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Graphic Novels: Part one

May 10, 2012

At the beginning of 2012 QueenSpark Books ran a competition (Alt Brighton) asking writers to send in a short story based around Brighton’s history; from the hundreds of entries, thirteen stories were picked to be developed into a graphic novel later in 2013.

My own story, Dead Famous was one those chosen, but during the first meeting I opted to develop a new story centred around some of the key moments in Brighton’s LGBT history, more of that later. As part of my research I have looked into the history of sequential art.

Part one: in the beginning….

Throughout history sequential art has been used to express ourselves, tell tales and to leave historical events for others to witness, pounder and conclude on their meanings. From the Stone Age cave drawings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, elaborate tapestries of the Middle Ages and the stain glass windows in churches and chapels across the world, have all been used to educate, frighten and cement historical or biblical events.  An early example can be seen in Lucas Cranach the Elder‘s painting “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden”.

Within the painting we see God warning Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the back ground we see Eve wrapped around the Tree of Knowledge along with the snake, her hand unreached with the fruit from the tree in her hand. (The bible never mentions what type of fruit it is, but as paintings were a central part to Christian worship, this subject was much discussed. Eventually it was decided that the fruit was an apple as the Latin for apple, ‘malum’ translates as ‘evil’.) Directly next to that Eve is standing next to Adam, offering him the fruit to taste them to the right of the right of the painting Both Adam and Eve are chased out of the Garden of Eden by one of Gods angels for defying his word.

Triptych paintings, a type of hard back graphic novel, were also extremely popular among the wealthy who used these style of paintings to entertain their guests.  The three panelled triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, (1450 -1516) shown below is an expansion on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting. Within this piece heaven on earth is shown on the left panel, the middle panel is open to interpretation, but for many it represents Paradise Lost, with the right panel of hell on earth showing the consequences of disobeying God. The detail within this work introduces to the piece all the drama, horror and gore of many modern-day graphic novels.

Fast forward and we come to the 17th and 18th century, here we find artists creating a more satirical art to explore the social and political happenings of the times. It was also at this period that speech bubbles appeared, giving the works the an added vocabulary dimension.

The artist, William Hogarth (1697 – 1794) created a collection of eight paintings to tell the story of the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, a man who came into a vast fortune, dismisses his pregnant girlfriend, Sarah Young, for a life of lavish living and then proceeds to squander the lot on women, booze. Ending up in prison, Sarah Young bails him out, only to be pushed aside by Rackewell as he goes off to marry an older wealthy woman, spends all of her money and ends up destitute in Bethlehem Hospital, with Sarah Young by his side. The paintings where later turned into engravings and copied into mass prints and sold as a pictorial narrative of Rakewell folly and demise.

The true comic strip and its development has often be credited to Swiss cartoonist Rudolphe Topffer (1799-1846) with his creation The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck in 1837 and was translated and published in England and America, four/five years later.

Around this same period there was a major impact on publishing industry with the boom of the industrial Revolution were huge advances with the printing presses ability to produce cheaper and faster copies. This led to the written word and pictures became available to a wider audience and not just the wealthy. From here cheap publications for the working classes, like The Penny Dreadful that were primarily for a younger audience, but appealed to both children and adults alike with their tales of terror and true crime horror. However the emergence of comic strips, (particularly in the UK) was slow to be really embraced.

In the UK, the comic strip, Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday (1884) has been credited as being the first UK comic strip to have a recurring character. In America during the 1920’s, the American artist, Lynd Ward came to the forth with his stunning collection of wood carved illustrated graphic novels, including  Gods’ Man (1929), Prelude to a Million Years (1933) and Vertigo (1937); allowing the pictures themselves to tell the story. Ward is recognised as being one of the founders of the American graphic novel, many other artist and writers would be inspired to  pick up their pen and ink pots and bring to the world a wide range of comic strips in newspapers and magazines, comics and graphic novels where the only boundary has always been the writers and artist’s creative imagination.

  1. Really enjoying your blog. Thank you!

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