Creative output manifests itself in a myriad of ways. No longer are artists confined to the canvas, cave wall, or fresco. The developments of materials and technology have permitted artistic output in the shape of fuel filled rooms, cascades of water and moving LED text. Whilst some are easier to reproduce than others, for those that can be made over and over again, does this take away a perceived value of an object as a work of art?
Film, video, television, books, records and comics are mediums that can be duplicated whilst retaining their physical qualities. Following World Book Day on Thursday let’s focus the debate on the graphic novel – a categorisation which is debateable in itself as it slips between art and literature.
Accordng to American comics artist and writer Eric Shanower the modern comic book came into being in the mid-1930s and in 1978 the first publication specifically called a graphic novel A Contract with God by Will Eisner was published. In the 1980s American comic book publishers experiemented with higher quality production methods in paper stock, reproduction and format.
Why are certain literary works – thankfully made available through the mass-produced medium of the paperback – recognised as a more valid art form compared to graphic novels? In 2012 two graphic novels were shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards for the first time. With the winners announced in January, Mary Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes graphic novel won the Biography Award and her accliamed comic artist husband Bryan, illustrator of the book said:
It is a good thing for graphic novels as a whole…Graphic novels are becoming increasingly accepted as a legitimate art form.
Following the announcement award judge, novelist and biographer D.J. Taylor said of the winning graphic work:
…that, despite its brevity and a preponderance of illustration over text…[it] had all the qualities displayed by more conventional works entered for the prize, but that these were enhanced by its visual flair….it was simply that, of the 100 or so books submitted for the biography category, ranging from Jonny Wilkinson’s memoirs to Peter Hook’s memories of Joy Division, this seemed to be the best.
So, why is the graphic novel, that also imparts a narrative but tells the story of a sequence of events through images and text, comparatively recognised as ‘low art’? You could say the 11th Century Bayeux Tapestry that depicts the Norman invasion of Britain is a form of comic art, or even Picasso’s preparatory etchings for Guernica.
I don’t believe in hierarchies of genre in culture or anything else. I think it’s best to look at things individually and judge them on their own merit. What I do think is great about comics is the format. It’s great to read a comic when you’re travelling. Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware are some artists I greatly admire from a comic art background. That’s not to mention the whole fanzine culture, which is huge and a massive influence on many artists work. Artist Ekta Ekta who I’m working with on The Canals Project takes huge inspiration from the style and forms of comics which he blurs into semi abstract forms - they look a bit art historical and a bit like comics.
Is the distinction between the uniqueness of an object, such as an individual drawing, sculpture, or painting, an artificial one? If something can be reproduced easily does this reduce its value? What are your favourite graphic novels and do you consider them to be art, literature or neither? Tell us what you think.