Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I wrote in the comments here yesterday that one of the tasks facing an author who has a book coming out is to create the context in which it will be received. This is actually of crucial importance. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. The author may be advancing ideas or characters established already in his previous books or in somebody else's, and the people who would like to know may miss hearing about it if he or she does not speak it loudly and clearly. The author may wish to be seen in a certain company, and get the prime mover of that circle to write them a note of approval. They may want to be regarded as a humble practitioner within a genre or a vandalous subverter of the same genre, and they may lose the battle if they do not make it clear which. They may want to appeal to adults and get an international Vodka distiller as backer, or to teenage boys and get a video-game company on board. It's all part of the context. The problem I always face Is that I have to try to make adjustments to a context that has already been established by people who see no contradiction in calling a book by definition 'a hardcover trade paperback' or in describing two identical copies of another book as 'These two graphic novels.'

12 Comments:

Anonymous Iain said...

No-one looks at JM Coetzee and says, "Well, Dan Brown does NOVELS. We don't want want people confusing what Coetzee does with Dan Brown so we need a new name for what Coetzee and the like do."

People understand that the novel covers a massive spectrum of styles. They'd understand it about comic books too if some people weren't so ashamed of the term and promoted it instead of running away from it (and they'll never get away from it).

26 August 2009 6:04:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been wondering if trade paperback caught hold because of the direct market? I seem to remember the term used in Diamond's Previews and Capital's Advance Comics, both of which I suppose would have used it to market collections as something news-stands wouldn't get, therefore it was for the shop trade, or something. And your punter would buy Previews and pick the term up. God knows how we ended up where we are though. Anyway, while we're on the subject of names, have you ever revealed where the name Alec MacGarry came from?

26 August 2009 6:06:00 am GMT-5  
OpenID scrr said...

I think it depends on who you are talking with...
"From Hell" for instance, I'd not mind calling a Graphic Novel in conversation with about anyone. But when it comes to a spined Superhero thing, then I wouldn't, and would just call it comic book.

("Trade paperback" is to be avoided as a term always, except when making sure the comic book shop orders the correct item for you.)

It comes down to what's worth defending your stance for - I'm willing to defend From Hell as a work of literature.

Da Vinci Code is indeed a novel, and doesn't need further justification... But such are the injustices of living in the funnybook ghetto.

26 August 2009 8:47:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger MarkSullivan said...

True about the term "novel." No one expects the term to mean anything other than "a fictional prose work of at least a certain length." But then novelists must take pains to identify what sort of novel it is. Genre classifications may exist mainly as marketing tools, but they do that very well. A new book-length comic would still need a clear identity to make its way in the world, even if the generic terminology for comics wasn't so hopelessly confused.

26 August 2009 8:48:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

...but aren't most terms given things in history, given as jokes or misunderstandings, to begin with, anyway. I say, lets just give it up as a bad job and have done with it.

26 August 2009 8:52:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Jams_Runt said...

I was listening to a local (SF Bay Area) radio show in which they had an hour long talk Marjane Satrapi gave. She spent a solid eight or nine minutes at the beginning of the talk explaining how she hates the term "graphic novel" and thinks of her work as "comics" and herself as a "cartoonist." During every station identification break the host would say, "We are listening to graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi..."

Bringing the conversation around to the ideas will always be an uphill struggle. As long as people can feel smuggly superior to everybody else because they know WATCHMEN is a trade paperback collection and not a graphic novel, no amount of sense is going to get them to relinquish their sense of insider status.

Personally, I've been a big fan since "The Complete Alec" days and have pushed your fine work on many a friend. I have always had better luck getting people who hadn't already read a lot, but very few comics, into your work, than I have people who knew their Frank Miller from a hole in the ground.

26 August 2009 10:58:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Michael Grabowski said...

It could always be worse. One's life's work in comics could just as easily end up being colloquially described as a series of "phone books."

26 August 2009 11:06:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Liz Up The Hill said...

Bring back the pubes. Far more interesting ;)

27 August 2009 5:49:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger B Moore said...

Re defining the context - here's a video interview with Darwyn Cooke, in which he talks about book design choices made for his adaptation of Richard Stark's THE HUNTER:

http://ifanboy.com/content/video/San_Diego_Comic-Con_2009__Darwyn_Cooke

(Near the end of the 20 min. or so video.)

Also interesting: it will be available an an iTunes download as well.

27 August 2009 10:04:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Excellent.
The talk about causing the clerks in the store to shelf the book where he wants it to be shelved, in the crime section, simply by the design of the cover and the title/indicia pages.
exactly the sort of thing I'm referring to.

27 August 2009 10:33:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Michael Evans said...

Neil and Dave have a new book out, called Crazy Hair. It is being marketed as a children's book and certainly my daughters love it. However there is no less art, story or hard work in it than Signal to Noise, allegedly a 'graphic novel'. I call them books, they all go on my bookshelf, right next to the Penguin Classics, Harry Potters, History of the Christian Church, Green Lantern Archives and immaculately photographed cookbooks. All. Just. Books. Why is this still a topic of debate?

29 August 2009 6:26:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous glowstsm said...

"However there is no less art, story or hard work in it"

while I concur wholeheartedley on your "just books" larger point, there's VASTLY less story in a short poem written in an hour than in a year's-serialised narrative that's Attempting To Get Across Big Themes

ie, it's fair enough that all 16pp picture books aren't shelved with the 386pp prose novels

etc

30 August 2009 8:32:00 am GMT-5  

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