Graphic Novels: A Revisit

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A Revisit: Graphic Novels

By Gabrielle Darling

Graphic novels are both an art and literary form. The only words they use to tell the story are through dialogue and internal thoughts. This should limit their ability to tell a story, but in actuality it has allowed for the art to take over building characters, worlds, and story almost entirely. This is no small feat to incorporate two wildly differing skills into one successful book, which is why I’ve listed three graphic novels that utilize both skills to create something different. I’d recommend any of the three to an aspiring artist or writer in order to expand their way of thinking as they both write and draw to become a part of their perspective fields.

The publication of graphic novels has changed a great deal. DC and Marvel are still two agencies that dominate much of the world of graphic novels and comics, but a change occurred in the 1950s. Anti-censorship laws have long been the bane of cartoons, but in the 50s the Comics Code was enacted, which forced a specific set of rules for the content of comics. Adults who believed them to be trash destroyed pre-code comics, but many of the children who were forced to contend with this rule would later start their own brand of comics. These individuals would begin the Underground Comixs era, which specifically made comics as inappropriate as possible in content for sex, drugs, and politics to satire the effectiveness of censorship laws. These comixs were forced underground and were published by private presses. After the initial wave of underground comixs other genres were created and many of them began to experiment with different styles and themes. The themes were not always related to drugs and sex, but often had darker themes of anti-heroes. This era was called the Dark Age of comics where stories such as the Dark Knight series were created. During the 1980s and 1990s small publications formed in an effort to publish a variety of graphic novels.[1] Regular publications would not necessarily take graphic novels due to the debates over content and censorship, but private presses such as Dark Horse began to thrive from the Dark Age of comics.[2] With small presses to print, graphic novels began to pop up and inspire both future writers and artists. I would recommend any of these for a first time reader.



By Jeff Smith

The first is Bone by Jeff Smith. Originally published in 1991 it has been re-released in 2005 to make nine concise issues. This graphic novel follows three characters, Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, and Phoney Bone as they unknowingly make their way into a hidden valley and awaken an evil older than the earth. With their newfound allies – Thorn, Grandma Ben, Lucius, and the Great Red Dragon – they must save the valley and the spirit world from the evil known as the Locust.

This colorful cast of characters is each portrayed in a different cartoon style. From the extremely realistic, to caricature, and finally the very basic cartoon all of the characters fit into the world around them.

Despite the vast differences in appearance, cartoonist Jeff Smith has successfully created a world and a story capable of combining various cartoon styles into an epic saga. Saga is the correct word as the books display a varying degree of darkness and uncertainty as the Locust draws closer. The once playful cartoons and carefree characters take on new roles and responsibilities, which change our perception of their form based on posture, action, and movement.

Although in later editions there are some plot holes and the pacing picks up without character development the series is entertaining. As a writer it is important to experience multiple forms of writing, and I recommend choosing this graphic novel as your first introduction.

Explorer: The Hidden Doors

The second graphic novel is an anthology series by Kazu Kibuishi who wrote the award winning Amulet series. After his success he chose to develop a graphic novel where several writers could submit a short flash-fiction style piece based around a loose theme. His Explorer series ends with the third and final The Hidden Doors. Within the graphic novel are multiple writers and artists who have created stories circling the themes of doors as portals to different choices, adventures, and amazing worlds. In Jason Caffoe’s The Giant’s Kitchen his character states how “[he] use[s] [his] instincts, not a book. Trusting your gut, that’s what cooking is.”[3] A clear theme of trusting yourself to do the job is present while enveloping it in an interesting story with well-developed characters. Kazu Kibuishi’s theme throughout the trilogy has been to take ordinary objects such as boxes and islands and try to spin a story out of an ordinary object.

The series is very successful and allows for many different stories to come of one simple object. This freedom also allows the artists to draw in the style that best suits their story to lend power to the subtle choice of words.

Some of the notable stories within the graphic novel are The Giant’s Kitchen by Jason Caffoe and Mastaba by Johane Matte. Both are noted cartoonists who have published in previous anthologies. If you enjoy flash-fiction you’ll enjoy the quick glimpse of worlds and stories this graphic novel has to offer.


Girl Genius

By Phil and Kaja Foglio

The final graphic novel is Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio. This graphic novel was created in 2000 and has since become a weekly web comic rather than a quarterly publishing.

Girl Genius boasts a strong female lead and the catchphrase “Adventure, Romance, & Mad Science”. Although some would argue for its steampunk nature, it has actually become it’s own sub genre known as “Gaslamp Fantasy” as it incorporates elements of various scientific fields rather than just focusing on engineering and alchemy as most steampunk themes are wont to do.

The story focuses on Agatha Clay – a young lab assistant who lacks “the spark” so many in Europa are born with. “The spark” gives individuals in Europa the ability to create monstrosities and marvels of science, unfortunately without the ability to control most of their inventions. This has lead to chaos within the land of Europa only to be brought to general order by the overlord Baron Klaus Wulfenbach. Yet, Agatha Clay is not all she seems and soon the question of her family line brings trouble far and wide as she wades through lies and secrets in an attempt to find her own “spark”.

If you enjoy humor and adventure this is the graphic novel for you. There are times of tenseness and danger, but every character has their sense of humor and it shines through even when the world is darkest. Agatha Clay mentions, “People keep giving me rings, but I think a small death ray would be more practical.”[4]

The art borders on the realistic side and shows mood and tone through color alongside the action of their characters. At the start of the series everything is given a faded sepia tone and reminiscent of old horror movies with muted color. As Agatha Clay grows closer to discovering her own spark the colors brighten drastically, possibly implying the start of a new age and hope for the world. Setting is an important theme throughout the series as the world is built around an alternative earth – specifically on an alternate Europe, known as Europa in this instance. It describes what might have happened if math and science had taken a drastic turn in earlier centuries. This familiar and yet less familiar landscape carries tones that will point to similar wars and situations from our time, but with a large twist in this skewed reality.

I recommend reading any of these for aspiring writers. They may make you view the importance of certain literary tools in your own writing and art. Graphic novels are under heavy debate for their merits and flaws in the educational, written, and even artistic world, but when two art forms are brought together there is something for everyone to learn and I recommend checking them out. The stories alone are well worth the time and effort, but the additional artwork may just inspire your own stories.

Art by: Jeff Smith, Kazu Kibuishi, Jason Caffoe, and Phil Foglio

Gabrielle Darling is a bookworm and dog-lover. She has published one non-fiction piece and continues to develop her skills because there’s no better pastime than writing.

[1] Verrillo, Erica. “7 Graphic Novel Publishers Accepting Manuscripts Directly From Writers.” 7 Graphic Novel Publishers Accepting Manuscripts Directly From Writers. N.p., 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 08 Apr. 2017.

[2] “Underground comix and the underground press.” Lambiek Comic Shop. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2017.


[3] Kibuishi, Kazu, Kazu Kibuishi, Jason Caffoe, Jen Wang, Faith Erin. Hicks, Steve Hamaker, Johane Matte, Jen Breach, and Douglas Holgate. Explorer: the hidden doors. New York: Amulet , 2014. Print.


[4] Foglio, Kaja, Phil Foglio, Cheyenne Wright, and Brian Snōddy. Girl genius. Vol. 5. Seattle, WA: Airship Entertainment, 2011. Print.



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