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.

Writing alone

The aspect of writing that is most bugging me today is this question: are writers all in it together or, as a whole, are they in it for themselves?

For the most part, novel writing is an incredibly solitary business. While there are some writers that are able to collaborate with ease the majority of them tend to be writing in other genres. Some partnerships seem able to weather the storms of a joint novel project – Nicci French come to mind – but the thought that someone else could be as invested as I am in something I’m writing sounds scary as all hell.

That’s not to say I don’t rely on other writers, I totally do. From the folks in writers group to friends that prefer to chat about the writing process, I’m really lucky when it comes to sharing these days. But that doesn’t mean I’d want to share the failure or the glory of any particular piece.

Is that typical? What stops other novel writers from drawing on the support and back up that a joint venture can provide? Is it the long held vision of the writers scribbling away in a solitary garret or is it the fact that it’s just much easier to get lost in your fictional world when there’s no one there to disturb you? Do I have to talk to people in the real world?