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Sequential Art: Part 2. The Birth of the Graphic Novel.

May 18, 2012

American artist, Lynd Ward is considered as one of the major artist to have influenced the development of the graphic novel. Ward was a prolific artist, providing illustrations for hundreds of children’s books, many of which were collaborations with his author wife, May McNeer. Although Ward used a wide variety of mediums to create his at work, it is his stunning woodcut illustrations for which he is perhaps most famous for. Works Include: Gods’ Man (1929), Prelude to a Million Years (1933) and Vertigo (1937).

It is often cited that Ward’s work would go on to be a major influence on other graphic artists, in particular, Art Spiegelman, whose retelling of the horrors of the Holocaust  were portrayed by mice as Jews and Cats as Nazis. Spiegelman’s work first appeared in an underground comic strip in 1972. A year later he would produce the woodcut graphic piece, Prisoner on the Hell Planet, portraying the after-effects of his mother’s suicide. At the time, depicting subject matter like the Holocaust and suicide in graphic form was extremely radical, but only viewed by a small collection of people who ‘got’ the whole underground comic scene. For the majority of people comics conjured up a world of super heroes from the two powerhouses, DC and Marvel; a pastime for adolescents only.

Later in the decade this view would change with graphic artist and writer, Will Eisner producing his thought provoking collection of short graphic stories, A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories. Eisner was also responsible for coining the phrase ‘graphic novel’. The term would come to represent a shift in people perceptions of comics as nothing more than a collection of comic strips, but as with the underground comic movement graphic novels too would be used to explore a whole range of issues. Spiegelman was one such artist who along with his wife, Françoise Mouly, had started up the avant-garde RAW where the Holocaust story depicted by mice and cats had been expanded under the title Maus. With the success of Eisner’s work,  released the two volume collection of Maus as a graphic novel with much of the story being told by the pictures alone. Since then there has been a massive boom in graphic novels as a medium to tell a whole range of different and sometimes difficult stories. From the critically acclaimed Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, Eric Drooker’s brilliant wordless ‘Blood Song to, Our Cancer Year, written by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner, illustrated by Frank Stack. The graphic novel has enabled these authors and illustrators and many more to reach a wide range of people to tell stories in a more accessible way.

Of course, the writers and illustrators of the super hero genre also made use of the graphic novel, more of which will be discussed in Sequential art, part 3

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