Monday 27 June 2011

The Spaniard in the Works (part 2)

In the event that the following may bore the arse off you, here is a funny face in a Spanish elevator.

So El Tio Berni (Alberto really. It takes an eternity these days to sort out people from their online monikers) was asking me about ‘the graphic novel’?
When, I ask myself, did they become interested in that? Spain has its own names for the comics. I was last here in 2005 and there was no hint whatsoever that they needed an extra one. As soon as I got home, I looked it up in Wikipedia. I mean Wikipedia (Español). Novela gráfica or, in translation: graphic novel

and I find myself astonished.

The wikipedia page is perfect in its simplicity. It looks like something I might have constructed myself. It describes the subject as a movement and names its important practitioners, Clowes, Sacco, Seth, Satrapi, etc. and so far it’s only 168 words into the article. Contrast it with the American one, a tedious wilderness trek which takes you through three weeks of ‘definition,’ scrolldown through another fortnight of ‘history,’ through cave paintings and medieval tapestries, then examines every miserable claimant to being the first graphic novel, and by the time you get to something that matters, say Maus, you have read 2,655 words (out of an end count of 3,821) and completely lost the will to live.

And the Pictures. The American version has images by Kane, Corben, and Gulacy that represent the onset of the late mannerist phase of comic books, with absurdly posturing heroes. The page really is a grotesque embarrassment and it should be deleted. The Spanish version by sublime contrast just shows a well-stocked corner in a book store. Nothing misleading there. The page was established in 2004.

But when did they start talking about la Novela gráfica?

Blogger The Watcher, in a post of 31 Mar 2009, conveniently explains the terms used in Spain and when they kicked in.: Tebeo, cómic, novela gráfica. (don’t try to read this only in Google translation, which makes a massacre of a subject which is already at best a dog’s breakfast). The medium was originally referred to as historietas, or small stories. Tebeo comes from TBO magazine, which originated in 1917 and by the late 1930s sold in quantities huge enough to give its name to the whole medium. I think the English language word ‘comic’ crept in around the 1970s when the history of the American newspaper strip started to be celebrated internationally, When Raymond, Foster, Caniff etc. were raised to the level of old masters. Spain has always been good at publishing these old masters, and The Watcher might be surprised to know that they were never as familiar to the average comics reader in the USA as they are to him. I have several books in Spanish that were not, or at least not then, available in English editions, including a set of ten slim volumes of Stan Drake’s Julieta Jones. And finally, we have the arrival of la novela gráfica, which the Watcher concludes is a ‘chorrada’ or, roughly translated, a ‘turd’, though a year later, and I like the cut of his gib, he changes his mind.

As I look deeper into the subject I find a document quoted all over the place which I thought was a thing that had had its brief moment in the world and was put to sleep four or five years ago. I‘m referring to a thing called Eddie Campbell’s manifesto of the graphic novel. If you've never heard of it, off the top of my head I can think of six places where you can find it online in English. here's one. The Spanish Wiki page links to a translation at 68Revoluciones (posted May 2007). Pepo Perez posted a different translation last year. I also know it in Portugese and French. It's the most widely disseminated thing I have written. It has been well described as "a not-altogether-serious document that is also not altogether kidding." In Spain when journalists want to explain 'graphic novel' they quite often reach for my little manifesto. I wrote it in the first place as a demonstration of a way to stop my comrades from arguing about the meaning of words, thus promoting confusion and discord to the world at large, when it would be useful instead to promote our ideas.

By Dec. 2007 in Spain, the term graphic novel had made such inroads into cultural awareness that
"The Online Literary magazine offers readers a special titled "From Comic to graphic novel', which contains 15 articles. The supplement has been coordinated by Luis Garcia and among the articles that comprise it are by novelist José Ángel Mañas, the poet León Vicente Muñoz Álvarez, the cartoonist Angel de la Calle and principal of, Manuel Barrero." The pieces are more or less interesting; to give a sense of the tone, one from the postmodernist viewpoint talks about Alan Moore and Watchmen and describes From Hell as "a masterpiece that teaches how to make metaliterature without sacrificing the literature."

