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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Are Graphic Novels Crowded Out?

They say that the market for comic books and graphic novels isn't that large, since the entertainment industry has been dishing out numerous options to the public, all vieing for consumers' hard-earned dollars.

While there may be some truth to this notion, I firmly believe that the market is still large enough.

Thousands of products and services get launched every year, but while there are some of them that tank so deep it hurts, there are those who catch the attention of a sizeable number of people, big enough to translate marketing efforts to profits. For instance, there are dozens of smartphones in the market, with Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, Palm, and others in a continuous struggle for dominance in their respective niches. But, lo and behold, a company popular for its computer chips decided to join the fun. Asus now has a few smartphones out in the market, and there's little indication that they're failing.

Then there are social networking sites, and even until now I can't fathom why people still find themselves registering in the new sites when there's already Friendster, Multiply, MySpace, Ringo, etc. I thought that I've had it, content with my Friendster and Multiply accounts, but now I'm semi-obssessed with Facebook. Now, there are networking sites that are interest specific--book lovers, comics enthusiasts, visual artists, pet lovers, and a whole lot more.

Yes, it's crazy, but the point is: people are always on the lookout for something new.

Those who are really familiar with Japanese comics will tell you that manga isn't just about high school, or sorcery, or cool characters in Cosplay-worthy costumes. Manga has been used for the longest time to tell stories about a whole lot of things, from cooking to golf. Early this year, I was given a copy of a graphic novel about Warren Buffett (yes, that Warren Buffett). It told his life story, but focused on how he managed to build himself up from stock brokerage ingenue to one of the richest people in the world. And the graphic novel was created by one Ayano Morio-- a woman.

Comics creators should, now more than ever, exert efforts to quell the stigma surrounding comics. We lament how the general public doesn't take comics seriously, and yet we ironically create stories that reinforce the stigma. If we want to erase the belief that comics are just superhero kids' stuff, why can't we create comics that aren't about superheroes? Why can't we create comics with rich plots, complex characters and mature themes? Why can't we put some effort into bringing out the unique storytelling abilities of comics?

I think the challenge facing a lot of aspiring graphic novelists is impatience. Many prose novelists take a year or two to plan, outline, research, write, and rewrite their novels. Some even write whole chapters only to discard them later on because the stories "weren't working." While it can be argued that it's easier for prose writers since their only physical output are words on paper, as opposed to graphic novelists who write, draw, ink and letter, the rule doesn't change. To make a really great product, we have to invest a lot in its creation.

So why not test yourself this coming 2008? If you want to be a better writer, study good novels and movies. Read how-to books on fiction and screenplay writing. Invest time in putting together a script for a non-superhero story. Find your unique voice. Explore.

If you want to be a better artist, be meticulous about your craft. Go through non-comics anatomy and perspective books. Study composition. Create your personal style. Download a script of a screenplay or a stageplay and do a sequential study of a scene. Try different approaches to storytelling. Explore.

When you've gained a little more confidence, create a short comics story that's not for the superhero market. As I've been mentioning over and over in this blog, the field is still open for fresh stories. And a well-crafted story will find its audience despite the rain of carrots from the entertainment industry.

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