This past Sunday was the Brooklyn Book Festival, an annual gathering of book publishers and authors held at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Out of all the events taking place on this rainy Sunday, one stood out as a panel of interest for us, “The International Graphic Novel: Drawing from Life.”
The panel consisted of (left to right) Jessica Abel (La Perdida), Matt Madden (Drawing Words and Writing Pictures), Josh Neufeld (A.D.), and Nick Abadzis (Laika); we arrived at the festival in time to catch the last half-hour of the panel. Matt Madden was listed as moderator, but they appear to have chosen to let the conversation flow free-form instead. This may have been a mistake, as the panel wound up bringing up opinions on manga and fiction comics that may have come off differently than they intended. When asked about manga and whether or not it influenced any of their works, the panel as a whole decided to classify manga as a separate, though parallel medium to American comics. Bringing my own opinion into the matter, I think this is a very narrow way of looking at manga. There are tons of manga in Japan, many of which are based on nonfiction events or an author’s life story. Similarly, art styles vary depending on the story; not every manga is going to have big eyes and round heads. The only thing that makes manga different from American comics is that it is Japanese, and American comics are American. If we were to go along with this line of thinking, European comics would be separate but parallel as well, even if they do share similar references and style to what we have here. And yes, manga is usually presented in chapters in magazines before being collected in bigger volumes at a later date, but that is a distribution decision more than a style choice.
Then, there were Josh’s comments about fiction comics. When asked if any of the panel had a desire to do fiction comics, he replied that his imagination doesn’t really mesh with the ability to dream up the kind of science fiction you find in fiction comics. Yet again, genres are ignored here, accidentally or not. Romance comics have been published for years, most of which without any science fiction elements. Crime comics are the same as reading a good Sherlock Holmes novel, only there happens to be art to engage you along with the words. Workplace comedies, slice-of-life books; the list goes on. To group fiction comics simply as the realm of superheroes and science fiction is narrow and belittling. Would Josh be upset if his nonfiction books were to be written off as for children because they are comics? I assume he would be.
As a concession, it is very possible that due to the weather conditions and my overall mood at the time, I took these responses to mean a lot more than they were intended to be. Still, I feel that a panel of creators might want to choose their words a bit better in the future, to avoid any difficulties.