Everything is going well until the comics expert steps up. Manuel Barrero, in a lengthy essay titled La novela gráfica. Perversión genérica de una etiqueta editorial (Perversion of a publishing label) writes:"Eddie Campbell, the artist of From hell, a comic book calling itself a graphic novel even though it was previously serialized, has erected in defence of the neologism a manifesto, stating that the graphic novel comprises a new art form, a movement, a 'cause'. This elitist approach generates a quality judgement that can lead to separation of categories of readers (cultivated vs uneducated), the fragmentation of the possibilities of the medium...etc"

To put it bluntly, Barrero is not somebody I would choose to represent my medium. In the above illustrious company he has embarrassed himself with his cultural provincialism. Who else but a comics fan would think that a text that has been previously serialized has disqualified itself from being a novel? Where does this business about qualifying come from anyway? In the larger world of writing (we'll leave 'literature' out of it for the moment) such a notion must sound curious indeed.

However, Spain luckily has representatives of a more cosmopolitan cut. (continued in part 3)

Funny Face Alert!



Blogger gervilches said...

Hello, Mr. Campbell. I'm 'The Watcher', just want to thank you for the mention and for the effort you take to read spanish texts... As you tell, that post, 'Tebeo, cómic, novela gráfica' explains my old ideas about the word. Of course, even by then I strongly thought that in the last 20 or 25 years, a new way of making comics had appeared, very different to the tradicional, industrial way. I just didn't like the term 'graphic novel', for several reasons... but now, as you can read in the more recent posts, I don't mind the term anymore. People here in Spain are using it more and more, so it's ok for me. The important point here is the comics and the authors, not only how someone call the books, in my opinion.

Regards from Spain,

Gerardo, the Watcher.

27 June 2011 at 19:23:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Loris Z. said...

Hello Eddie,

We are having similar discussions here in Argentina regarding the Graphic Novel, basically as a consequence of small publishers entering the bookstore chains and the big ones finally deciding to publish new works and translate/import existing ones.

The one big thing we're facing here is that many outlets are starting to promote graphic novels as just adaptations of existing literary works, as you can guess everybody who's ever held one in their hands knows that it's just a tiny fraction of all the possibilities of the form is up and screamin at these people.

The website of Librería Hernández (one of the biggest bookstore chains here) gives this description:

The genre of the graphic novel presents new approaches to the texts already known. Born from the comics, the graphic novel has its own development proposal, where the literary itself is held on its own.

(this is a google translation, slightly modified in order to stop (only a little) the scraping of nails on the chalkboard).

Their stock list is almost 50% adaptations, when in their physical stores the shelfes include many many more works, of all kinds.

On the other hand, Clarín (the biggest newspaper of the country) is selling on these days a weekly "Graphic Novel Collection" featuring adaptations of books by Oscar Wilde, Kafka, Conrad and Dostoievski.

More works on the streets and at accesible costs are always a good thing for us, but we're starting to be preoccupied of these people's labelling.
To close this, I've really enjoyed the interview you gave to berni at Entrecomics. It's a pleasure to see you blogging again.

Take care and best regards,

--Loris Z.

27 June 2011 at 19:33:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I'm with you all the way. I like that you publically retracted your earlier statement. I'm coming back to that in my narrative. And I like your blog very much indeed. I want to thank you for always being the first to review my books.
As you probably also know, I myself have been at war with the term for some time, but you guys in Spain have inspired to start getting positive.
very best to you.

27 June 2011 at 19:44:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


Good to hear from you and thanks for the info. You know, I've seen your name but didn't realize you ar in Argentian. The major point I will be putting across shortly is that this thing is INTERNATIONAL, so stay tuned, I'm only just getting started.


27 June 2011 at 19:47:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Loris Z. said...

Hi again Eddie,

I'm actually Italian :) but I'm living here in Buenos Aires since 1994.

Glad to hear that, I'll make sure to follow the discussion.


27 June 2011 at 19:50:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pablo Guerra said...

Hey, Eddie.

It was great finding your post. A few days ago I was having a twitter discussion about the Graphic Novel and your work was a very interesting reference, especially regarding the sense of constant exploration one can still associate with the term. Instead of setting strict definitions and rules, the key for me is following a set of movements that are making new and exicting thing with comics.

Here in Colombia, the "novela gráfica" effect has been very positive. We don't have a strong comics industry so creators and independent publishers have been able to keep the rules of the game as changing and as close to their interests as possible. At the moment, the latest titles are: "Parque del Poblado" (El Poblado Park) by Joni b; "Virus Tropical" (Tropical Virus, surprisingly) by Power Paola; and "Bastonazos de ciego" (an expression that refers to a blind person feeling his way using a white cane)
by Andrezzinho.

