The Graphic Novel

What Photographer Will Create the First Full Length Graphic Novel?

The Power of Words & Pictures

In Scott McCloud’s informative and entertaining book, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels he says “comics is a secret language all its own and mastering it poses challenges unlike and faced by prose writers, illustrators or any other creative professionals. Unfortunately, apart from a few great books on the subject most of that territory has remained unexplored until NOW.” McCloud’s books are presented in comic book fashion — sequential art.

The power of words is an undeniable part of the appeal of this art form we call comics. So strong is the role of words in the vast majority of great comic strips, comic books and graphic novels over the last hundred years, that some comics scholars such as R.C. Harvey have suggested that the artful combination of words and pictures should be included in any comprehensive definition of comics. I think it is possible to create wordless comics (and in these books I am proceeding with a definition based instead of on the idea of comics as pictures in sequence, with or without words) so I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but clearly any examination of the work of making comics should place the role of words front and center.

Words evoke feelings, sensations and abstract concepts which pictures alone can only begin to capture; they are traditional comics only link to warmth and nuance of the human voice; they offer comics creators the opportunity to compress and express time; and when words and pictures work interdependently, they can create the ideas and sensations beyond the sum of their parts.

Words have also played a role in the graphic evolution of modern comics and through their offspring the — he word balloon, caption and sound effect — have given wealth of unique graphic devices, many of them now associated with the comics and appropriated in other media on a regular basis. Some approach the comics profession hoping to write for others to draw, and for them words are the very substance of their craft. But whether you plan to write for others or write and draw everything yourself, it’s a strong visual imagination and the seamless integration of words and pictures which marks comics best writing.

Today with a century of modern comics under their belt, cartoonists have evolved an artful sophisticated dance between words and pictures which emphasizes each one’s strengths. but also strives, whenever possible, to find the perfect balance between the two. In search for new opportunities and challenges for my photographer readers, I offer the graphic novel for consideration. There have been some photographic novels published in other languages and cultures, but are yet to be seen in the United States. There are many considerations and reasons not to explore this medium — some of them are financial, some include commitment, some include the fear of doing something new, others include not accepting graphic novels as an art form. Instead of looking at what won’t work, I invite you to take a look at a few graphic novels and to extrapolate, combine, collaborate, explore and discover. The combinations between words and pictures have always been present in advertising; why not in your portfolios? At the very least, exploring this medium will strengthen the ways you tell stories.


A Contract with God by Will Eisner published in 1978

The First Modern Graphic Novel

How joyous it was to catch the cover of this novel, while browsing at Barnes and Noble. I remember when it was first published in 1978 and how so many of us in the book publishing business saw it as an innovation.

Eisner’s book was called a mesmerizing chronicle of a universal American experience. Through a quartet of four interwoven stories, A Contract with God expresses the joy, exuberance, tragedy, and drama of life on the mythical Dropsie Avenue in the Bronx. This is the legendary book that launched a new art form and reaffirmed Will Eisner as one of the great pioneers of American Graphics. Graphic novels have gone from a publishing backwater to being the only book category displaying any growth at all. Last year saw $330 million in sales, up 12% from 2005. Translated Japanese manga, particularly the ones aimed at girls, accounts for much of this growth, a phenomenon that I am pleased to say I wrote about for Time far before any other major media outlet. Now virtually all the major print and online media that cover books have at least some sort of graphic novel coverage, if not dedicated critics.

Reported by Andrew Arnold in the last and final installment of TIME.comix (March 2007)


Life in Pictures is a collection of short autobiographical stories. It is a masterpiece and brilliant blend of words and pictures. Be sure to read the introduction by Scott McCloud the author of Understanding Comics. Published in 2007 by WW Norton.

From The Day I Became a Professional Will Eisner, Life, In Pictures

A few decades later we are seeing movies based on graphic novels like Persepolis. A Memoir of growing up as a girl in revolutionary Iran, Persepolis provides a unique glimpse into a nearly unknown and unreachable way of life… That Satrapi chose to tell her remarkable story as a gorgeous comic book makes it totally unique and indispensable. – Time Magazine

Peter Kuper’s Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz