Here’s another small item from my extensive Shep collection. It’s the opening photo from a major magazine article about Shep–focusing on his I, Libertine period. It shows Shepherd (standing, right) and Theodore Sturgeon (below, dark jacket in photo) at the opening celebration for the publication of I, Libertine–which took place at a Times Square drugstore:
ARTIST’S BOOKS/GRAPHIC NOVELS
My interest in artist’s books grew as I responded to the way in which word and visual matter can blend into a higher synthesis that “says” more than either by itself. I’ve collected hundreds of graphic novels (aka “comic books”), entranced by their visual ability to enhance a story. (Note that by graphic novels, I don’t mean Mickey Mouse or Archie or super-hero comics.)
Unfortunately, as graphic novels have become increasingly apparent in our world, in my observation at least three problems arose. 1. Many people (and publishers), equate a bunch of gathered-together comic books as a graphic novel, despite the lack of an ongoing story line and visual sophistication. 2. Virtually all book reviews of the genre I’ve seen treat the books as text-with-illustrative pictures, maybe because so many so-called graphic novels recently published seem to me to only be word-stories with poorly drawn images that conventionally illustrate but don’t seem to synthesize with the visual aspects. Those creators, mostly doing autobiography, don’t seem to bother with the craft of writing—the effort, rigor, nuance—or the craft of visual material, which should synthesize with the text for enhanced effect. 3. Worst, these “graphic novels,”prestigiously reviewed in the New York Times, are, indeed, just text with accompanying, poorly drawn images–no better than most comic books, and the reviewers don’t deal with the important synthesis that word and image in them should deal with.
This despite the existence of several books that well-describe the attributes of comics/graphic novels.”
Will Eisner, comic book artist of years past, is credited with initiating the graphic novel genre with his A Contract With God (1978). He even wrote books describing the genre: Comics and Sequential Art (1985); Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative; Expressive; Anatomy for Comics and Narrative.
Comic book artist Scott McCloud has done three comic-book treatments describing how visual material contributes to words in comics and graphic novels: 1. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art; 2. Reinventing Comics: The Evolution of an Art Form, and 3. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels.
The first of these is described by amazon.com: “A comic book about comic books. McCloud, in an incredibly accessible style, explains the details of how comics work: how they’re composed, read and understood. More than just a book about comics, this gets to the heart of how we deal with visual languages in general.” The opening of Understanding Comics (of 224 pages) is explanatory, and doesn’t give enough sense of McCloud’s comic mastery of the graphic story-telling ability of the form in his three books
A fascinating throwback is the almost wordless Milt Gross 1930 book, done after his association with Charlie Chaplin for the 1928 film, The Circus. In Gross’ book, an irony-filled spoof of early American stage plays, He Done Her Wrong—The Great American Novel And Not A Word In It—No Music, Too, he uses the one word FATE on a billboard, that ironically blocks the long-separated hero and heroine from finding each other (until the inevitable happy ending):
Peter Kalberkamp, in his 1990, oversize (9” X 10”) wordless graphic novel, Mea Culpa, creates page after page of wordless storytelling, such as the following. See what’s happening in each image in the sequence and realize how this page’s incident is told with not a word of text.
Mother presents apprehensive little son (looking concerned) to black-robed figure; mother takes out her purse, suggesting to frightened boy that mom is about to leave as, in foreground, one sees that black figure is a nun (of a residential, religious school); mother releases hand from son’s, symbolizing her abandoning him; mother beyond the door is now but a small silhouette of her former self; boy looks longingly after mother as he, reluctantly, is pulled away from her; his new keeper locks the door. The unpaginated book (over 250 pages—I counted them) tells a sad and violent visual story of sin. (Note that hands play major roles in most of the visual fragments.)