The Transmogrification of The Indie Comic-Book into The Indie Graphic Novel (Series)

Jason Lutes' "Berlin" has been coming out since 1996 in a slim 30-page saddle-stitched format (that's just fancy talk for: it's a comic-book). But things have changed since 1996. Are "Berlin" and Adrian Tomine's "Optic Nerve" the last of the great indie comic-books?

Chris Ware's "Acme Novelty Library" became a hardcover graphic novel series when Ware began self-publishing the title at issue #16. Los Bros Hernandez' "Love and Rockets" became an annual paperback graphic novel with restarted numbering under the title "New Stories" in 2oo8. Finally, Seth's "Palookaville" jumped ship this year: with "Palookaville" issue #20, the series is now 'hardcover graphic novel volume' #20.

"Acme Novelty Library" changed formats like most people change their clothes but "Palookaville" now exists as nineteen comic-books and one graphic novel-ish thing. Seth is to be congratulated in at least one way: "Palookaville" Vol. 20 is a pretty gorgeous book object but doubts linger in the forefront of my mind.
"The expansion into hardcover from pamphlet is a parallel that illustrates Seth's growth ... into a book designer, hobbyist, editor, essayist, and installation artist."
~ "Palookaville" #20 (marketing writing on the book-band)
A slightly different tune from Seth himself (a slog of text yes, but worth it):

"It's not like I wasn't aware that the comic book format was coming to an end. A shift had occurred (this last decade) in the sales of comic books and people simply weren't buying 'alternative' comic books any longer-- they were waiting for the book collections instead. Books were the current 'healthy business model.' ... I was torn. I have a deep and abiding love of the old pamphlet form of comics. I grew up with them, and it is the most simple, austere and unpretentious format you could invent. ...

all the great alternative comics were gone ... Hate, Yummy Fur, Eightball, Yahoo, Dirty Plotte, Peepshow, Jim/Frank... they'd all vanished. Even Love and Rockets had turned into a large squarebound book. Only Optic Nerve seemed to be strongly carrying on. I hadn't truly realized how much of a dying breed we were. Was I leaving now too? It seemed a minor betrayal of something to quit the format. ...

It's difficult to do a long story all at once and putting it out a bit at a time was a method that worked for me. There was an era when the comics reader was more willing to go along with this approach ... Then they'd buy the book collection as well. I appreciated that too. I guess that day is done. ...

In fact, the less constrained page count would actually allow me to present larger chunks of the long story as well. ... I suspect that this format change itself will influence how my next long story is told. ... So, goodbye, comic book format. It was good to know you. I leave you with no regrets."
~ Seth from "Palookaville" #20: Introduction

So where does the 'comic-book' end and the 'graphic novel' begin? Well, somewhere in the middle of the 'graphic novella' I guess? At over 100 pages? Other than that I'll be damned if I know anymore.

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's "Lost Girls" was an indie comic-book slowly released over several years. The series was canceled and eventually finished when published as a bound book set and then a single volume "graphic novel". If the only way to get the entire story is to buy the trade, does that lend credence to the concept of a serialized graphic novel?

"I suspect that this format change itself will influence how my next long story is told." Of course it will. If I gave anyone alive one page a day to write something, the writing would be different than if I gave them 100 pages at once. Artists, like all humans, are adaptable. They expand or truncate to fit the space they're given. This affects the way these stories are told and if ALL indie creators switch over like this I fear we will begin to see an English-language paper-marketplace with very similar comics. I am working on a review of "Berlin" #17. Will my review of "Berlin" #18 (in 2o13 or whenever) be of a hardcover book? In which case, webcomics-in-print may become the new go-to source for a variety for voices who wish to do something in short formats without a superhero in it (not that there's anything wrong if there is) at a comics shop or box chain bookstore. Truth is: webcomics already rival the indie comics in that regard. Turn on your computer, type "recommended webcomics" into Google and you may be amazed at what you find.

But should not the talented creators of limited financial means be also given credit for surmountting the problem Seth clearly stated: "It's difficult to do a long story all at once"? As a creator of limited financial means (who believes himself to be talented) I myself know that to be true. Time, food, money. These are troubling obstacles to sitting at a computer/typewriter/drawing board/lightbox all day long. I believe those who do so, indie or otherwise, without immediate recompense and publish their hard-fought work all at once, are creators who deserve the term graphic novel.

In the end, I have little doubt that just as digital comics will take off, people will find a use for paper comics; so too, as the ongoing graphic novel series becomes more common, people will find a use (most likely an entirely original and unexpected one) for the comic-book.

Here's looking forward to whatever that may be.


In the Beginning Was the Image... (And the Word came later. Trust Me.)

"God gave us His Word, i.e., the Word of God; NOT a picture book!  The Picture Bible is very dangerous to children today, because it effectively inoculates them from the true Word of God, and leaves out critical teachings in the Scriptures."
~ "The DANGERS of The Picture Bible" by David J. Stewart
Those are the opening words of a rather strange essay about "The Picture Bible" I stumbled upon while researching Bible comics recently. David J. Stewart is a vehement believer in salvation through guilt, i.e. fear of the punishment from a vengeful deity. And he believes the "ecumenical" Christians, i.e. just about all the Christians not sitting on his particular branch of the tree, are as certainly wrong as he is certainly right. He has made this quite clear in his essay. I don't believe I am going out on a limb of my own intellectual tree to say that the kind of narrow-mindedness Stewart displays essentially discriminates against those arms of Christianity that disagree with him when he states that "The Picture Bible" is invalid because it excludes certain phrases he finds central to his religion. (Although he does make it clear that this is probably acceptable for those other arms of Christianity). AND discriminates against those who process information and learn visually instead of verbally. Few people in the America I know and grew-up in would disgree with that.

I do not 'believe' in the Judeo-Christian God. God with a capital G. I do not believe god should be capitalized because god is not a person or a consciousness or an intelligence or even an ideology. We capitalize Josh Kopin because Josh is real person, we capitalize Santa Claus because Santa is a fictional person, but god is neither of those things. We don't capitalize the word gravity either, and that's a force that keeps us alive and exists everywhere and anywhere too.

Now with all of that religious 'here's what I believe' claptrap out of the way, let's talk about sequential art: what makes this essay of Stewart's important for our purposes is that in equal measure to his religious discrimination he is discriminating between modes of communication and thou must embrace variety in mediums of communication or thou shalt be poor in variety of messages indeed. That is also what I believe.

David C. Cook Publishers, the producer of "The Picture Bible" proudly describe their 800-page product thus: "For years, The Picture Bible has delighted young and old. ... Though the full text for 233 stories is provided, children can follow the colorful pictures and storyline without having to read every word." That's often the mark of good comics: clear visual communication.

To believe that visual narrative, as Stewart states, "may be more entertaining, but it cannot cut to the heart, cause GUILT, and bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit like the genuine Bible can" is to ignore the art and communication produced previous to the written word and over the large majority of human history and insult all visual artists, sequential or otherwise.

Indeed, if "The Picture Bible" truly can communicate the stories of the Bible clearly without text it does the 'Word of God' a proud service in transforming and adapting it to the 'Sequential Image of God'. (Not to mention shun guilt and fear as spiritual teaching tools in the process.) No small feat.


P.S. ~ You can read more about "The Picture Bible" and Cook Publishers at the page devoted to them on Christian Comics