The graphic novel was coined as a term to distinguish itself from comics as they supposedly carried more mature and literary content and works of art. In the United States the first form of popular visual books began with the likes of Superman, Batman, Captain America, Green Lantern by DC Comics and various derivations of it with super human strengths and ability to fight evil that came in all shapes and sizes. With colorful names and costumes they vanquished evil using detective methods and mysterious powers. These comics were a subtle way to influence the public opinion regarding social and political ideologies besides serving to idealise the American way of life and preservation. This was particularly important in the years of the world war and subsequent threat of communism in the post world war era. Besides superheroes a lot more funny animal characters were also created and licensed from studios like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Woody the Woodpecker which were highly popular. Syndication in major newspapers across the world also increased the readership and following of comics.
In the course of time the comics evolved from simple battles between good and evil to more complex forms of expression with philosophical, sexual and the metaphysical mirroring the changes in the society thus diverging from the juvenile or ‘comic’ to more serious artistic execution.
The term “graphic novel” began to grow in popularity months after it appeared on the cover of the trade paperback edition of Will Eisner’s ‘A Contract with God’ (October 1978). This collection of short stories was a mature, complex work focusing on the lives of ordinary people in the real world. The critical and commercial success of A Contract with God helped to establish the term “graphic novel” in common usage, and many sources have incorrectly credited Eisner with being the first to use it.
From here onwards publishers like Marvel and DC comics started taking more and more interest in the graphic novel business signing on many talents to take on previous works and adapt them and also create new groundbreaking stories. Most importantly were two artists – Alan Moore and Frank Miller who created dark compelling characters with layered storylines. Major among them was Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.
The Dark Knight Rises was created by Frank Miller who portrayed an aging Batman in a dystopian future mulling over concepts of mortality, vigilantism and heroism. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons came together to create arguably the finest graphic novel in the last century with the setting being in a alternate reality having superheroes who have retired from crime fighting and now living ordinary lives with the threat of nuclear war impending. Time even listed it as one of the best novels of all time.
Alan Moore after a few years also went on to write the Orwellian piece –‘V for Vendetta’ while Miller wrote his very famous ‘300’ about the Battle of Thermopylae and the film noir styled ‘Sin City’.
Of late there have been a whole lot of writers on the Graphic Novel bandwagon because of its popularity and that the chances of it being turned into a movie are very high. Mark Millar is one of the lot making in big with his Wanted starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy and the last year’s Kickass.
With Hollywood reaching its creative nadir in terms of scripts, Graphic Novels are manna from heaven making it with very easy to adapt it to screen with fancy CGI and big stars making it the perfect recipe for summer blockbusters. While some of them are worth the price of a ticket most just take page by page and put it up on the screen.
All in all whether its saving the planet or saving Hollywood, graphic novels are here to stay for now atleast.