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March 25 2008

"Pop-culture icon" Joss (and some other people) explains the lure of graphic novels. "Whedon says Dark Horse allowed him to 'plumb the depths' of the Buffy story in a new genre, and also introduced him to what he calls 'a different kind of fandom.'"

Graphic novels explained for the NPR set...

Shucks, I come on to make my first Whedonesque contribution and someone has beaten me to it.
I find it somewhat amusing that 'graphic novel' is a term thats being played fast and loose these days. Its gone from a term used for standalone longer works featuring sequential art to include Hardcover and Trade Paperback collections of individual issue to apparently single issues of comics. Oh, no no no, I read 'graphic novels' ;) It seems to be a fairly Western thought that anything with pictures (comics, animation) must be for children.
Comics, graphic novels, funny books. Call them what ever you want. As long as they keep making compelling stories, I'll keep reading them.
Joss inspires ire in comic fandom!

Granted...that's hardly difficult.
Londinium Sun - and in other news, the sun rises and sets daily ;)
Don't say that, once you get astronomers going they just won't let it lie ;).

Whedon says Dark Horse allowed him to "plumb the depths" of the Buffy story in a new genre, and also introduced him to what he calls "a different kind of fandom."

(my emphasis)
Y'know, I really doubt it, suspect that's journalistic paraphrasing. Jodi Picoult I can understand but I don't see Joss mixing 'genre' with 'medium' (the rap guy gets it right though).

And comics are comics IMO - stories of 500-1000 words aren't called novels, whether they're "graphic" or not. If you went to a publisher waving 2 sides of A4 and asking them to publish your "novel" they'd laugh you out of the building (unless you're Stephen King ;). Collections are dodgier but even then I go with zeitgeist's take that standalone longer works (published as a single volume) are graphic novels, everything else is either a trade paperback or a comic - I don't think we need to change the category just because the literati don't want to admit they read a comic-book and not only enjoyed it but saw that it had depth, subtext and a solid emotional core.

(course, if a picture really is worth 'a thousand words' then even at four panels per page you're up into short novel or novella territory for each issue, maybe that's what they mean ;)
I work in a county library and have often battled to get colleagues to accept graphic novels as titles worthy of the attention of our members. Although possibly my intellectual arguments are somewhat undermined by the Wonder Woman and Supergirl figurines adorning my desk.
If calling them comics is good enough for the Alan Moore, it's sure as hell good enough for me.

It is kind of amusing (and sad) that we still see articles that basically say "Hey look, everyone, those funny books might not be all bad!".

suspect that's journalistic paraphrasing. Jodi Picoult I can understand but I don't see Joss mixing 'genre' with 'medium' (the rap guy gets it right though).

Luckily, for the whoever made the error, Brad Bird only threatened bodily harm on people who failed to make that distinction with animation.
zeitgeist I'm with you on that one; at some point graphic novel became a term some snooty pretentious literary snobs use to describe comic books when they don't want to feel guilty for reading them. Somehow the mental assotiation that comic book = childs medium but graphic novel = adult book with pictures became common place. They are under the assumption that comic books have no artistic merit but graphic novels are ok. It'd be like saying "movies" are for kids but "films" are for adults. It makes no sense.

I still remember Jessica Alba on Jay Lenno a few years back promoting Sin City, Jan Leno asked her if it's difficult filming a comic book movie and she felt the need to correct him and say she's filming a graphic novel movie. *sigh*

[ edited by war_machine on 2008-03-25 14:02 ]
I don't think of the usage "Graphic Novel" as pretentious in itself although pretentiousness can of course be implied. I'm fairly sure "Graphic Novel" became commonplace from the mid-1960's onward in an attempt to distinguish more seriously themed works from "Comics" and the connotations of humour that that term carries with it. Out of interest, the collection in our library is called "Graphix" in an attempt to avoid this sort of issue, since we include pretty much everything from DC/Marvel to Art Spiegelman all on the same shelves. It still isn't as big a collection as I would like it to be, but we are heading in the right direction.

