On the Graphic Novel by Santiago Garcia

wilsonknut.com on the graphic novelOn the Graphic Novel by Santiago Garcia  is a scholarly, in-depth look at the history of graphic novels.  It’s a hefty book, coming in at over 300 pages, but it’s so worth it. Garcia not only covers the history of sequential art, but the evolution of the form.  If you have more than a passing interest in comics, this is a great education.

There are a lot of great quotes from writers and artist in On the Graphic Novel. Perhaps the best place to start is with Garcia explaining what he intended with this book:
And this is the question that this book answers: not what comics are, not what the graphic novel is, but rather what the meaning of comics for us was, what it is now, what different functions comics have performed in our society and culture, and how the idea of the graphic novel is related to that.
Garcia starts with a discussion on the definition of graphic novel and comics.  Eddie Campbell says, “It’s undeniable that there is a new concept of what a comic is and what a comic can be and what it can do that has arrived in the past 30 years.”  This discussion takes us into the complex ambiguity of comics, their history, and their weird place in our culture.
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Historically, Garcia begins with illustrations in the 18th and 19th centuries and walks us through to the 2000s.  He covers all the important artists, characters, and evolutions in format and style. On the Graphic Novel discusses the golden age of superhero comics, but more importantly studies the non-superhero comics of the time.  Romance, crime, humor, and horror comics lead the way for the modern graphic novel. All of the great contemporary books are discussed—Maus, Blankets, Black Hole, Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan, et al.
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Garcia also discusses MAD Magazine, Raw, and Heavy Metal.  Perhaps my favorite section of the book dealt with the underground comix of the 1960s and 1970s.  That era has always intrigued me.  On a side note, if you have never seen the documentary Crumb, you need to check it out.
On the Graphic Novel is worth the read for anyone interested in the workings of comics and the modern graphic novel.  It’s a little pricy, but I think the weighty content will give you your money’s worth.

White Collar: A Novel in Linocuts

wilsonknut.comWhite Collar: A Novel in Linocuts by Giacomo Patri is a striking work of art.  This is a great example of an early graphic novel. Patri originally self-published the book in true DIY style in the late 1930s.  The novel depicts the trials of an advertising illustrator and his family in the years following the Great Depression.
The story begins in 1929 when the illustrator is gainfully employed.  He seems to look down on or at least ignore the struggling blue collar workers he passes on his commute.  He is the proverbial company man.  Then the stock market crashes. He loses his job, and we see his family’s journey on the downward spiral. White collar is obviously socialist labor movement propaganda; however, the simple truths it embodies are profound.
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Like a silent movie, the novel has no dialogue or traditional narration panels. Patri sparingly uses words on books, bills, and signs to give clues of the action taking place. He captures a remarkable amount of emotion in the stark black and white of the linocuts. The interactions between the illustrator and his wife are particularly painful.  As a graphic novel, this is a early example of illustration being used to deliver a long-form story with serious content meant for adults.
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The original copies hand made by Patri are difficult to find and very expensive.  Luckily, Dover Graphic Novels has recently published affordable versions in hardcover and paperback. It’s a very nice piece of graphic novel history.