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Graphic novels a growing segment of cartooning

The graphic novel segment of the cartooning industry is exploding, so I wasn’t surprised that this year’s AAEC convention will feature Gary Groth of Fantagraphic Books. I read a couple of stories over the weekend that offer a few more hint of just how widely accepted graphic novels are in literary circles now.

From the last paragraph in an article on the last printing of the last DFC issue we learn that Borders introduced a graphic novel section into their stores in early March and have seen a 800% increase in title sales.

Missoula Public Library, which boasts one of the largest graphic novels collections in the northwest, has started a quarterly graphic novel discussion group.

The Times-Herald reports that The New York Times has started publishing bestseller lists of hardcover, softcover and manga graphic novels.

Community Comments

#1 Noah Rodenbeek
April/6/2009
@ 11:10 am

Pluggin’ for my greatest graphic-novel influence, Brian Floca. He has a new book coming out tomorrow called Moonshot. It’s about Apollo 11, you can check it out at brianfloca.com.

#2 Bobby Timony
April/6/2009
@ 11:28 am

I got a OGN idea cooking.

#3 Noah Rodenbeek
April/6/2009
@ 11:47 am

Bobby,

let’s hear it!

#4 Bobby Timony
April/6/2009
@ 12:06 pm

It’s a bit soon to go into specifics, but it’s a comedy/fantasy with an ensemble cast and a bit of an interactive element to it.
I’ve got the plot blocked out from beginning to end with almost half of the script done as well as all the character designs and some page breakdowns.
My plan is to serialize it online, though I haven’t worked out the specifics. I’m thinking I’ll debut some pages at the Mocca festival.

#5 Noah Rodenbeek
April/6/2009
@ 12:13 pm

How blocked out did you have your story before you began writing out the actual script? Were you able to make a story web for the entire thing or just enough to get started? I have a hard time not diving right in as soon as I’ve created a single interesting story point, you know?

#6 Wiley Miller
April/6/2009
@ 12:25 pm

This is where I’ve been advising aspiring cartoonists to go for years now, as the newspaper market is going down. That, and animation. I think you’ll have a far better shot at making a living in those markets now than you can in syndication.

#7 Patrick LaMontagne
April/6/2009
@ 12:36 pm

The newspaper market is going down?! When did THIS happen?!

#8 Noah Rodenbeek
April/6/2009
@ 12:48 pm

Is the 800% increase in sales attributed to all graphic novel titles or just Watchmen?

#9 Bobby Timony
April/6/2009
@ 1:59 pm

Noah,
I started with a scene I had in my head, then wrote a couple more pages. Then on the subway, the whole thing came to me all at once and I wrote it all down.
Now I have the whole story blocked out from start to finish with brief descriptions of each scene and the important things that need to happen to move the story along.

#10 Phil Wohlrab
April/6/2009
@ 2:13 pm

Nope Graphic novels are just huge, period. I like the series”The Walking Dead”
And if your novel is truly awesome you might even get a movie deal like 30 days of night or Ghost world. I have been slaving over a graphic novel geared towards kids, and plan on moving to flash animation shorts after its done.

The beauty of a one shot story/Graphic novel is that it ends. If it wasn’t good, oh well, do another story with different characters. Comic strips go on for ever and ever.
And for those of us who work as illustrators full time, they’re too much work (at least they would be for me) Flash animators make good money too.. better than the average illustrator. Animation world network always has job posting for them.

#11 Noah Rodenbeek
April/6/2009
@ 2:22 pm

Bobby,

thanks for talking about your process. I experience the exact same things where I get an idea for a scene but the rest of it just isn’t there yet. I’m glad the rest of yours just came to you all at once like that, that gives me hope.

#12 JP Trostle
April/6/2009
@ 3:24 pm

Wait — isn’t print supposed to be, you know, dead?

+Jape

#13 Howard Tayler
April/6/2009
@ 7:54 pm

Wait â?? isnâ??t print supposed to be, you know, dead?

Okay, I know you’re kidding, but let’s clear up a misconception here:

The disruptive innovations/technologies that we see at work in our market right now are actually really, really good for graphic novelists.

