It may be a comic, but that doesn’t mean it has to be funny

When I was a teenager, I thought reading comics the epitome of cool. This was largely influenced by the fact there were plenty of really interesting titles around at the time, and the term ‘graphic novel’ was starting to be bandied about and really kind of mean something.

I remember reading James O’Barr’s The Crow – which was my first comic of that ilk, although I’d seen plenty of The Broons, Beano and Dandy type things by then – and being totally blown away. And where did I end up next? Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. And what next? Neil Gaiman’s back catalogue. No wonder I assumed comics were where it was all going on.

Neil Gaiman, Death, Chris But I never turned into a die-hard fan. I had plenty of other books to be reading, and as much as I love gorgeous art work and innovative experiments with visual narratives, I really am a straight prose kind of girl. So for me, comics were always that cool cousin from out of town that had that little something different that you could only experiment in. So it came as a bit of a shock to me when, years later, I realised that getting people to, you know, respect as well as read comics was still an uphill struggle.

Dark Knight Returns comic coverOf course, I’d know a lot less about comics than I do if I didn’t know Ink, but I’d definitely still have a healthy regard for those who are able to tell a story and tell it well – whatever the medium. For me, I think the biggest problem with comics is that people tend to lump them all in together – which makes no sense at all.

James O'Barr Crow comic coverWhen I think of novels, there are only certain categories or sections I’d bother to consider: I’m not a huge fan of pink covered books for girls, detective fiction doesn’t do much for me and some fantasy stuff makes my eyes hurt, but obviously I don’t think that all books are the same as the ones I don’t like. Nope, I just bypass the commercial or niche books I’m not into and move onto the ones I am.

I doubt there are many people out there who think Jodi Picoult, Terry Pratchett, Audrey Niffenegger and Muriel Spark write the same stuff, so why do people write off comics so quickly?

It’s not something I really thought about much until I started going along to comic conventions. If I mentioned them in passing, I’d tend to see a strange reaction – a kind of stifled surprise from the more polite people – but if I say I’m going to see someone at the Edinburgh Book Festival (comic writers included) no one blinks an eye.

It’s really weird, and kind of sad. In all mediums, the most powerful pieces of work are the ones that defy their boundaries and it’d be a shame to think that the majority of people write comics off as fluffy entertainment and blockbuster fodder without giving some of the greats a try.

Anne Rice steps into video books

anne riceEternally on trend (when it comes to vampires and angels anyway), bestselling author Anne Rice has agreed to create a video book with Vook. The writer responsible for Interview With a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat – a couple of my out and out favourites as an early teen – will work on a multimedia edition of her story The Master of Rampling Gate.

It looks as though this is another potentially-evolutionary step on its way, I can’t really imagine who the fiction world will end up looking if it does. As Anne Rice says “I’m not sure that my mind can conceive of all the possibilities of this new form. I’m learning. And it feels good.”

Also including an author interview, it’s expected to be released on March 1 and you’ll be able to buy it on a variety of digital devices. Hmm, is this yet another thing to tempt me towards an iPad? These comics are looking pretty fine, but I just don’t think I’ve got the disposable income at the moment.

Prose girl enjoys comic convention

At the end of last week I was wondering whether Ink and I would make it to the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds and today the droop of my eyes and the fuzzy nature of my thoughts are reminding me that we totally did.

I’ve never been to a comic convention before but (despite that fact there were loads of people there and I’m awfully antisocial sometimes) I really enjoyed it. In many ways it reminded me massively of the book and film festivals in Edinburgh, both of which I’ve worked for a few times over the years, mainly due to the general buzz of anticipation and the strange (and often small) divides between the creators, the staff and the public.

One thing I really enjoyed about the whole experience was the way I was honestly left with the impression that the comic world is an inclusive one. Every talk I heard had encouragements and well as warnings and every person Ink spoke to about arty stuff was happy to give a little of their time, all of which was greatly appreciated.

Not being very knowledgeable about comics didn’t stop me from finding the talks generally interesting, there are many crossovers with prose fiction after all, and it’s inspiring to listen to people who are inspired no matter what medium they are working in.

People I most enjoyed talking or listening to included Keiron Gillen, Andy Diggle and Frank Quitley (who I enjoyed talking to for quite a while with no idea who he was!), all of whom are awesome and talented as well as friendly. I kinda want to go to another one now…

Who are you writing for?

One question that seems to come up again and again in writing forums or books of writing advice is; ‘who are you writing for?’ I guess in most instances they are talking about your ideal reader, as in ‘when you write, who do you wish would read it?’. If that was the intent of the question, I’d say that most of the time I’m imagining myself reading the story as though I had no idea what was going to happen next (don’t tell anyone that I frequently don’t know what’s going to happen next until it’s actually ‘happened’). Choosing someone else as the ideal reader seems presumptuous to me somehow. I guess any reader I got would be ideal.

Anyway, the question also got me thinking about who you are writing for in a more commercial sense. I mean, all the people out there writing short stories that are hard to place or literary novels that have no easy hook are regularly told that their market is shrinking and that they should be thinking more about using their talents elsewhere. But I don’t think it’s that easy. Or that it should be.

Nice work if you can get it, I say. If I thought I’d be good at writing compelling computer games or exciting comics then I’d be doing it. When it comes to crossing genre into ‘growth’ areas for the jobbing writer all I can think is that you need a special kind of talent to be able to write for one genre and skip to another because it’s more popular at the moment.

The writers of comics don’t often start doing it just because they want a quick buck and are trying to be commercial, they do it because the love the immediacy of the form. Just as lit fict writers are enamoured with the style and shape of ‘literary prose’.

This leads me to the depressing idea that, in the commercial sense, I’m probably writing for exactly the same number of people I was in the non-commercial sense. One – and that’s me! 🙂