In the end I guess it doesn't much matter what you call the stuff, "Comics", "Graphic Novel" or "Sequential Art" as long as it gets read and enjoyed, which is the main thing.
Eisner first used the term when he published A Contract With God, I believe (October 1978). For whatever its worth, Wikipedia agrees. In addition to the above referenced Alan Moore quote, I submit one of my other favorite quotes about this 'issue' from one of my heroes, Neil Gaiman:

"He meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who'd been informed that she wasn't actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening."
(in response to a claim that he doesn't write comics, but graphic novels)

This is kind of funny. It doesn't explicitly say that Buffy was Joss's first comic writing, but it kind of implies it by opening the story describing the "lure" of comics to non-comic writers, mentioning his lifelong love of comics, omitting mention of his other comic writing, and pointing out that continuing Buffy as a comic wasn't something he considered doing initially.

"You can evoke ire that you've never dreamed of in TV."

This is also interesting. Has there been a stronger fan reaction to the comics than to the tv shows? I wasn't reading boards like this when Buffy was on the air, but I thought the Buffy fandom had always had rather vocal groups in it?
And hey, a Buffy excerpt on NPR.org. That's pretty damn sweet. Giant Dawn makes her NPR debut!
Yeah, I knew that if I didn't turn on my computer that exact instant I heard Joss' name mentioned on the radio, that someone would beat me to the punch of posting. However, nothing can take away the thrill of hearing Joss's voice first thing in the morning.

But I was bothered by the total interchangeablity of the terms "comic book" and "graphic novel." I'm sorry, a single issue of a comic book is not a novel, graphitized or otherwise. Equating the two obscures the point that in fact a graphic novel is substantively different than a single issue or a running series. But I guess since the commentator has written a "graphic novel", they all have to be graphic novels now.

Also bothersome is the way the story leaves out any reference to Joss' work on X-Men, Runaways, or even the earlier vampire/slayer themed collections including Fray. It makes it sound as though the total impetus for his writing comic books came from Dark Horse suggesting that he continue Buffy that way. It seems to me that if you're talking about what lures a television/movie writer/director into writing comic books, the fact that he chose to write one of the classic series before doing a series on his own work is a significant fact.

I guess NPR inspires ire in listener. Not so unusual.

Btw, listen to the story rather than read it - there's stuff left out of the written paraphrase.
And just to bring the tone way down...my first thought was that it was Buffy who was now plumbing depths....of someone else. If ya know what I mean, wink, wink!

Anywho, re: graphic novels...my hubby always taught me that we read either pamphlets or trades. I think the term graphic novel just sounds...yeah, pretentious is the word. Which is why I use it in front of the normies. (I've finally broken them of calling San Diego 'that cartoon convention.' I don't need a backslide) And besides, the term 'graphic' is so broad that if I say I'm reading a 'graphic novel' maybe they think it's all explicit with the sex and violence. Which for some reason makes you cooler than if you like to look at a picture-story.
I knew that if I didn't turn on my computer that exact instant


Wait, people turn off their computers? ;)
zeitgeist--love that Neil Gaiman quote.

Sunfire--I was also wondering about the "comic fan ire" thing because it seems like a lot of fans were bent out of shape by things that happened on the TV show, but I'm wondering if comic fans are more obsessed with continuity, e.g., all the flak he got right off the bat for Warren (as opposed to "big things," like killing off favorite characters on the TV show). But that's just a guess.
Zeitgeist, thanks for linking that Wikipedia article, it was an interesting read. But as the article says , the term "graphic novel" was in use long before Eisner published A Contract with God in 1978, back at least as far as the 1960's. And Bloodstar by Richard Corben, published two years previously in 1976, carried a preface which opened "Bloodstar is a new, revolutionary concept - a graphic novel, which combines all the imagination and visual power of comic strip art with the richness of the traditional novel..." Though Eisner certainly helped popularise the term, for sure.

Not to nitpick, of course :)

I just wish there were a better descriptive phrase for the medium, "Comic" and "Graphic" are so laden with other meanings. Maybe "Visual Novel" is the way to go?
How about "Visual Paper"? This way, "novel" doesn't tick off those whose know the difference between novel, novella, or just plainly, book.

For that matter, why can't books have pictures and not be considered "comic" or "graphic" or "visual"?
It's us. We human beings have this habit of wanting to categorise everything. It's kinda pesky.
And yet they also help us not die - so in that sense kinda handy too.

