then there are times when the art is fantastic, but the story is rubbish. A successful graphic novel or comic has a coherent and well thought out story to it and the art should support that story. Sacrificing one over the other is a terrible act and unfortunately one that happens often. There are times when I read a story and know it was published for the subject matter and the art was a side thought. It is celebrated for the style and the story, but I think sacrificing the quality isn’t a good idea.
Over the years I am learning to appreciate different styles and can appreciate that when the story is good but the art is not, that is okay. There are many ways to express a story and the important thing is to tell it. For example, Hyperbole and a half, a fantastically badly drawn comic strip and deliberately so. It has a quirky, childish quality about it that captures the energy of the situation. In the simplest of lines it conveys so much and the message is relatable and so it sits with you, makes you laugh more often than not and quite simply, it works.
A comic that offers you a moment of humour is a powerful one. Superhero comics have a storyline that can go on to infinity, the Marvel series has a fantastic ability to weave stories and overlap them and relate them all back to one another. This translated to the movies and the storyline overlaps were amazing to discover.
Making a story work involves a few things. It has to have a good plot and the characters have to be believable and if possible, relatable. Maus by Art Spiegelman,is one of the first graphic novels I read, based on interviews between him and his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and a Holocaust survivor. The mix of history and the exploration of the artists strained relationship with his father, are the power behind this graphic novel. We are reading about the cat and mouse game that cost millions of lives and then we are looking at how the artists relationship with his father is trying to heal from a lifetime of trauma. The characters translated through mice was a powerful visual tool and one that stays with me.
So overall, the more relatable the comic is, the better. That doesn’t mean you have to walk in their shoes, but it does mean that if the story is told well and that the art supports the telling of it, that you can engage with the moment of it’s telling and leave with something of value.