The first is Print On Demand. It’s not killing print. It’s out-competing traditional offset printing for the self-published author, and allowing independent artists to get their work in print and in the hands of their readers. For some it is the litmus test that convinces them to drop a chunk of change on offset printing.

The second is The Internet and Webcomics. Lots of webtoonists, myself included, make their living by selling collections of their work in print. Some go through traditional publishers (Dark Horse, Image, and Random House all have printed collections of webcomics) and some self-publish. But the demand for their work in print is the important factor. As has been established above, graphic novels are doing well right now, and not just on the coat-tails of “Watchmen.”

I’m making a very comfortable living self-publishing Schlock Mercenary. That is not “Print is dead.” That’s “long live capitalism!”

#14 Alan Jones
April/6/2009
@ 10:42 pm

Oh geez, don’t get started on the ‘print is dead’ — besides, it’s not dead, simply adjusting. Or not so simply.

#15 Howard Tayler
April/6/2009
@ 10:54 pm

Right. That was pretty much my point.

#16 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 6:54 am

I thought “print is dead” was referring more towards newsprint comics. I don’t think numbers for graphic novels are relative, they have more to do with the boom in graphic-novel-to-film popularity and the light it has shown on the medium.

Besides, I think it would be cooler to get industry professional advice on how to make a great graphic novel rather than try to relive last week’s train wreck.

#17 Phil Wohlrab
April/7/2009
@ 7:26 am

I was perusing the children’s lit section yesterday to see where exactly my little story would fit in and I found “Toon Books”
http://www.toon-books.com/about.php

thought it’d be of some interest

#18 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 7:38 am

“series advisor: Art Spiegelman”

Great link!

#19 TJ
April/7/2009
@ 8:40 am

How do you guys think technology like Amazon’s Kindle will change the print world for graphic novels?

I’m sure that comics will be appearing on the device soon if they haven’t already, although they’ll be limited to black and white until they release a color screen (that’s basically what I’m waiting for…b&w doesn’t excite me much). But is this a good thing, or a bad thing for cartoonists?

Will collections have to be sold at a lower price to meet the demand of low-cost digital material, or is it a good thing because you can bypass printing costs and never run out?

#20 Howard Tayler
April/7/2009
@ 9:17 am

Anecdotally (I know a couple of authors):

Right now authors are seeing Kindle sales as a huge penalty. It’s not offsetting print costs — it’s listed as “deep discount” sales, and their royalties are about half what they would be on a print book of that price.

Publishers may be doing okay, but I don’t have that information.

#21 Alan Jones
April/7/2009
@ 9:27 am

Digital devices are but another choice for viewing content.

I am thoroughly convinced, after watching it play out some, that any mechanical analog to printed material will only be a niche thing, for people on the constant go (which is not all the time for those folk either).

Reading from a screen seems most conducive to small chunks of informational material (small news articles, small research pieces, a reviews etc, ) from what I’ve read/experienced. It simply does not provide the tactile experience that makes it the warm and inviting experience that print provides.

It is this experience, I believe, that is part of the draw of graphic novels and pretty much most print-based entertainment reading (comic books, newspaper comic strips).

They can try to put that stuff on devices, but I don’t think it will get very far. I don’t believe much will change otherwise. It’s more like ‘moving over’ a bit to accommodate another rider on the bus.

#22 Howard Tayler
April/7/2009
@ 9:28 am

I should also point out that for mass-market novels the printing cost is not the big line-item. The big costs lie in hiring the editors, the marketing execs, and of course paying the authors’ royalties.

Where e-readers can really help is with the small presses where printing costs are significant, but e-readers are only going to help if those small presses can find a way to market their books such that people will actually buy electronic editions.

If Amazon does a color Kindle, I’ll almost certainly make Schlock Mercenary collections available on it. I’ve already signed a contract for electronic editions through Baen Books (PDFs of the print books, which will have more content and higher-resolution content than what’s available for free on the web) so enabling those for the Kindle or iPhone is a logical next step.

