Graphic Novels, Some Background

Posted by Mary Murray on February 17th 2012 | 0 Comments

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LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel

On view at Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute March 4-April 29, 2012.

This exhibition is almost upon us! For the next two weeks the Museum of Art staff will be installing this interesting show. I’ve been learning a lot about the history of graphic novels in preparation and here are some things I’ve been reading about.

A graphic novel tells a tale with sequential imagery, and may have words or may not. Visual narratives in this format fascinate as the story unfolds in inventive pictures that give the impression of motion through time and space.

Will Eisner, whose work is included in LitGraphic, is the father of the graphic novel. As an adolescent, he was a pioneering comic book artist in the 1930s and worked in the business for decades. By the 1970s Eisner coined the phrase “graphic novel” when he produced a very personal book of sequential pictures and text, Contract with God.

Will Eisner, Contract with God, 1978

Eisner had trouble finding a publisher because his manuscript didn’t fit into a traditional category within the field of books for adult readers.

The graphic novel moved into the consciousness of mainstream literary and art circles with the publication of Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

Art Spiegelman, Maus, 1986

Maus is a two-part book that relates the author’s understanding of his father’s experiences in a World War II concentration camp and his subsequent life with family in New York City.

Spiegelman’s sensitive treatment of this difficult, historical and personal subject matter opened up readers’ understanding of and appreciation for the power of this medium to address the most serious issues of contemporary life.

In the late 1980s the prolific Neil Gaiman emerged as a major writer for graphic novels. He has gained near-cult status for his work, notably Sandman, which numerous artists have illustrated since its inception in 1989. Barron Storey and Marc Hempel, both represented in LitGraphic, have illustrated Gaiman titles.


Marc Hempel, The Sandman

More on graphic novels in my next installment. In the meantime, visit our website for information about the exhibition and its related programs.

LitGraphic was organized and is toured by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and generously sponsored in Utica by Bank of Utica.