My name is Paul Williams and I’m a Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Literature. I’m embarking on a twenty-month research project entitled ‘Reframing the Graphic Novel,’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK. This will see me descending into archives, interviewing comics creators, giving conference papers and reading lots of comics. Particularly comics in book form. Between now and March 2016 I’ll be digging down into the ‘novelization’ of comics that took place in the 1970s: how was the concept of the novel being used to describe long-length narratives and how were comics being published in book form? The two processes regularly coincided, for sure, but not always, so I’ve separated them out to think more clearly about them.
Once a month I’ll use this blog to discuss an extended comics narrative that was promoted as a novel or a comic that was published in book form. It won’t just be ‘graphic novels’ – ‘visual novels,’ ‘comic novels,’ ‘comic book novels,’ ‘graphic story novels’ and ‘graphic albums’ may all make an appearance. Lots of terms were competing with each other in the 1970s!
What I won’t do is take the term ‘graphic novel,’ provide a dictionary-style definition, and then see how far back I can find examples that fit that definition in a quest to discover a final, decisive point of origin. I’m much more interested in outlining the fascinating, messy experiments with comics taking place in the 1970s. The conversations I want to have will – I hope – pick up on different intonations of the word ‘novel,’ the influence of bande dessinée on British and North American comics, how fans responded (not always enthusiastically) to comics in book form, and what happened when comics that first appeared in periodicals were collected together in one package. In selecting comics to discuss, I’ll try to mix up the very familiar with the highly obscure. Most of the texts I write about will be British or American, but comics published elsewhere in the English-speaking world should make an appearance too. It’s a long 1970s I’ve got in my head, running roughly from 1968 to 1982. There’ll be postings about related topics too: comics scholarship is proliferating at the moment, and there are debates a-plenty to be had.
When we get to 2016 I’m helping to curate an exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in London, but don’t wait until then to go visit: they always have displays worth seeing and right now they’re running the excellent exhibition Never Again! World War I in Cartoon and Comic Art.
If you are reading this thinking ‘But I created graphic novels in the 1970s!’ please get in touch. I may be trying to contact you already! If you were a writer, penciller, inker, colourist, letterer, editor, publisher, translator, retailer, collector or reader of books of comics, I’d love to hear from you – about what was going on in the 1970s or just what you think of these blog entries. I can be collared easily via email (), twitter (@paulgwilliams1) or this blog. Comments from ALL readers are encouraged!
The first entry is on Bill Bergeron’s Prairie State Blues (1973), a collage of short comics, most of which are tethered to Illinois and the American Mid-West in some way. I’m starting with a book that few people will have heard of: Prairie State Blues is difficult to categorize, an unsentimental and visually intricate study of religion, human existence and the American landscape.
Hope you enjoy it and there will be more next month!