#23 Howard Tayler
April/7/2009
@ 9:44 am

Our podcast producer at Writing Excuses made a GREAT point about the difference between CD/iPod and e-reader/paper:

When we switched (and most of us did) from listening to CDs to listening to music on our iPods, the method of consuming the content did not change. We still used headphones, or computer speakers, or boom-boxes, or home theaters, or car stereos. We just started using the aux inputs (at first) and the iPod docking trays as the devices began to dominate.

With books, however, changing the source of the “data” from a block of wood (nod to Mike Stackpole) to a block of doped silica also requires a change in the way we consume the data.

In short, while speakers are speakers and headphones are headphones, screens are not paper. This distinction will be what drives the state Alan describes, where e-readers never supplant physical books.

(Until, of course, screens ARE paper. Hey, I write science-fiction. I’m allowed to try to imagine that.)

#24 Alan Jones
April/7/2009
@ 10:04 am

Yes, it’s exactly as Howard describes. And, the way we consume data is culturally based, which is largely technologically driven. That technology has happened to be print for the last few centuries or so.

So perhaps in the future when people learn to read and assimilate the world using the screen more so than print (as we do now), then the market changes more significantly.

I also want to clarify my belief (stated above) regarding comic strips (and editorial, of course) on the ‘small’ screen (vs. desktop/laptop screen) — some types of comic strip/sequential art would work out on screen as long as they fit the small-digestable-chunk paradigm. But graphic novels — not so much maybe.

Now if someone can figure a way to micro-pub graphic novels that could fit a twitter-like format, yeah there’s a market! But it would require altering some of the fundamental characteristics of graphic novels, perhaps.

Isn’t that what they call progress?

#25 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 10:10 am

“Now if someone can figure a way to micro-pub graphic novels that could fit a twitter-like format, yeah thereâ??s a market! But it would require altering some of the fundamental characteristics of graphic novels, perhaps.”

Karl Kerschl is doing that exact thing at http://www.abominable.cc/ . Lots of artists are making graphic novels in webcomic format already. The discussion has nothing to do with graphic novels, it’s all about the skilled artists making editorial or cartoony comics for newspapers trying to transition to the web. That’s where the death is.

If we could seriously get off of that topic though I think there’s potential here to talk about actual graphic novel work. Writing a novel is so much more complex than just doing a strip, I would like to hear from more experienced artists on how their writing process works.

#26 TJ
April/7/2009
@ 10:45 am

It’s probably also good to note that it’s difficult to sell an artist’s edition of an e-book, or to get an e-book signed by your favorite author.

“In short, while speakers are speakers and headphones are headphones, screens are not paper. This distinction will be what drives the state Alan describes, where e-readers never supplant physical books.

(Until, of course, screens ARE paper. Hey, I write science-fiction. Iâ??m allowed to try to imagine that.)”

Actually, e-paper isn’t that far off from reality:

http://thefutureofthings.com/articles/1000/the-future-of-electronic-paper.html

#27 Howard Tayler
April/7/2009
@ 12:00 pm

Re: Writing Graphic Novels

I guess that’s kind of what I do, but my process is decidedly off-center from most. I’m writing a serial gag-a-day strip, but it’s telling a story that is definitely an epic-scope space-opera. Subtract out the gag-a-day bit, re-panel it appropriately, and it would be more of a classic graphic novel.

Still, some process elements are universal:
1) You’re writing a novel, not a comic strip. This means world-building, working in three acts, and understanding the difference between character-driven and plot-driven stories.

2) If you remove all text except the dialog from a novel, and then replace that text with illustration (or perhaps a narrator box when required to establish setting), THAT’s the essence of a graphic novel. Or at least that’s how we tell novelists to approach it.

3) Screen writing and story-boarding is probably the closest related skill set. If you can write a screen-play, you can write a graphic novel. If you can illustrate a storyboard from a screen play then you can illustrate a graphic novel.

My gag-a-day approach is rare, though probably not unique. It allows me to publish daily installments that provide a reward for the daily reader (punchline!) while still hooking them with an overall story that is big enough that they’ll want to buy books later.

So far it’s worked well. I’ve had novelist friends tell me to drop the gag-a-day aspect, but I’m reluctant to mess with a successful format.

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