When I was younger my father would buy me the Dandy comic every Saturday. The comic is sadly no longer in print. You can read it online but the original paper comic, usually with a free lollipop or sherbet dibdab, doesn’t exist. I loved this comic. The tales of Desperate Dan and his cow pies were part of my childhood and I would spend every Saturday morning reading and enjoying each panel. It was only recently that I realised this was literature.
What is a story? For anyone interested there’s a whole course at Bangor University on this. When asked by our lecturer what makes a story we all said pretty much the same thing. Words. A story has to have words. He smiled at us, turned down the lights and then started to play an episode of Pingu on the big screen. No words were said but a story was told. It got me wondering what else I had missed as being a story. But Literature by its very definition needs words. A written work of lasting merit.
Well, the Dandy has words. True they’re captured within speech bubbles and are usually fonted in comic sans but they are words. A story is told. As for Lasting merit, the Dandy ran for 78 years and is still remembered fondly by those who read it every Saturday like I did.
The difference between the Dandy and Mansfield park for instance is the pictures. A comic doesn’t need extensive language and metaphors to describe what’s happening because the pictures do that. A story is told through two mediums making it clear and concise to all involved. There will never be a time when someone questions the wording or the meaning of a panel because it is always self-evident
I’m going to move away from the Dandy now. It’s a great comic but it may not be the pinnacle of artistic genius to make my point with. For me that can be done with two comics or as they should be known, Graphic novels. A weekly comic is the ultimate short story collection. A graphic novel is something far more detailed and far more impressive.
The first of them I’ve chosen is Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman Chronicles.” For any of you who continue reading this blog on a regular basis, you can expect to see quite a bit more of Neil Gaiman. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time but had never come across his Graphic novels until a couple of years ago. I devoured them! They tell the story of Morpheus or as he’s better to known “ The Sandman”. These books for me were the ultimate marriage of fantasy and art. The story will capture the minds of any fan of the genre and the artwork of Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, is sublime. For any Graphic novel fans reading this, The Sandman Chronicles have my ultimate recommendation.
The Second is one that I believe will appeal to all readers. I think that perhaps the main reason Graphic Novels aren’t read by more people is that they are associated with a genre not everyone is fond of i.e the Superhero and Sci-fi world. This is why Craig Thompson’s “Blankets” is such a welcome find. There’s no Caped Crusaders or mysterious villains. This is an illustrated autobiography of the author’s first encounter with love. The whole book is in black and white and has a stunning beauty throughout, both in terms of the artwork and the story. This maybe isn’t a book for the diehard superhero manga fan. This is for anyone who appreciates art, or has felt like an outsider, or remembers the first time they fell in love. The relationship between words and pictures in this is so strong that I don’t think it would work as a simple novel. That being said, I think I’d probably hang some of the pictures in my apartment without the words.
Blankets opened a whole new door into Literature for me. A story doesn’t have to be just words but at the same time, a graphic novel doesn’t have to be children’s cowboys or magic superheroes. By combining the experiences real life has offered all of us mixed with two of the most emotive mediums for expression we find a whole new way to tell stories. This is why I read Graphic novels. This is why there will always be room for them on my shelf.