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The evolution of the comic book

By | March 30, 2009 | Arts & Entertainment

The Holocaust, September 11 attacks, Islamic Revolution, and gay and lesbian superheroes. These heavy-hitting topics are not what you would typically think of finding in a comic book.

As Bob Dylan sang in his 1964 album of the same name, “the times, they are a-changin.”

Comic books, trade paperbacks and graphic novels are three phrases that get thrown around heavily in the world of illustrated superheroes, with bubble thoughts of intriguing dialogue coming from their heads. Increasingly, these books are taking on heavier topics, while retaining the look and style of a comic book.

“The world today is more like a comic book world than ever before,” Steve Roberto, owner of 2nd Dimension Comics and Games in downtown Clovis, said, “Life is not viewed as black and white as it used to be. There are more gray areas,” Roberto said.

Roberto feels that the comic book can push the envelope when it comes to political and social issues in America.

Comic books vs. graphic novels

Comic books are mostly printed in single issues, usually on a monthly basis. They have connecting characters, story arcs, teams, team-ups, heroes, villains and reoccurring themes and messages.

Wwhen single issues of a story arc are brought together with one writer or a team of contributing writers and artists, they are bound together nicely in one concise, neat, bundled story. These are commonly called trade paperbacks or graphic novels.

Yet, Roberto, who knows comic books inside and out, said, “The words ‘graphic novel’ and ‘trade paperback’ are intertwined.”

Most independent comic book publishers will print graphic novels, but these stories can sometimes be in a stand-alone story, not related to any comic book series.

Enthusiasts praise novels’ storylines, not just art

“I feel the word ‘graphic novel’ is misleading,” Roberto said. The thing that bothers Roberto is that people don’t look at comics as a serious literary form, only as an art form.

For example, Roberto said more and more gay and lesbian characters and stories are included in comic books today.

Roberto believes that comic books are becoming more responsible. He said that comic books can hold up a mirror to society and be a reflection of society as a whole.

The question that is raised within the comic book industry is is art imitating life or is life imitating art?

Tyler Jost, 21, an avid comic book reader and frequent customer of Roberto’s comic book shop, said, “Everything goes into graphic novels eventually.”

Yet, Jost said, half the fun of collecting and reading comics is getting the individual books.

“You get to see your books grow in a sense,” Jost said. For Jost, it’s about the personal attachment and experience he gets when following characters and story arcs on a month-to-month basis.

Graphic novels address current issues other forms don’t

Dr. Samina Najmi, an assistant professor of English at Fresno State, teaches two courses involving graphic novels or graphic narratives as source material for the course, English 179, Multi-Ethnic U.S. Literature, and English 193T, Middle Eastern American Literature.

The two graphic novels she uses are Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” and Art Spiegelman’s “In the Shadow of No Towers.”

“What I like about them is that they are an accessive, non-elitist genre,” Najmi said.

Najmi said she grew up on Betty and Veronica, an Archie comic book.

Some people consider a literary medium such as graphic novels or graphic narratives to be a lesser form compared to novels or other types of literature. “I think that’s changing,” Najmi said.

She has felt an academic shift in the last few years “that means something,” according to Dr. Najmi, more professors and instructors are using this accessible literary and art medium as a tool to teach.

“There was very little out there to address 9/11,” Najmi said. “It was a different political climate.” With Spiegleman’s “In the Shadow of No Towers,” Najmi finds a medium, “that speaks to the power of the graphic form.”

Najmi has heard strong reactions from students with Spiegelman’s work. Spiegelman’s other graphic novel, “Maus,” talks about the need to resist racial profiling, something that his parents went through during the Holocaust, because they were Jewish.

“Through teaching, I’ve gotten more visual myself,” Najmi said.

“Persepolis,” another graphic narrative in Najmi’s teaching canon, is an autobiographical account of the author’s life during the late 1970s Islamic Revolution in Iran, when the writer was 9 to 14 years of age.

“In some parts it really shocked me,” Najmi said. The advantage and appeal to students is they get a crash course of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in an atypical literary format.

Nick Clark, 28, currently reads both The Walking Dead and X-Men titles. “My favorite is The End League,” Clark said.

Clark thinks that writers always try to write what people are interested in. “Perfect example, is the Barack Obama Spiderman issue,” Clark said, “They definitely mirror what’s going on in the world.”

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