Friday, June 24, 2011

An Underestimated Format

Appearances still matter. For so many years people keep on mouthing the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but there’s a multitude of proofs everywhere that most of the time people treat it like a time-worn statement that is meant to be ignored—both in the metaphorical and the literal sense. The literary world is not spared by the destructively continuous influx of judgmental people, and looking at it from the correct perspective, the scene was more saddening than infuriating. Case in point: the underestimation of graphic novels.

Falling in love with art + literature

The plethora of reading materials that comes my way has a sizable chunk of sci-fi/post-apocalyptic graphic novels. More often than not, when I have my nose buried in one, I’d receive a couple of condescending stares that scream, “Comics? Seriously? Grow up!”

I’d be more than glad to shoot back at them with a baleful glare and tell them, “Grow up? Here’s a mirror and kindly tell the person you see there to grow up.”  But no, I wouldn’t. I know that no snappy comeback or one-liner would be potent enough to shove a big rock blocking a person's open-mindedness regarding the smallest of things.

Moving on, what’s worse for graphic novels is that people don’t judge them by the appearance of their covers alone; the appearance of their insides as well are frowned upon and dismissed as a kid’s stuff. Comics, the graphic novels’ predecessors, are often stereotyped as kitsch—which is in itself a grave accusation, since a lot of comics are amazing. I’m not just talking about tomes upon tomes of compiled superhero issues; I’m also talking about the comic strips that we often encounter in the entertainment section of most local broadsheets. Political, satirical, or just plain sweet, those strips require a lot of thinking in the artists’ part. Unfortunately the readers don’t keep the end of their unspoken bargain, since they readily dismiss this format as a waste of time. Huh.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained as a school organ editorial cartoonist since I was in grade school that I’ve learned to appreciate the meaning of a single picture. More so a compendium of narrative ones! But then again, I know that even if I wasn’t trained, art would always be there to be valued. All that we really need is a good sense of appreciation and a depth of understanding.

Anyway, just because a story is told in the form of a graphic novel doesn’t mean it wouldn’t weigh more than a feather. Far from that, believe it or not. I’ve read graphic novels that have more substance compared to some of the wildly popular books today.

dCbz version of "Preludes and Nocturnes", open in my desktop

I’ve seen this phenomenon too, in the underestimation of animated series compared to live action or ‘real-life’ television shows. Some ‘serious’ readers tend to avoid graphic novels like the plague because they think it’s all made up of immature stuff. I’ve asked someone before why he wouldn’t read one, and he answered something along the lines of “Those are only created for kids who have short attention spans; the cheap pictures are a magnet to keep them reading.” Really? You think the ‘cheap pictures’ are nothing but an eye-candy? That kind of mentality wouldn’t take you anywhere.

Graphic novels are products of a good mix of literature and art. The artwork that comes in the package is never just for decoration; it's doing half the legwork of the whole mechanism. For one, panels can effectively help the story pick up speed or slow down when it needs to. Just a few frames, a clever usage of onomatopeia, a couple or so of thought balloons, and voila! The readers are in for a good-paced story. Having encountered many books, I know that pacing is still a hard work for most novelists. I could point out more use of the art, but I’d rather let the others discover it by reading something in this format.

I only wish that more people would read graphic novels—I bet they’d be surprised by the ample amount of philosophy, wisdom, and heart-pinching epiphanies that these books could give. If only they’d drop the mentality that penciled characters talking in speech balloons should never be taken seriously, it’ll all be easier for everyone. Aye?

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