Comics no longer just for kids as graphic novels come into their own
Taiwan comic creator Xiaozhuang says that when he was young, everyone was into Japanese cartoons. It was only when he grew up, he says, that he realized he was really looking for something different. People still like illustrations, but they want it to be paired with rich content. Almost unconsciously, he began to write for adults, and realized that this meant he was creating graphic novels. He discovered that bookstores overseas even have a special section for graphic novels, helping him to understand that creating them could be a deliberate choice.
The term “graphic novel” was created by a commentator in 1964. He hoped that it would encourage, even challenge, artists to create book-length works instead of just panel comics. The explosive sales graphic novels enjoy is not simply because they are illustrated, but because the stories they tell are powerful enough to entice people to purchase a different kind of reading material. Publishing houses generally shy away from daring material, as they cannot be sure of turning them into a saleable product.
Creators struggle, but deal in themes that resonate
Xiaozhuang recalls that he once had a German reader ask him why politics were so far in the background in Tales of the 1980s. Only then did he realize the influence his elders’ words had on his creativity. When small, they told him to always avoid politics. So to him, framing a story the way he did was natural, but for foreign readers, he was sending a clear message. Soon after martial law in Taiwan was lifted, the Berlin Wall fell. Both marked the end of an era, and from these events one can define that era’s zeitgeist. Graphic novels are an excellent medium of exchange. For their creators, they simply spring from life and youth. For foreign readers, however, they can also show evidence of common experiences that resonate with them.
Independent creators must overcome all sorts of practical problems and invest a great deal of time and resources in their creations. As they are paid in piecework fashion, the lack of a stable income also affects them. Taiwan’s authors work alone, creating the stories, designing the illustrations, and it’s only after they finish that they have something to bring to the marketplace. Taiwan’s graphic novels may seem like essay collections. But this is due to the creative environment in which they are made. Some of them would like to try more literary or historical themes, but the cost of doing the research is too high. Readers must be more willing to give creators time and support so that they can publish works of craftsmanship, works of art.
Reappraising the place of comics and helping graphic novels become trendy
During the panel discussion, Paul Gravett pointed out that understanding trends is something the entire comics industry needs to do. In the United Kingdom and United States, arts organizations exist to support graphic novelists, while crowdfunding represents a new source of funding that can help graphic novelists overcome practical restrictions on their creativity. Creating graphic novels takes time, and the price of each copy reflects the commitment made. Having been influenced by Japanese mores, people in Taiwan tend to believe comic works should be light, fun, and cheap. Boldness among publishers is needed to help differentiate comic readers and help them change their attitudes. Innovative marketing strategies and a commitment to cultivating talented artists, including more women artists, said Gravett. He believes that there is great room for the further development of comics in Taiwan.
In closing out the discussions, Chen Yen-wei shared that creating the category “graphic novel” was an important step in helping readers find what they are really looking for. It has also empowered creators to better understand who their readership is. He expressed hope that Taiwan would continue defining new categories to help readers and authors find each other.