One of the biggest draws of the Singapore Writers Festival was the American cartoonist and illustrator, Colleen Doran. She has been working with all the big names in the comic and graphics novel industry in the US.
Colleen spoke on "Graphic novels and the future of literature" at the Library@Orchard on Sep 1. A good number of youngsters attended the session of this Britney Spears of graphic novels. The charming and voluble lady established an instant rapport with the audience.
In Singapore, graphic novels are most popular among the "most reluctant readers". About half a million Singaporeans read graphic novels on a regular basis. Personally, I hadn't read a graphic novel before Sin City. Thanks to my friend Vinod, a self-taught CG whiz kid, I was introduced to this world of graphic novels and I began to respect this genre too. Later, I found out that movies such as Road to Perdition and From Hell were based on graphic novels. When I saw the movie Sin City and I was impressed.
Is graphics novel literature? Wasn't the rising popularity of graphic novels an indicator of the dumbing down of people's reading taste? I was wondering about these questions at the gathering when one member of the audience, let's call him the devil's advocate, asked Colleen this question right in the beginning of the session and it helped put things in perspective.
"Comics have their own visual syntax and they are more interactive than films or text-based literature," she said. " I think to dismiss an entire medium (graphic novels) is close minded and silly."
According to Colleen, graphic novels have been in existence for at least 100 years but it was only during the 1990s that it began to get acceptance in libraries and bookshops. The Sandman series played a large part in bringing about this change. Now almost all major bookstores and libraries in the world stock graphic novels.
Why do people read graphic novels? I had often seen young men and women reading graphic novels in the underground trains in Singapore and Hong Kong. And I used to think, what the heck? These guys should have been reading the latest Murakami or Ishiguro. Why were they wasting their time in reading childish junk?
"Comics and graphic novels are not junk," said Colleen. "You will see more and more young people reading graphic novels as reading such works needs a particular ability--the ability to make the closure, to take the cognitive leap between one frame and another. This ability might lead to generation gap as the generation before ours did not develop this ability."
Colleen said that graphic novels were more interactive for a reader in comparision to films. "In films, somebody has done all the thinking for you, all that was to be visually imagined in the story, someone has already done that for you in the film. But in a graphic novel, it is you who has to make that cognitive leap and that gives you control over the medium, and the story."
That was an interesting perspective. "I listen to films," she confessed. I never looked at film from that angle.
No wonder the graphic novels are doing very well commercially. Last year the industry saw a 30% increase in sales.
However, all comics and graphic novels don't make money, she said. What makes money for this industry/writers is licensing (T-shirts, toys, etc.) and "film rights" or what's called the work getting "optioned" by Hollywood studios. Colleen's Orbiter has been optioned by Warner Brothers.
I learnt a lot about graphic novels in that one hour and came back home with happy anticipations about Sin City. Colleen said that two more episodes of the film are being made. That is great news indeed!
This was also the last session of the Singapore Writers Festival that I could attend. Hope I am still around to attend the next Singapore Writers Festival!