Novels and authors
When is a graphic novel not a graphic novel? Well, first of all, what is a graphic novel? Most people would consider a graphic novel to be, crudely put, a long comic book. But what about novels that contain comic-panel-like illustrations? They aren’t straight comics, not with the huge chunks of text they contain. And they certainly aren’t for young beginner readers, not with topics like drinking, drugs, school shootings, and the sinking of the Lusitania. They are, quite literally, graphic novels—novels that contain graphics. ? To get to the root of this phenomenon, I talked with the authors of three such novels: Gail Sidonie Sobat, author of Jamie’s Got a Gun; Robert Gipe, author of Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel; and Frieda Wishinsky and Willow Dawson, author and illustrator, respectively, of Avis Dolphin.
There are of course a lot of straight novels and a lot of straight comics, but this is probably the first 50/50 I’ve seen. How did you decide to go about writing the book this way?
Gail Sidonie SobatThe story occurred to me as a dream with vivid images, so I knew, as a traditional writer, that this novel would be a departure in form for me, that it warranted a visual telling as well as a straight narrative telling. I knew there was only one artist who could draw what I envisioned, and that was Spyder Yardley-Jones. From the start, I saw the book as a hybrid of traditional novel and comic. I got the idea from Brian Selznick’s recent novels that use straight narration complemented by a series of images to tell a story: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.
Do you think there were things you were able to get across more clearly in illustrations instead of the text, and vice versa? And how did you decide which parts to do in comic form?
Yes, from the beginning, the parts of Jamie’s story that are most emotional or difficult for him to express in words are the scenes I wanted Spyder to draw. This is a boy who is dyslexic and pretty messed up. He, himself, is a comics artist who turns to his notebook to work out his struggles and his dreams. The novel is meant to be read as if you are reading Jamie’s notebook and looking at his artwork. Although, arguably, Jamie is quite good with words, he doesn’t believe that, but he does believe he’s a good artist.