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    From Kryptonite to Palestine

    Published on 02/05/2014 by David Birkett

    As the world (although it's probably largely America) celebrates Free Comic Book Day tomorrow, this week's blog discusses the evolution of what has come to be called the graphic novel.  Those sorts of books of which Alice (she of Wonderland fame) approved - i.e. that contain pictures - are no longer excluded from serious literary consideration and respect.  In fact, graphic literature, especially when it deals with the world's most pressing social and political issues, is now considered an essential element in the output of most major publishing houses. 

    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 Swamp Thing, which is much better than it sounds) brought new sensibilities, subject matter and, to be frank, sheer ability and creative intelligence to a genre that had 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 beckoned them from the tradesmen's entrance to the front door.  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, and move it away from the superhero realm, until today we have such books as Persepolis (which deals with Iran following the Shah's overthrow) and Palestine read without embarrasment (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.  Other European cultures, moreover (especially France) had never scrupled to view this form as respectable.



    To end with a couple of recent personal favourites (you'll gather I'm partial to to theme of things being giant): The Gigantic Beard that was Evil, by Stephen Collins, is a witty, plangent fable (written in verse, to boot) about the impact of an uncontrollable growth of facial hair upon a society obsessed with conformity and neatness, while Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson, combines adult and children's themes and ideas with a beautiful, bold, visual sensibility to produce a delightful modern take on the fairy story.  Do e-mail us or Tweet (to @TheGBBookshop) your own recommendations.

    Happy bank holiday from all at The Great British Bookshop.



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