Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Green Manor: Assassins & Gentlemen

                       Assassins &                   The Inconveneince Of 
                       Gentlemen                                                  Being Dead
Goodness gracious, what a title! Assassins And Gentlemen. That’s the name of the first volume of the comic graphic novel series, GREEN MANOR. If there is a title that can beat this then it had to be the title that is given to the second volume of the series, The Inconvenience Of Being Dead. If that doesn’t get to you, just look at the artwork on the second volume. 

Assassins And Gentlemen is a comic graphic novel (as opposed to comics and graphic novels in that comic graphic novels stride both the worlds) written by Fabien Vehlmann and illustrated by Denis Brodart. The volume contains six stories dealing with murder and crime that are set in Victorian England. Stories range from the club members discussing how to commit the perfect murder to actually going about and committing them.

The stories range from how to commit the perfect murder to solving mysteries to Jack the Ripper himself!!! But apart from the second story titled post scriptum, none of the rest leaves you spellbound. but overall the treatment and stories are rather impressive and even insightful. Though they are all enjoyable there is an element of flippancy about the stories. But that said, they are gripping and make you want more. 

The artwork is in line with pattern followed by comic graphic novels and is finely coloured a la the neo noir style that is being aggressively used to illustrate stories dealing with crime fiction these days.

Published by Cinebook, in India the book is priced at Rs 195. All things considered, the price is a bit too steep for the book. But just so as to get into the mind of a murderer, just so as to experience that dark side of Victorian England and just so as to get that sense of eeriness, it’s not a bad idea to spend 200 bucks on it.

As for me, I loved the volume, Assassins And Gentlemen so much so that I am going to pick up the second volume, The Inconvenience Of Being Dead. Sounds very promising, especially the name! goosebumps...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Asterix & Tintin

When we talk about comic books the most commonly heard comment is that there are comic books and there are Asterix & Tintin. No other comic is as popular as these two. No other comic book series is as cult as these. They are like the US and the USSR of the cold war era, of the bi-polar world. And all the talk about comic books start and end with A&T. they are the alpha and omega of comic books.

(I wonder how Superman is taking all these. he is supposed to be the super daddy of all comic strips for the simple reason that he revolutionised the industry. but alas his creators ensured that his cult status will be ruined by the horrible terrible derisible stories that they wrote for him. just like in the case of Elvis Presley.)

Well as I was saying or rather as I was about to say, it’s very common to hear people tag Asterix and Tintin together. Of course not very surprisingly! They are arguably the greatest of all the comic book characters ever created. They are both 'cult'er than cult. They both come in same format called 'album'. And more importantly their creators did not run away the heady success of the characters and did not do the proverbial act of 'to kill the goose that lays golden eggs'.

But to say Asterix and Tintin in the same breath just like one would say superman and Spiderman or Phantom and mandrake may often lead one to categorize them both under one header. But unlike Superman and Spiderman who fall under superhero comics, Asterix & Tintin inhabit two different worlds all together. So how would one describe these characters?


Lets begin with Asterix. Simply put Asterix is comics!!! Well that’s a rather patronising sort of a statement, isn’t it? But then there is no other way to describe Asterix. Well it that still sounds like a cheap shot lets see if we are on the same page as far as the basics are right.

What is a comic Book? The definition of comic books has changed drastically from the original sense in which it was initially applied. Starting off as Funnies, Comics carried the same sense. There has to be something comical about it. But when Dick Tracy came in it was not called illustrated crime story or anything of that sort. There are two reasons for this. Once Dick Tracy began to appear on the pages where newspapers usually printed comic strips. And second of course is the style of illustration. Unlike say, Crime Doesn’t Pay comics, the style was caricature than realistic. Thus the term comics came to imply a large body of illustrated stories appearing in novel length features or 4 panel strips or even a single panel. But when one sits down to understand the various genres that form comics, a little bit of clinical dissection is necessary.

Lets see. I will make it simple. Now Asterix is a typical example of comics; just comics. It’s a quintessential comic book and cannot be described as anything else. If you stretch it you can go as far as quasi adventure comics. But not all of them are adventures (Caesar’s Gift, Asterix Vs Obelix).

So why is it just comics? Well, its comical, its unrealistic, and more importantly it's untranslatable to other media. Though it has been adapted to the big screen, it operates on a different level altogether unlike superhero comics made into movies. It's not quite the same. You feel that something is missing. And it’s not so much to do with the distinct artwork of Asterix comics even though that should have been a major deterrent. The problem lies with the story. Asterix stories cannot exist outside the world of comic books. (Cartoons are just an extension) and that is why Asterix cannot be called as anything but a comic. And it is in this regard that Tintin varies from Asterix.


So what is Tintin? How would you define Tintin? How is Tintin different? Tintin is different on a lot of counts. Where as Asterix can be defined as only "comics", Tintin is adventure comics, Tintin is crime comics, Tintin is detective comics, Tintin is mystery comics, Tintin is fun comics. Thus Tintin can be defined and has to be defined as "juvenile fiction illustrated and narrated in the style of comic books". Yes that is the only way to describe Tintin.