I concur in saying this is an international thing (I wanted to write movement but it feels more like a set of movements).

Pablo Guerra.

28 June 2011 at 00:49:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous José Torralba said...

Dear Mr. Campbell

I don't know what Barrero would think about your words, but your own manifesto states that "graphic does not mean anything to do with graphics and that novel does not mean anything to do with novels". So you should also understand that serialization in Literature also doesn't mean anything to do with serialization in Comics. Unless your criteria was arbitrary, of course...

Nevertheless, in Spain, there is no agreement on the graphic novel affair. Your perspective has been skewed by the authors you've talked with and by the book La novela gráfica, by Santiago García. But, in fact, we are constantly arguing around –at least– three conceptions of the graphic novel: graphic novel as an international movement of authors, graphic novel as a publishing label and graphic novel as a publication format.

I personally thinks that the graphic novel is a publishing label strongly associated with a publication format that has both catalyze a wide range of movements all along the world (and history), by providing not only this publication format but also an entire industry (literary publishers, distributors, retailers and readers) that doesn't sell serialized comic-books. Consequently, the same work could be identified as graphic novel or not depending exclusively on the serialization (Diamond and Direct Market) or not (not only the Direct Market). And more important: as you have strongly denounce, this graphic novel label is used by traditional publishers (as DC, Marvel or Image) as well on their TPB in order to achieve the same market. And the New York Times Best Seller list proves so.

Also, nowadays you can buy either Tatsumi's A Drifting Life, Oesterheld's The Eternaut or Spiegelman's Maus. Adult comics with very different traditions, all of them publicly sold as graphic novels, but that only under a very poor holistic thought could be mixed-up on a unique international movement. Even contemporary authors diverge: Satrapi not only doesn't like "the graphic novel thing" but also has a subtext, a background and a style quite different from Chris Ware (very attached to design, for example). You could probably say "but this, that and those" but, is the THING clearly defined? I don't think so. I think that we need historical perspective and that García & Co. obey promotional, social-dignifying and well-hearted (they are not like Ellsworth M. Toohey) purposes rather than theoretical ones.

About you... I've recently read your interview in Entrecomics and publicly criticize your words. I can't understand how an author like you –with amazing conferences about the nature of the written text– suddenly defines Literature and literariness as a matter of significance, structure, adulthood, importance o placement (on a bookshelf besides Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde or Cervantes!). What a nobby-foppish-midcultish way of speak, I thougt! As if Brown's The Da Vinci Code wasn't a literary book, or as if children's literature didn't exist, or as if Maus couldn't be beside the Citizen Kane DVD or The Goldberg Variations CD.

Could you please explain your words on that interview, please? Because I felt very disappointed. Because, in my opinion, Comics could be Literature if we considered semiotic and structuralist literary theories. But not such points like yours, based on a supposed quality or meaningful that Literature has and Comics haven't before the Graphic Novel thing.

Best regards and kindly yours...

28 June 2011 at 03:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley Campbell said...

Oh, man. I'd forgotten what it's like having you loose on the Internet.

(She of the funny face.)

28 June 2011 at 03:59:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Manuel Barrero said...

Yo escribía "(...) puede conducir a (...)" y no afirmaba eso que usted dice. A saber quién le tradujo mi texto.
Y no, señor Campbell, yo no le represento a usted.


28 June 2011 at 05:20:00 GMT-5  
Blogger TEBEOBIEN said...

oh man, it's just kenny dalglish vs. goikoetxea!

28 June 2011 at 05:51:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


thank you for stopping by. your presence is always appreciated

Your first paragraph is arguing about the meanings of words. I wrote the manifesto in an attempt to get people to stop doing that, as I said above in my post.

your second, third and fourth are arguing about definitions. Damn all the definers! (as I said in El Destino del Artista.)

In the fifth you're taking issue with my assessment of Will Eisner's understanding of the idea of 'literary,' admittedly a strategy I use to steer people away from 'format' (as I will explain shortly in a formal post).

In the sixth you're talking about where you file your stuff around the house.

And in the seventh you're asking me to explain what I said in the interview, which I can't with any accuracy because Alberto has turned it all into Spanish and Manuel says my translation stinks.

