From “Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes” – Mary & Bryan Talbot (2012)

It’s been a good weekend for graphic novels – of keen interest to me because of my own recent work in the genre. But the rise and rise of the graphic novel has interesting implications for aspects of fine art.

Two excellent graphic novels – Days of the Bagnold Summer, by Joff Winterhart; and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, by Bryan and Mary Talbot – have been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards. It’s the most recent high-profile example of the genre demonstrating the sophistication of its literary credentials. Mary Talbot’s memoir is an uncompromising account of her difficult childhood as the daughter of a literary scholar; Joff Winterhart’s book is the touching story of a divorced woman and her 15-year old son over the course of a long, difficult summer. In both cases, these are complex stories which only the syncretic medium of the graphic novel – with its cross-over of image and text – can really tell effectively.

We’re used to this sort of cross-over in the fine arts. Contemporary art has successfully mixed together painting and sculpture, installation and video, sound, light and performance into works that defy easy categorisation – and a dedicated body of practice has moved this idea of the “mixed media” work from the fringes of fine art practice to the centre. And just as with the graphic novel, we know that there are some fine art works that just wouldn’t work as painting, sculpture, installation, video, sound, light or performance pieces on their own.

It’s an exciting time to be working with graphic novels. Recent experiments in narrative structuring such as hypertextuality, intertextuality, multiplatform storytelling and other forms of “telematic” or transmedia are pushing boundaries in fascinating ways. This hybrid, explorative “mixed media literature” has lots to learn from the experience of the fine arts in blending together different forms of expression  – and, perhaps, a lot to teach in return.

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