The State of the Graphic Novel

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Films have had success in introducing the public to the idea of the comic as a more textured work, mainly through projects like Watchmen, Sin City, Persepolis, and maybe even From Hell (not "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," which was, well cartoonish.) Are there concerns about these works losing their thematic luster in translation to the big screen?

This comes down to the basic question of which is better: the novel or the movie. Most people realize that the novel is better. I think people have learned over time that when things are adapted, it loses something. I don't think anyone sees Watchmen and thinks that they won't seek out the book. I don't think that's skewed in any way, and I actually think that movie in particular is actually kind of cool. I will say this though; one of the great things about the graphic novel is you decide the pacing. When it's adapted, it's hard to adapt the same experience.

Do you have any thoughts on Y: The Last Man? The series ended a few years ago, and I know it made quite an impression on many people in Hollywood.

[Authors note: Y: The Last Man is an award-winning series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra published by Vertigo beginning in 2002. about the only man to survive the apparent simultaneous death of every male mammal (barring the same man's pet monkey) on Earth. The film rights were acquired by New Line Cinema in 2007; David S. Goyer is set to produce]

The final issue of Y: The Last Man is one of the reasons I never want to end The Walking Dead. I don't think I'll ever be able to do one as good. I'll keep my thing going until nobody cares in the end.

Is finality good? Sometimes I think certain characters get changed up so much just to keep a series fresh after so many years that there's no coherence anymore. I used to read Spider-Man and I feel like Peter Parker is a totally different person now.

The X-Men and Spider-man follow the story structure of Days Of Our Lives. It's like those old soap operas that started as radio shows and became TV shows and continued for decades and decades with partly the same cast, with lead characters coming back who people have forgotten, storylines changing so much that characters are totally different, and old characters coming back when newer audiences don't remember them. If you sit down and watch 70 years, its not really going to make much sense in one story. That's what comics are in the conventional superhero genre. There are so many different writers and artists who have altered it that it doesn't really read like one story, because its not. Its' a continuing cycle of people trying to keep it exciting and vibrant.

So here's a big the distinction, then, between a comic and graphic novel.

Sure. Y had an ending, and it was written by Brian K Vaughn the whole way through. The Walking Dead is a really long novel...it'll always be written by ME. If I die before it's over, sorry about your luck. Walking Dead has a beginning, middle, and end...I just haven't got to the middle yet. Y will be infinitely shorter, but it has a beginning, middle , and end. I don't know if Cerberus was one of the first stories to do this: Dave Sims set out to do 300 issue. When you read 300 issues of Spider-man, there's no beginning and no end, you don't feel like there's any progress or your like you accomplished anything. You're sort of left hanging.

I think its going to neat if The Walking Dead runs for 300 issues or more. You'll be able to go back and start and see how the characters grow, change, and evolve, and how the long progression of time has affected.

Sort of like For Better or For Worse vs. Calvin and Hobbes if we're talking about newspaper strips. The characters in the former age and face the issues associated with growing up, while Calvin and Hobbes are sort of frozen in time.

That's a way of looking at it.


We've established an idea of the graphic novel and how it's become successful in the past few years. So the obvious question: what's in store for the future?

We're going to continue to see more good, unique ideas. That's what comics are good at, and that's why Hollywood is coming to us in a big way, adapting more material for the movies. There are an insane number of talented people working in comics, and we're going to see more and more new ideas making in onto a screen and expanding the medium. I see more of what we've seen in the past few years, just bigger and better. I have very high hopes for the industry that has an enormous amounts of untapped potential that we'll be tapping into very soon. It'll get to the point where you go to visit your grandmother and there's a graphic novel on her nightstand. I think that's what were working towards, and by God I think we'll make it there.

After all, what novel couldn't be made better by adding pictures?

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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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