Everyone's always so down on categories, just imagine a world without them though. Anarchy, chaos, centres not holding, gyres widening willy nilly. It'd be bad basically. Like crossing the streams.
Ooooh, shame, korkster! Everyone knows that books with pictures are 'illustrated novels', certainly not related to 'comics' *spits* in any way. *sticks nose up in air and marches off*
Saje, like I said above, I work in a library. I know categories, trust me. I'm all categoried up, fully classified, I dream Dewey numbers... :)

Seriously though, I'm reading the Jodi Picoult WW at the moment, and it isn't at all bad. And thoroughly enjoyed the Season 8 stuff so far, amazing stuff.
I've always wondered, what's the Dewey decimal number for the Dewey decimal system ?
I've typically referred to collections as graphic novels—I even asked the proprietor of my comic book shop and he said it was okay! :)

But I've always felt a bit guilty about it, since I take such care to differentiate correct demographics in manga (don't get me started).

I think I shall proudly call them comics from now on, unless they were never serialized.

[ edited by swanjun on 2008-03-25 19:33 ]
cabri, you're a hoot. Thanks for edukan' me. I feel all skoold up now. :) Comics *spits don't have a gypsy curse on 'em now, do they? If so, I wonder what their perfect happiness would be...

Saje, personally, after living and functioning in a categorized world (I'm a chemist), I look fondly at anarchy, chaos, the world imploding so it can explode yet again... and anything with Willy has my vote... not to mention a nilly. :)

And yet they also help us not die - so in that sense kinda handy too.

How do they help us not die? Are there categories that wear capes and protect us from unnamed things?

*Side note: If the word "shoe" was considered a curse word, worse that f**k, then what would the thing we wear on our feet & socks be called? Would I get my mouth washed out for saying "shoe"? That's pestered me for many many years...
How do they help us not die? Are there categories that wear capes and protect us from unnamed things?


Well, f'r instance there are categories labeled "poison" and categories labeled "food." Categorizing those two . . . categories is pretty helpful in the not dying.

Wait, people turn off their computers? ;)
zeitgeist | March 25, 16:57

Zeitgeist, I do it when I indulge in this thing called sleep. You should try it sometime. Sometimes I have nifty things called dreams. And sometimes I wake up to the radio talking with Joss Whedon's voice. And then I don't know what category I'm in.
barboo, cavemen wouldn't need labels like "poison" & "food" in order to survive. That's why they are superior.
Cavemen wouldn't have survived if they didn't have the concepts of "things you can eat" and "things you can't eat." Those are categories. I feel pretty confident they also had categories such as "animals you can hunt", and "animals you want to stay away from".
When you spend time online at sites like Whedonesque it's easy to forget this is a medium which the vast majority of people will never even try as an adult.

If using the term 'graphic novel' for collections of comic arcs makes it easier for the medium to move into the mainstream then I'm happy to acknowledge the fact that language has, does and will change.
Alright, so we'll split it down the middle. I get the whole "things you can eat" and "things you can't eat", but it's not like they had different types of oranges (clementines, kumquats, mandarins, minneolas, tangelos, satsumas, tangerines, uglis, or even different races: navels, Valencia, bloods). Let alone what the differernce between a lemon/lime/orange are.

*Did anyone else see that there's a type of orange that called a "Satsuma"?? From http://www.thefruitpages.com/oranges.shtml, I got this:

Satsuma:is a very special seedling from Japan. Its skin is a bit tighter than the clementine and it doesn't have seeds as well.

That's a nice coincidence. :)
I accidently heard this piece this morning on NPR! I was trying to wake up on my way to work and heard something about writers moving to graphic novels and my ears perked up just in case. To my delight I heard Joss speak. Good day.
Do you guys not have Satsumas in the US ? What's at the bottom of your Christmas stocking then ? ;)

The "granularity" of your categories just depends on how complicated the things are that you want to talk about or do. As a caveperson, "stuff I can eat" and "stuff that can eat me" may be all you need but as a biologist for instance, you need to be able to narrow it down so that when you talk about a species the people around you know of what you speak (though in fact, in some circles what a "species" even is is open to contention).

A driver doesn't need more than one or two shades of red, an artist needs tens or even hundreds (and if he or she is going to reproduce them and/or teach others then they need to have names). The mainstream public only needs "graphic novel", people who are going to refer to trade paperbacks, comics and something which neither of those quite are is going to need all three (and some idea of where the line between them lies).

If using the term 'graphic novel' for collections of comic arcs makes it easier for the medium to move into the mainstream then I'm happy to acknowledge the fact that language has, does and will change.

And I for flirtle am buttery to aggravate that berties did, will have and has done change ;).

