Graphic Novels, Anime and Manga

Lynd Ward’s Eerie, Early Graphic Novel, “Gods’ Man” is thought to be the precursor to the modern novel.

David Beagley, La Trobe University, Genres In Children’s Literature, available on iTunes U

Superman and Astroboy are well-known comics. Astroboy is a mix between man and machine which has given us Lego bionicles and Transformers, and which reaches its peak in Lego versions of Starwars, particularly in the games.

There is a perception that just because it’s a cartoon or a comic, children are the audience.

Ever since Disney’s version of Snow White in the 1940s this has been the case. There are very few animated movies for adults, yet so many of them carry adult themes.

Depression, destruction — all this comes through on the latest Batman movies

Art Spiegelman Maus (written in German) — father’s experience during Holocaust, WW2. This was incredibly influential. It came out in the late 80s. Spiegelman was working as a cartoon artist, so used this medium to tell this story. This was the first of its kind.

Picturebooks provide more reluctant readers with a more acceptable way to get their literature. ‘Spoonful of sugar’ helps the medicine go down. The downside of this is the presumption that literature is difficult and therefore not an enjoyable experience.

Just about every Shakespearian play has a graphic novel version — mostly in multiple versions, usually paying homage to the Japanese manga style. Others are realistic picture versions.

A lot of them make use of pop culture, to things outside the actual story. All of these things are there in picturebooks for older readers as well as in graphic novels.

Woolves in the Sitee, Way Home, Rose Blanche — graphic novels use the same things as these picturebooks. The visual vocabulary is shared — how pictures and symbols tell their stories (explained previously in The Drover’s Boy, with the sticky tape put as a cross over the lock of hair).

When stories go on for a long time in a series (e.g. Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden) you may start with a realistic story, but it ends up being a caricature of real life — more cartoon-like.

Generally, as soon as a character solves a crisis, someone else turns up to make it worse and worse and worse. Dr Who is probably the best British version of this kind of character, who is a live version of a cartoon character.

Take Batman. One concern about these types of movies, in which the hero is, in actions, not much different from the villain, is that a young audience won’t necessarily get that. There’s no clear morality — the message is that it’s all right to go out on a bike and blast anyone that’s in your way. The message is that ‘Your identity as a good guy makes you right, not your actions.’ [Side note: for more on this issue read Deconstructing The Hero, written by Marjery Hourihan.]

This is Alfred and Bruce talking about a fairly complex idea:

The ‘Dead White Male’ approach to literature — all great lit is hard, and written by this demographic. But there is probably more analysis going on of Harry Potter than anything else at the moment.

The graphic novels of classic works such as those by Shakespeare are abridged versions. How much subtlety is lost? Do they bring audiences to the classics, or are they diluting the classic away from whatever it was that made it a classic? In Shakespeare’s case it wasn’t the great events but the talking in between which makes it a classic.

Nicki Greenberg presents a certain version of Hamlet in her graphic novel.

Hamlet cover.jpg

When Tin Tin was reprinted, we realised how outdated it had become with the golliwog, little black sambo stereotype. This caused huge ructions when it was reprinted a few years ago.

Spiderman took one side in American politics.

Fashion can both reflect what is street fashion and often exaggerates it. There’s an exaggeration of the standard model type figure. It can also lead fashion. A lot of the Japanese fascination with the school girl does come from these cartoon representations as the epitome of sweetness and innocence. Then there’s cosplay, which is dressing up in the costumes of cartoon characters, which is now seen outside Japan.

Three distinct styles of graphic novels and comics around the world: (Beagley’s own names) 1. The Linear Narrative. The story is told as the continuous sequence of frames across the page as we go. 2. Action Packed Narrative, with a continuous series of big events and violence. 3. Manga-Meander. The soap operas — telephone book sized thing that run year after year without the story ever finishing. There are crosses between them. Dragonball-Z is both action packed and manga-meander. Most of the manga though are to do with personal relations, even though they might feature robots and monsters.

Gentleman Jim Raymond Briggs is about a man who wonders whether his job cleaning public toilets is as fulfilling as it ought to be. The emphasis is on the storyline, not so much the pictures. Asterix, Maus: the pictures are there to deliver the story. (When the Wind Blows, Fungus The Bogeyman, the same.) Marcia Williams does a lot of adaptations of classics, with emphasis on the storyline.

Then there are the action packed ones: out of space, SF e.g. Dan Dare Space Hero. The first was probably Flash Gordon, which became a movie very quickly as well. This is where we get a lot of cinema technique. There is a big crossover. Different size frames, explosions going across the page, big bold letters ‘pow’ ‘zam’.

Manga Meander: great scenery, nice clothing, not quite the pow zap explosive sort of story but there may be lots of action.

Anime is from ‘animation’. Manga is an aimless picture — doesn’t mean anything on its own, meant to be one of many. You could say Shaun Tan’s work fits the manga meander style.

Are these books literature? What is literature? If it is a created cultural aesthetic artifact, based in language and communicating something which uses all these devices in order to get an audience response well then, yes. Comics are literature. But are they good literature? That’s a different question.