It’s well known that artists are likely to starve until they become successful. But I bet you didn’t know that the majority of writers who aren’t in journalism have a day job. With the exception of Stephen King (who shall be named the messiah of the modern novel), most novelists are also professors. So don’t count out the possibility that you will still have to keep a full time job when you publish your first novel.
A good example of this phenomenon are two of my professors who both have published several commercial novels. One of them is becoming wildly successful at his work, and yet he still chooses to have a university position. Go figure!
If you wondered whether graphic novel means a larger work of comics you would be correct. But life isn’t always so simple.
First, let’s redefine the graphic “novel” and rather refer to these collections of narrative images as graphic books. The word novel implies that the work in question is fiction, which is not always the case (Dr. Rebecca Barnhouse, author of The Book of the Maidservant). Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a cleverly illustrated memoir of her own childhood. Wheres as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is entirely fantasy.
Graphic books are either intended narratives that extend beyond the typical page number of a comic book and bound using a method other than the typical stapling, or they can also be a collection of comic books that form a sequence of a story and are also bound in a way other than stapling. The difference between comics and graphic books are relatively simple somewhat arbitrary.
The name comic book refers to a collection of picture panels that form a narrative. Therefor, what right do we have to call graphic books anything if not collections of comic books? This becomes problematic when we examine that I define a graphic book in two ways. In the sense that a graphic book is a collection of comic books bound in a different way, it is a comic collection. A book originally intended to be and published as a larger work extending beyond the scope of the typical comic book is still a comic book.
Unfortunately the word comic is associated with a number of juvenile ideas. The largest demographic for the purchasing of comic books are adolescent boys. Therefor we are hesitant to use the word comic to describe more serious works.
But each panel of art is in itself a comic. And each collection of panels is a comic book. And regardless of how it is bound they are a mutually exclusive idea. In the attempt to mature the world of graphic story-telling, we have evolved to use words that are exclusive to adults. You wouldn’t give your child a graphic movie or a graphic video game. The word graphic doesn’t just imply a picture of some sort. It implies that the content of what you are handling is somehow reserved for the eyes of an adult.
To embrace the new trend of the graphic book we usher ourselves into a new graphic era of literature. While some may be hesitant to accept the legitimacy of the graphic book they will very soon be quieted. We no longer live in a world wholly tolerant of information that isn’t quick and easy to access. We are a visually glutinous population of consumers. Literature, as everything else, must evolve as we do if it is to survive. Instead of holding this concept of literary evolution at arms length, we should embrace it as humanity once embraced the advent of the printing press. Sometime in the future, our quibbles will seem like archaic qualms to our descendants.
“Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” – Ruth Graham
The value of young adult literature was attacked by Ruth Graham on Slate where she begins her argument by saying, “As The Fault in Our Stars barrels into theaters this weekend virtually guaranteed to become a blockbuster, it can be hard to remember that once upon a time, an adult might have felt embarrassed to be caught reading the novel that inspired it. Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.”
I won’t lie. As an emerging writer and scholar, I have had my fair share of opinions about young adult literature. If you were to walk up to me and tell me that you thought Stephanie Meyer was the single most amazing writer that ever lived, I’d ask you for your ID. Well, because I’d assume you were too young to have one, and therefor too naive to know good literature. I remember reading all of the Twilight series as a teenager. And as an adult, I think, that was entertaining, but god, was that bad writing.
But that’s what this all comes down to, isn’t it? What is good writing? Let’s take a little look at history to begin, shall we? Edgar Allan Poe, arguably one of the best short story and horror writers to have ever lived, was once a critic himself of literature. He was ruthless against his competition. Poe worked on several literary magazines in his time and was known for his passionate opinions. He was particularly not fond of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But what does that matter now? English students are made to study both of them as a part of the all-powerful literary canon. This isn’t the only case where a now famous author – considered to be one of the messiahs of the literary canon – was once regarded as a fluke in their own generation. Often, the canon consists of writers that were not originally the “popular” stuff of the day or those writers that were forgotten or never realized. How, then, can we judge the value of literature based on its intention or its popularity? The point is, we often cannot tell what will end up becoming what students are taught in classrooms fifty years from now.
We don’t know if in a few decades young adult literature will become a whole new faction of literary study. We don’t know the possible longevity of that prospect either. But I can say that C. S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – a children’s book – and he is considered one of the 20th century’s best authors. And he didn’t just write children’s novels. Lewis was a brilliant scholar and philosopher.
Neil Gaiman didn’t just write Coraline. J. K. Rowling didn’t just write the Harry Potter series. Sherman Alexie didn’t just write The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Here’s the deal, folks: young adult literature is a style all its own. Yes, it is geared towards children and adolescents. Yes, publishers look for certain qualities in a novel considered to be young adult. But the value of the literature has nothing to do with the audience. The value of what we read should be better concerned with the crafting of the words on the page and the reaction of the general audience to the quality of their emotions.