28 June 2011 at 06:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

at least I think that's what he said

28 June 2011 at 06:51:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous José Torralba said...

Dear Mr. Campbell

Pleased and honored with your welcome. About your answers... I don't define; specifically because one of the things I've said is that we don't have historical perspective yet, and because a definition (understood as a "statement of the exact meaning of a word" or "an exact description of the nature, scope or meaning of something") is a concept without sense in art forms and medias. That's what I always thought when I've previously read your points against strict definitions.

But, to avoid definition doesn't mean to embrace vagueness. What artist, critics and theorist already do is categorize by approximation (just like modern science). A theorist can identify forms, genres, formats, styles, generations, functions, periods and, consequently, theorize. This doesn't imply that a theory could be right or wrong, good or bad... it doesn't imply definitions. But implies that some approximations are more accurate to the facts than others. More functional according, at the moment, to the object of study.

For example, you have theorized here, pointing that a serialization doesn't exclude a written work for being a novel (which is almost a definition) and I have theorized that in comic-books a serialization determines publisher, distributor, retailer and reader. And that, since "novel" doesn't mean "novel" in "graphic novel", a graphic novel may not be affected by the paradigms and rules of novelization. Also, you theorized (and almost define) in the interview in Entrecomics by saying (I'll try to be accurate) that "when you say that something is a graphic novel, you mean that is literary, as a novel is literary. And by literary I mean a book you put on a bookshelf in opposition to a magazine you throw away. It's speaking seriously, to adults, and not to give it to children. That's what literary means, I think". And again about the graphic novel you said: "It wasn't for children... well, it wasn't only for children but also an intelligent and adult literature. You could keep them and put them in a bookshelf besides Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Cervantes".

Consequently, I wasn't defining in a different scope you was defining. I was just wondering why you associated Literature and literariness with seriousness or conceptual perdurability, and if the works you chose to put on the same shelf as a graphic novel are more art-related than films or music.

Best regards.

28 June 2011 at 08:42:00 GMT-5  
Blogger MAD de la Rosa said...


Manuel (rather petulantly) said:

I wrote "(...) may lead to (...)" and did not claim that which you said. Who knows who translated my words for you.
And no, Mr. Campbell, I do not represent you.


So yeah, you got it, he does seem to be implying that your translation stinks. Although, from what you've shown (I haven't looked up the original text, nor do I care to), I don't quite see the "mistranslation." That is, "can lead" is a perfectly good translation that conveys the same meaning as "puede conducir" (unless he's talking about some other place in the text, I can't tell). In any case, your objection to the substance of his (still provincial) analysis still stands, even with his "correction."

And to Manuel: Eddie nunca mencionó que él no lo eligiría a usted como su representante personal, sino como un representante de su medio, en categoría de experto (y Eddie se ha ganado toda la autoridad para rendir tales juicios). Después de leer el fragmento de su texto, estoy completamente de acuerdo con Eddie.

28 June 2011 at 09:13:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pepo Pérez said...

Eddie, your translation was absolutely correct.

28 June 2011 at 12:46:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

MAD e la Rosa,
thanks for the assistance

Pepo, didn't you say you would never get involved in these things again?

Jose, Glad to see you back. I just posted the new one and must now walk the dog. later.

28 June 2011 at 17:55:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I've been caught in this literary trap a couple of times in the last few months. I'm going to lay it out clearly in a formal post. Coming soon.

28 June 2011 at 22:00:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Don MacDonald said...


Thanks for the link. I think your manifesto hasn't been put to sleep because still it provides a very useful way of thinking about graphic novels, especially for artists trying to get work done rather than argue over the meaning of words. Your message of "here are some first principles, now get back to work" is just as valid today as it was in 2004. As long as artists are likely to get sucked into the blind alleys of debate over definitions, the manifesto has a purpose. In 2004, I was just getting started with my own book and it was a breath of fresh air. It also spared me the trouble of having to write out something like it myself and doing a poorer job of it. So thanks.


29 June 2011 at 10:02:00 GMT-5  
Blogger David Macho said...

This is all SO much fun.

29 June 2011 at 13:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

So Dumas never wrote a novel? Interesting...

2 July 2011 at 14:20:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous José Torralba said...

Yes, Dumas and his ghostwriters did (despite the fact that we should contextualize this affirmation). But he never wrote a graphic novel, which has nothing in common with "graphic" or "novel", according to Campbell.

2 July 2011 at 18:56:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


thanks for the note.
I've been unable to answer as I seem to have taken on the Spanish Armada


4 July 2011 at 21:37:00 GMT-5  

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