Tintin As A Novel:
Any of the Tintin stories can be translated into a novel. (This can’t be done in the case of Asterix). And that is possible because there is a very strong and tight story in every Tintin adventure. Tintin is Hardy Boys as a comic book. (not the cheap shit they pass off as graphic novel.) Conversely take a hardy boys adventure. It can easily be converted into a comic book. (Not all of them. but there are certain sure shot ones) now if the graphic novel format of Hardy Boys is not a success, that’s because the creators just don’t understand the world of comics. Each idea needs a particular medium to be executed well.

Tintin As A Movie:
Some of the early Tintin comics may not really hit off well with moviegoers. Tintin in America had all the characteristics of a comic book. So does Black Island and more importantly Tintin in Congo. But these comics are best not made into movies. But televised serials for kids wont are a bad idea.

But later Tintin stories would make for brilliant movies. The only deterrent in the case of Tintin would be the artwork as they are comically drawn.

But if Herge had intended to create Tintin as a novel, then he would now have been said in the same breath along with another cult icon of the same period who was featured in juvenile adventure novels: Biggles!

Decoding Comic Book Icons

A lot have been talked and said about different comic book characters like when they were created, who they were created, how successful they were, who synicated them and what not. i guess any number of sites like toonopedia and wikipedia and other fan sites will give you all such details. And it is that last of my intentions to do that here. what i want to do here is starting with the next few set of blogs understand the world each character lives in. understand the never tackled issues of subtle similarities and what could have impelled the creators to create that particular character. along with all these why these characters fail and sometimes succeed when they try foray into a different medium.

First Up: Asterix & Tintin

Monday, December 1, 2008

Graphic Novel

Ah, now there is a term that is heard more often than not in the comic book industry. The ambiguity it presents has ensured that there is no definite definition agreed upon yet for the term.
The term is widely used so much so that you’ll find compilations or trades of American comics like superman and other (underpants –over – the –pants) heroes under the section Graphic Novels. Thus a collection of five superman adventures becomes a graphic novel. And these days one can find even European comics like Lucky Luke and Spirou in the graphic novel section. Why, the spirou and fantasio albums themselves refer to themselves as graphic novel!
That leaves us with one mystery? Where have all the comic books gone?
To me the term graphic novel is like a new logo that a company adopts to market it better. As asterix and tintin are cult, there is no apparent need to encapsulate them under the much more adult sounding term graphic novel. The term comics would do!
But if ultimately you are going to be reading the same thing whether one calls them a graphic novel or a comic, why this sudden rechristening?
When Will Eisner came up with the graphic novel, A contract with god, he called it a graphic novel to distinguish it from comics as his work did not display any of the characteristics attributed to comics. The content was mature, the narrative was mature and the target audience was mature.
But the name caught on. What followed was a spate of comic books referring to themselves as graphic novels not without reason.
Comic books are like chocolate. They are addictive. Once you taste them, you’ll never let go of them. And there are so many different flavors and types available that one lifetime is not quite enough.
At some point the publishers understood that comics books are being taken for granted and that it had percolated to the subconscious of the mass. And that is bad for business. It must stay in the consciousness of the mass. Also to admit that one is reading a comic book was not a very pleasant experience for a grown up.
The result was the much more literal and direct and more importantly adult sounding term “Graphic Novel”.
Now all this is really fine if you are merely rechristening a genre. But then what happens to the real Graphic Novel? What happens to Watchmen and the ilk?
Comic books as a medium is still struggling hard to connect with the adults. Once one leaves behind his teenage years, a majority grows out of comic books even though a minority still cling on to the old habit. One of the reasons is the pre supposition that comic books are meant for children. But more importantly as the comics are aimed at the younger generation, an adult would fail to identify with it.
But on the other hand an adult would identify with the issues portrayed in an original graphic novel. It would be like reading a novel narrated using pictures as well.
Thus a Graphic novel is essentially a novel graphically told! Now isn’t that the simplest definition? Thus Persepolis, Watchmen, The Quitter etc are truly graphic novels in every sense of the word. (But the way the term is misused you can soon expect another name for these kind of format).
Superman, Archie etc whether published in the form of anthologies are in no way graphic novels. But that doesn’t mean these can’t be turned into graphic novel format. The only trouble then would be that these characters wouldn’t be the superman and the Archie that we know of. A graphic novel must contain adult stuff. That doesn’t mean sex! It simply means that the subject should be more adult; the rendition should be more adult.
Don’t fool yourself; there is a really thick line between comic books and graphic novels.
One of the comic books that sort of straddled the fence was Sin City. Sin City is a murky take on the early crime comics with certain elements that might make them more appealing to adults than to kids. 
Apart from original stuff there are also other media invasions that end up ender the graphic novel section. The most widely seen here are Biggles and Agatha Christie. They can be best described as Illustrated Novels. Sounds a bit daft. But then that’s the truth.
So next time your friends ask what you are reading say proudly “a Comic Book!” (after all graphic novels are simply put adult comics!)
They are culture, they are a philosophy, they are art, and they are above all very funny!