Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Funny Thing in Vegas- Graphic Novels

The Vegas Valley Book Fair featured imagery that bounced off the pages this year in words illustrated by color, texture, and panels rather than paragraphs. In the last twenty years, comic books have become far more than a trip to Krypton and a laugh with Archie. They are hand held films, with rich plots, scintillating sub-plots, and a surreal walk away from the literary page. Characters aren't just sculpted idealistic visions of what the human form must be. They are well-spoken, deeply intelligent, and highly emotional personalities that take on the world with the intricacies of the most well-written Dickens novel, and the drama of a Shakespearean archetype.

Neil Gaiman, known for his motion picture scripts, young adult novels, novels, and innumerable other projects spoke at the Festival this year, about the work he has a passion for- the graphic novel. He spoke of the world being too focused on passing by us for anyone to absorb words for any length of time. But he also spoke to the idea that vision is beyond the written word for many writers, and his decision to be involved in theater, film, and children's books are as a large part of his life as his best selling novels. Sometimes showing someone what you are talking about gives the imagination a larger canvas to run amuck, play, and the opportunities for creativity are vast and ever-changing.

Storyboard novels are not a new medium. Egyptian tombs are filled with stories and legends told in pictures. Cave drawings give viewers the stories of large hunts, horrible weather fiascoes, and daily life. Most motion picture studios have storyboard artists on staff who help directors map out the vision for the feature- with museums carrying this artwork throughout the world. But over the last twenty years, the idea that writers could use illustrations in a format that was different that standard children's book art has taken on enormous financial potential with the success of Hell Boy, Sin City, and dozens of other shows, plays, music, and movies.

Why create a visual version of written words? Our society has transformed greatly from one that would absorb hours of storytelling, radio, and even movies, to one which has a passion for the remote control, a fascination for Japanese Anime, and the desire to have things microwaved, downloaded, and delivered in moments. We have lost our love for simply sitting and enjoying, and have gained a need for the NOW. Graphic novels offer fast reading for some. Others devour images for days at a time, transforming the stories past the imagery and short paragraphs into full mind-movies. They also offer a taste of art, and all that art encompasses.

Not all graphics are dark, nor are they always about super-heroes or super-humans. Some are written as Alternative Role Playing Games, (ARG's), and are interactive. The reader only learns the answer to a mystery, for example, by playing a part in the story. Some are playful, and mirror the lives we lead. There are graphic novels that are historically based, and feature such characters as Benjamin Franklin and Marie Antoinette. Still more feature serials of tales, following a time line of a character or even a location. A large growing market is that of Romance, and sexually based stories.

Another form of graphic novel is Manga. This is a style of drawing developed in Japan, that is a 4.4 Billion Dollar business. The market includes horror stories, as well as fantasy, historical, and science fiction. This form of imagery has inundated Western markets. Large eyed, rounded characters appear on sparsely decorated backgrounds which is in contrast to the finely detailed, crisp lined images which appear in books published by companies like DC and Marvel. Like any book, the market is dependent upon the stories told, and some are definitely not the g-rated images you would find in some comic books.

In Las Vegas, there are nearly a dozen specialty graphic novel stores. This is in contrast to the dwindling number of mom and pop book stores, and smaller used book shops. While standard literary options seem to be disappearing from the Valley, great numbers of art based stores are moving in. On the First Friday event, which takes place in the Charleston District near Downtown, more art galleries are featuring Graphic Novel imagery in their regular scheduling. Even spoken word shows are now showcases for those who are drawing stories rather than telling them. The artform is so popular that the Clark County Library System now features graphic novelists in their authors panels.

The future for writing in Southern Nevada may be not just in the craft of using adjectives and verbs. There is a great, visually starved reading public here. It's part of what's funny about Vegas- we're becoming the graphic novel center for the Southwestern United States, with small publishing houses popping up every day. We may have lost our Star Trek Experience, but we are fast becoming the sci-fi mecca beyond the desert. Next time- The Interloper!

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