Sunday, March 29, 2009

graphic novel

Some buzzwords are euphemisms deployed to add gravitas to their subjects in an attempt to win greater respect and mainstream use. One that has become common in today’s media is ‘graphic novel,’ an overly elaborate way of saying ‘comic book.’

In the comics publishing industry, it is not a new term, dating back to the 1960s and ‘70s, when a number of collected series and longer original works were occasionally published in squarebound formats and marketed as graphic novels. By the late 1980s, such formats had become part of many comics publishers’ regular output (sometimes marketed as ‘trade paperbacks’).

Today, however, as comics have made their way into bookstores, they are often referred to collectively as ‘graphic novels.’ This adoption of a buzzword has coincided with a substantial rise in the North American popularity of translated manga—Japanese comics that have long been published in squarebound volumes anyway, without any branding differentiation needed for the Japanese market.

The term’s use reeks of elitism, as though graphic novels were for those who would not deign to read lowly comics. This is nonsense; longer-form comics are still comics. And the medium remains itself no matter the particular publishing format. Indeed, many comics are published online today.

The buzzword’s use became particularly galling in early 2009 in the marketing campaign for the movie Watchmen, based on a 1980s comics series. In interviews, everyone involved in the production uniformly referred to the source material as a graphic novel—including its artist, Dave Gibbons. Yet, Watchmen was not originally published in a squarebound format; and its writer, Alan Moore, wrote in 1997 that ‘graphic novel’ was simply “a marketing term that I never had any sympathy with. The term 'comic' does just as well for me.”

Moore notably wants nothing to do with Hollywood adaptations of his work; but one might nevertheless hope Hollywood understood what it was adapting.

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