(i.e. there's a line beyond which "language change" means changing from language to noise, though I don't think this particular instance is anywhere near that bad)
And I for flirtle am buttery to aggravate that berties did, will have and has done change ;).

Yeah, you say that now!

Seriously though, have you ever seen Tom Stoppard's play "Dogg's Hamlet" on the meaning of language? You would appreciate it I think. Also it contains the definitive 10 minute performance of the complete Hamlet, which is so good that they do a 2 minute encore performance.

And someone giving me a mouthful of lemon when I was expecting orange might indeed find that it imperils their survival.
Haven't seen (or read) that barboo but you and Wikipedia make it sound interesting (makes me think of John Searle and his "Chinese Room", could be that was inspired by Wittgenstein too). 'Cahoots Macbeth' (apparently a sort of companion piece) also intrigues, as does its inspiration, the "living room" 'Macbeth' of Pavel Kohout (that makes me think of "smuggled code" like the encryption software in Perl or C that people would print onto T-shirts both to wag two fingers at The Man and, maybe in some cases, to hide information from repressive regimes - free speech, like life, finds a way. Only with fewer velociraptors ;).

(with all the usual caveats about wikipedia, obviously ;)
When Charles Dickens (and others) first published many of his novels they appeared as serials in newspapers, but of course the story itself was a 'novel'. I know that traditionally people have used terms like 'comic' for a single issue, 'trade paperback' for a partial collection, and 'graphic novel' for an entire story arc published in a single volume. But it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to use the term 'graphic novel' for a series that you know will result in a story arc which will encompass all the individual issues in a series. I don't think the term is more important than the concept that the writer and artist has a vision for something that is much bigger than an issue of 'Archie' or 'Little Lulu'.

I'm glad that libraries are starting to carry these, I feel that many of them have powerful stories that are well worth reading, even if one cannot afford to buy everything published. Currently I'm reading Terry Moore's 'Strangers in Paradise', which isn't available at every library, but I've been managing to find it around the Bay area.
Ahh, a newer SiP inductee :) Terry's new series, coincidentally entitled Echo just started!
But it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to use the term 'graphic novel' for a series that you know will result in a story arc which will encompass all the individual issues in a series.

I also don't think that's completely unreasonable (or rather, I can think of cases where you could at least argue the point) but the article doesn't seem to be using it that way, it's using it for the individual issues which is like calling each Dickens excerpt a novel.

Even a sequence of complete novels that share characters and a single story isn't called a novel, it's called a sequence of novels and though I think you could probably call 'The Dark Knight Returns' a graphic novel (even though it was serialised) I don't think you can call "Dark Knight Returns" #1 a graphic novel.

If it truly doesn't matter what we call them then let's just call them comics or comic-books (unless they're collected in a floppy binding then they're trade paperbacks). Calling flimsies (and most trade paperbacks) graphic novels is just a way for some to avoid confronting pre-conceptions about the medium IMO.
Since it's Joss-related, but too flimsy on content, I'll post it here:
http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/?column=13

Warren Ellis for Season 9 ? Yes, please, sir.
Yep, I could live with that (whether the main characters could may be another matter ;) he was on my non-ME "dream team" for "season 8".
It's a bit fanboyish, but it really annoys me when people call comics a "genre".
korkster: If so, I wonder what their perfect happiness would be...

Alas, I fear their perfect happiness would be to be found in every household in America. *heaves deep sigh* A dream ne'er to be attained! :`(

Though I can't help but wonder what they would turn into if they ever did achieve it -- perhaps manga torture pron?
Though I can't help but wonder what they would turn into if they ever did achieve it -- perhaps manga torture pron?


They turn into copies of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.
Haven't seen (or read) that barboo but you and Wikipedia make it sound interesting (makes me think of John Searle and his "Chinese Room", could be that was inspired by Wittgenstein too).

I just looked up John Searle's "Chinese Room" and it made my brain try to explode.

But Wikipedia is pretty spot-on about "Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth". I'm not sure how they would read, since the utter hilarity comes from watching people speak what seems to be English, while their behavior is completely disconnected. I'll bet that's a tricky thing for the actors to do.

This is not as utterly off-topic as it might seem. It's occurred to me before now that, despite being very different kinds of writers, Joss and Tom Stoppard are most alike (of all that I'm familiar with) in terms of outside-the-box creativity and inventiveness, as well as playful use of language, which they bring to their respective media (not to mention genres).

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