I am absolutely in love with illustration and graphic novels. When there are beautiful illustrations in a book, I am compelled to pay the full RRP for a book. If you know me this means serious business.
I have noticed that a lot of the graphic novels I have borrowed from my University Library had a similar style. They seemed very modern, current in graphic design and the covers were softback jackets (except Science Tales which was hardback) so the in-between to the softback and hardback where it is sturdier than softback and has the flaps like a jacket but not as rigid as hardback. Those sort of cover jacket very much appeal to me. But then I suddenly realised after finishing my most recent read at the back, these books (in the gallery above) were published by the same publisher, Myriad Editions. I’m unsure if that was coincidence or the University on purposely chose the books from that particular publisher, but I found it interesting how the publisher was able to make a subtle coherence to the books as to being from the same publisher, but they still had their own individuality. You also wouldn’t immediately know they are from the same publisher which i have to admire them on for achieving. Thumbs up!
I don’t know about you, but I think there is an underestimation to the narrative and even literary function of Graphic Novels as people might think of the harsh, dark and edgy graphic style which is often used to re-tell a literary classic i.e. Frankenstein. There is also the overwhelming market that is comic books and more specifically, superhero comic books from the likes of DC and Marvel (I mean, people haven’t spent millions on films to not get millions in return) which can overshadow graphic novels that have a different way of story telling. This especially if they are leaning towards non-fiction i.e. Autobiographical Graphic Novels, and aren’t also about a man with special powers yet still doesn’t know which way to put their underwear and glasses aren’t a good enough alter-ego disguise.
It’s art. Illustration is art. Illustration is in Graphic Novels and yet they’re only really found in the secluded corners of bookshops from the local family businesses to the giant conglomerates like Waterstones (I like them both, books are books). Probably because they don’t have the same monolithic fanbase as all-text books such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings do where they are worthy of being on a clear, plastic pedestal.
YouTuber, Fran Meneses is a freelance illustrator. Her illustration work is very soft and charming with a feminine touch in terms of the style and the choice of colours. Very sweet that I do feel I could eat her illustrations like marshmallows. But I won’t, because I can’t, because it’s not possible… Anyway, in one of her videos, Awesome Books – Jane, the Fox and Me, she discusses this book in terms of the narrative and the illustrations in depth.
If you are used to shorter videos, this isn’t one of those. It is 13 minutes long so you are going to need to sit back, have a cuppa at hand (unimportant note: she starts the video with taking a sip from her mug so you might feel as if she is talking to you, as if you and her are just grabbing a cup of coffee or tea together at a cafe and she is recommending a book to you, I mean, even her Pantone mug is cute… I’m not jealous) and really listen because what she says about this book and illustration, in general, is gold (when I have underlined something, you know graphologically there is a reason). I think it is worth the watch because the depth she goes into wouldn’t be the same if it was edited shorter. Bless her, bearing in mind English isn’t her first language, she struggled to say ‘Eyre’ which I’m not surprised because…English Language: Quite Difficult to Learn as a Second Language.
The reason apart from the fact I want you to have a look at her work, she said something about the importance of illustration as a method of narration that I think is a really good point into knowing the difference between a well-illustrated book and a great illustrated book.
Awesome Books – Jane, the Fox and Me
I am going to paraphrase what she says so you have to watch the video to know her exact words (mua ha ha). But this is what she says about illustration and text that makes the narrative of the book flow and become inherently ‘awesome’.
Illustration and text should be a couple that has been in a relationship for quite a few years and whenever they go to parties, people ask them how they have met. Because they have been asked this so many times and have been in a relationship for so long, they both know what to say as if it has been rehearsed and know who says what. Not only that (and this is the hitter), but when one partner talks, the other one shuts up and when the other partner begins talking, then the other one shuts up and there is no need for interruption. Texts speaks, illustration shuts up; illustration speaks, text shuts up. Both illustration and text contribute when they share different bits of information to make a cohesive and fluid narrative.
What was that? I think I heard a boom because your mind is blown! (Although I won’t really hear that because the whole screen situation and the fact I’m probably a disembodied voice to you in your head and if your mind was blown then there would be a (very messy) problem.) Mine certainly was because it was only when she pointed it out I realised how important that is to understand what a good book is. Neither the text nor the illustration needs to repeat itself when the one has expressed something already so well.
After I watched that video, I was compelled to get my favourite graphic novel off the shelf and took a moment to re-read the first few pages and see if it met this new-found criteria I have discovered. I was not disappointed. Thank goodness it didn’t let me down! I think the danger is that if you did read a graphic novel or illustrated book that you enjoyed, it’s like applying media theory to a film you have already watched and enjoyed. If it doesn’t meet some sort of expectations or criteria you have learnt then referring back to something, it kind of bursts your bubble and when reading a new book, you get distracted by that rather than fully immersing yourself.
However, I think the whole point of this approach to illustrated books and graphic novels is that you don’t really have to pay attention to that. The same way you know a film has good editing when you don’t realise the shots have been edited and become a fluid scene, the illustration and text dialogue should almost become one and unnoticeable because it is that fluid and coherent. Unlike my blogging abilities.
So with this new information, you might (might) be thinking ‘what graphic novels should I read?’ Well, I’m not going to make a list of ALL the illustrated books I recommend but I think one to mention immediately is the latest Graphic Novel I have read: Becoming Unbecoming [by] Una.
A devastating personal account of gender violence told in comic book form, set against the backdrop of the 1970s Yorkshire Ripper man-hunt
This has a very hand-drawn style to the illustrations and you can almost see the pencil marks made. But what I love most about it is that at times the text becomes the image and very typographic in terms of the use of graphology. Sometimes the test wraps itself around the illustrations which I quite like. Even though it makes reading the text a little trickier especially with such a hard-hitting and topical subject about women and violence especially in this day and age, but it does add something to the reading experience, because the line between image and text becomes a single unit, a couple if you will.
What I also liked about this book was that very often graphic novels have that structured grid and look like storyboards for making a moving image text, but this one didn’t. The lack of structure meant the illustration and the text have been given the freedom (which when reading the book could be suggestive of certain themes) on the page and there is breathing space for the narrative to become a whole image for readers to explore in detail. This becomes quite a refreshing change from the restricted structure of the grids you often find in Graphic Novels, it has that sort of breathing space you would find in illustrations for children’s books that combine typography and graphology as well but in this case, it is dealing with a mature and thought-provoking subject matter.
The decisions in the way the illustrations and text interact with each other is actually very sophisticated and clearly, a personal way the writer expresses their thoughts and feelings about their adolescence as a girl during a time when prostitutes were being hammered and stabbed to death ripper-style and the ideas of being a (female) target. Because on a few occasions there are pages of a single, full illustration that aren’t accompanied by text and I personally don’t think need because for this woman, these images expressed something that words can’t really describe and readers can only think upon rather than try and analyse. I think is a unique way in which illustration and text have the relationship Fran described in her video.
So what are your thoughts about the relationship between text and image? Do you think Graphic Novels are underrated? What do you recommend because I am always interested in finding new ones to read. And lastly: what role does illustration have in a narrative if the text doesn’t shut up? When does illustration become overwhelming and take over the text? Do you think Graphic Novels are not considered much for literary analysis because of a prejudice towards its sophistication in the eyes of the masses?
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