Shaping the History of the Graphic Novel
Ten years ago, it would have been literally unthinkable to publish this volume. Nobody then would have believed in the lasting presence and impact of a genre that was still treated with little respect, a suspicious attempt to forget about the awful reputation of comics. Yet since the beginning of their success in the 1980s, mainly thanks to the exceptional power of works such as Maus and Watchmen, graphic novels have proven to be something very different than just “comics for adults”. Deeply rooted in the visual turn of modern culture and the global tendencies within world literature, the genre has gained a momentum which reveals it to be a key practice at the crossroads of both visual and verbal storytelling in the contemporary age. The ambition of this volume, edited by three scholars with long track records in the field and bringing together many international leading graphic novel scholars, is threefold. First of all, it aims at offering as detailed as possible a clear historical overview of the transformations of the genre, starting from the early 19th century experiments by Töpffer and Doré and continuing into the ongoing –and still permanently shifting– masterpieces of today’s creators such as Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, and Jacques Tardi, while taking into account the contributions of all those who shaped the genre throughout the long 20th century (Eisner, Feiffer, Moore, Gaiman, Sacco, Trina Robbins) . Second, the book also claims to offer a truly global approach. Although the history of the US graphic novel is of course central, its many relationships with other linguistic and cultural traditions, including those within the US themselves, are carefully discussed as well. Third, this history also makes room for the close-reading of individual works, always in close connection with general tendencies and thematic and stylistic evolutions that go beyond individual works (for instance Satrapi’s Persepolis is not read here as kind of cultural UFO, but situated within the larger context of graphic narrative in the Middle-East).
All 37 chapters of this 700 page book combine these various perspectives, thus producing a picture of the genre that is also a picture of the field in which it is produced, published (or censored), distributed (in English as well as in translation), discussed (inside and outside academia) and made socially relevant by its readers. All of the writers in this collection also pay a lot of attention to the links between the graphic novel and other forms of storytelling: comics, cartoons, photography, wordless visual narratives, the drawn novel, film, e-comics, and of course the novel itself, while being extremely sensitive to the multiple cultural, social and political layers of a genre that is a key instrument, if not weapon, in all kinds of non-mainstream and minority cultures, as well as a type of art that can perfectly flourish on the walls of museums and art galleries.