Tuesday, 23 October 2012

From Kryptonite to Palestine

It may not have escaped your attention, possessing as I feel sure you do a pair of finely-honed literary antennae (I can see them now, their delicate stems glowing in the limpid Autumn sunshine) that those sorts of books of which Alice approved - i.e. that contain pictures - are no longer excluded from serious consideration and respect.  In fact, graphic novels, (or verbal comics?) especially those that deal with the world's most pressing social and political issues, are now considered an essential element in the output of most major literary houses (at least I assume it's most - I haven't done anything tedious like actually to check).

I feel particularly interested in this habilitation of the genre, as I witnessed its beginnings in the late 1980's from the perspective of one who read traditional superhero and fantasy literature stories when they were just plain comics, or at best 'quite long comics'.  The genre experienced a benign upheaval as artists and writers like Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) and Alan Moore (Watchmen and the infinitely superior Swamp Thing (no, honestly, I kid you not)) brought new sensibilities, subject matter and, to be frank, sheer ability and creative intelligence to a genre that barely recognised such things.  Bliss was it in that dawn to be a fanboy (an affectionately derogatory term for an obsessive follower of tights-wearing super-types) as the media exploded into raptures about these works, and the literary establishment gradually ushered them away from the tradesmen's entrance.  The creative fervour that produced this reaction seemed, however, to die down, only for less conspicuous but more insistent waves of resurgence and reinvention to continue the process, until today we have Persepolis and Palestine read without shame (or false covers) by the literati.  Of course, there has for an age been excellent, thoughtful work in the panels and speech balloon category that didn't involve superheroes (Will Eisner, Love and Rockets, etc) but the people who knew about this stuff tended to be the same ones who read about The Mighty Wow Person and his arch-nemesis Zark the Dismal.  It seems that a retrospective amnesty has been granted to these previous generations of 'serious' panel-based creators, which can only be a good thing.

On a recent birthday outing, my wife treated me to a basket-full of graphic stuff from the formidable Forbidden Planet shop in Shaftesbury Avenue.  I derived almost as much pleasure from witnessing her culture shock in this emporium as I did from spending an unfeasible amount of time catching up on what was out there and selecting a few choice morsels.  To leave with a couple of recommendations: among my favourite purchases were: The Color of Earth, by Kim Dong Hwa, the first part of a trilogy exploring a Korean girl's transition to womanhood and her relationship with her mother and Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson.  The first is an exquisite, frank and subtle piece of narrative art, the second an imaginative fable for most readerships, including adults who want a darned good excuse to read picture books again.


1 comment:

  1. Have still not managed to get back to 'The Swamp Thing' comics after the sex incident (Yeurggghhhhhh!!!!) Am also still recovering from finding myself the only female in the basement at 'Forbidden Planet'.....
    Your loving wife, Helen X