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Graphic novels reach new audiences

Fables, fairytales come in adult versions

by Siv Palm, staff writer


Goldilocks stumbled on even though Snow White’s axe was hanging out of her skull. Her neck was broken, but she kept on going. A fairytale this famous is almost impossible to kill, and Goldilocks had a mission. She had just shot the Big Bad Wolf, but she had promised to get Snow, too.

The description above might seem like bad retelling of some old fairytales, but it is not. It describes the events in the critically acclaimed graphic novel Fables 2: “Animal Farm.”


Graphic novels, or book- length comics, are big business in America. In February 2004, Time magazine reported that the 2003 sales of Manga, graphic novels drawn in Japan, alone, topped $100 million, almost double 2002 sales.

American- and British- made graphic novels are also doing well. An example is the critically acclaimed Sandman series, whose fan base includes Pulitzer-prize-winning author Norman Mailer. Sandman was written by Neil Gaiman, who finished the 10-book series almost a decade ago. In 2003 he released an 11th book, Sandman, Endless Nights. It reached No.20 on the New York Times bestseller list that year.

The concept of graphic novels crystallized 25 years ago with the release of Will Eisner’s book-length comic Contract with God. The graphic novel quickly gained popularity in a comic-book underground culture, but it wasn’t until recently that graphic novels have caught the mainstream’s attention. Today they are being acknowledged and appreciated by a broader audience every day.
The growing popularity of graphic novels is partly because better writers want to express their ideas in this medium, and partly because of the heavy marketing of Manga.

In Japan, Manga has been mainstream for decades. As one of very few areas not affected by government censorship, Manga blossomed and became a highly appreciated art. A popular series can sell more than 100 million copies. The popular Ranma 1\2 series reached this number with the release of book No. 34, and it’s publishers celebrated with a huge party that included Sumo exhibitions and all-female mud wrestling.

The Manga graphic novels do not restrict content. Hardcore porn, violence, romance, action, humor: it’s all out there, and it’s for everyone. According to Verdens Gang, Norway’s largest newspaper, in Japan one can see businessmen reading telephone book-sized Manga comics on the subway on their way to work, and teenage girls on their way to school giggling over the latest Manga romance novel. (V.G. 3-23-04.)

Hollywood and other U.S money makers have been increasingly more interested in Asia and Asian culture in recent years. A consumerism almost without comparison has caught on in wealthy Asian countries, such as Japan, and this got corporate America excited. People were spending huge sums on Manga in Japan, and corporate America wanted in. In Japan, the Manga business was equally excited about the prospect of entering the world’s biggest market. (VG. 3-23-04)

Great graphic novels with the more traditional Superman-like illustrations include the Lucifer series. It’s the tale of what the fallen angel, Samael, known to most people as Satan, does after he quits his job as theLord of Hell. God’s firstborn has plans, and they include getting out of God’s creation; but is there ever a limit to God’s predestining? Will Samael, the proud, ever be truly free?

Another great series is Fables. It’s about the characters in old fables now living in Fabeltown, N.Y. Here the divorced Snow White works for the mayor; the Big Bad Wolf is sheriff, and Goldilocks is a deadly criminal.

If one is in the mood for something lighter, maybe with less text, Manga is perfect. The two action comedy series Ranma 1\2 and Dragonball are fun for any age or gender. The action-romance InuYasha and the horror series Mermaid Saga are more for girls, as are the Manga romances Maisson Ikkoku and Alice 19th.

A lot has changed since Superman and Mickey Mouse. Nowadays you’ll find a Manga and graphic novels section at every Borders bookstore. The best store in Honolulu is Last, on Kapiolani Boulevard, just behind the Ala Moana Shopping Center. It’s a whole store that specializes in graphic novels and games. The sales representatives are polite, helpful, and more than capable at introducing newcomers into their world.



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