History, Genre And Adaptations Within Graphic Novels

The history of graphic novels dates back to 1978 when Will Eisner published many Testament Stories from The Bible in the format of a graphic novel. His publication of A Contract with God was his first piece to be labeled a graphic novel which then popularized this term. A graphic novel is defined as “…in American and British usage, a type of text combining words and images—essentially a comic, although the term most commonly refers to a complete story presented as a book rather than a periodical.” (Murray). Graphic Novels are shaped by their history and are driven by literature even to this day.

A huge part of the history of graphic novels is the controversy between graphic novel and comics. In many parts of the world, comics refer to a section for children that is usually published in newspapers or comic books on a weekly or monthly basis. “Comics give voice to parts of young readers’ experience and imagination; they play a key role in cross-media theme development, and they illustrate multiple ways of presenting information— verbal, visual, and graphic.” (Dallacqua, 365). On the other hand, the term graphic novel denotes a longer comic narrative that is meant for a more mature audience that is published in hardcover or paperback and sold in bookstores. Graphic novels tend to include sophisticated literary themes with a much deeper meaning than comics have (Murray). For example, the adaption of The Odyssey, by Gareth Hinds, has the theme of loyalty when Odysseus’ wife is waiting for him to return after 20 years. Another example is in the adaption of Beowulf, by Gareth Hinds, which has the theme of Envy when the ogre is envious of the Danes because he will never share in mankind’s hope and joy.

Although some of these characteristics may be true for some graphic novels and comics, it isn’t true for all. Comics and graphic novels can be both hardcover and paperback, and they also have the ability to appeal to all age groups. Where these two differ is within the format style and paper quality. “The defining attribute of each was a formal control of the medium—which is to say, a highly sophisticated degree of control over the use of panel transitions, layout, and so on to achieve certain narrative effects—coupled with artistic innovation and a literary quality in which the authors announced their individual style.” (Murray). Many authors of graphic novels have different ways of writing adaptions of classic literature, and this is what makes them unique. They all interpret the story in a different way and based on their interpretation, the graphic novel is displayed in so many different ways.

During the 1970’s, books similar to the ones of Will Eisner’s plowed the way for “sophisticated comics”, which lead to a boom in adult comics. The three pieces of work that came from this boom were “Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986–87), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (1980–86) by Art Spiegelman.” (Murray). These four books were some of the first graphic novels to focus on human stories and experiences and had a lesson to be learned from reading the novel.

The time where graphic novels truly flourished was in the 21st century. The production of Novels hit an all-time high, and this is where graphic novels had more of a literary base rather than just an illustrative plot. As a result, there came to be the “adaptions” of classic literature, which meant they turned classic literature into graphic novels. Gareth Hinds was known for his work doing adaptions of literature writing and illustrating novels like Beowulf, Poe (a collection of stories written by Edgar Allen Poe), The Odyssey, and many more.

The story Beowulf tells a story of a Geatish warrior who comes to help the Hrothgar, the King of the Danes, whose kingdom is being torn apart by a monster named Grendel. Beowulf helps by using his strength and bravery to kill Grendel and his mother in their underwater lair. Beowulf becomes very popular from his bravery and when he returns home, he becomes the king.

The graphic novel The Odyssey, by Gareth Hinds, reflects on the journey of Odysseus and his journey to return home to his family. He endures a long and stressful journey after he is doomed by the sea god, Poseidon, who says he will have years of shipwreck and wandering.

The series of graphic novels in Poe: Stories and Poems by Gareth Hinds tells various stories and poems written by Edgar Allen Poe. Each poem is represented with its own image that represents what’s going on in the plot. Even though some of the pieces in Poe are poems, Hinds’ version of them are still referred to as a graphic novel because the graphics help to tell the story of the poem.

The style in these four stories seem to be very similar because they are illustrated by the same author. Other graphic novels have their own drawing style depending on who the author is. This individual style can help to tell the story in a unique way or from a different perspective. For example, the story The Masque of the Red Death starts off with colors of a more neutral tone but when the story intensifies on page 13 the contrast of the colors increases and they get more vibrant which helps you to infer that something in the plot is about to change. I also found this to be true in The Odyssey. More specifically on page 62, when Poseidon wrecked Odysseus’ boat, the color scheme shifted to colors that are darker and that fit the tone of what is happening in the story. When the story intensifies, so does the color. These colors all come together to tell the story of what is going on. Although there is an image showing what’s going on, the colors help to reinforce the feeling and emotion that is being shown. Beowulf and Macbeth had a very similar use of color, more specifically darker colors. These colors helped to give the reader a better sense of how to feel based on what’s going on.

The layout in graphic novels are key to understanding them and reading them in general. In Poe, the layout differs depending on if it’s a story or a poem. If it’s a poem, there are no speech bubbles around the text which is shown on page 40. The poems are not divided by panels or frames and the picture takes up the entirety of the page. Hinds shows Poe’s changing poetic imagery through the way the text is displayed. The text is divided up into its individual stanzas which helps to emphasize the significance of perspective and interpretations. The stories all have speech bubbles separating the text from the images, making the text feel more important and stand out. Also, the story is separated into frames which helps to separate what is going on in the story and allows you to show different scenes. This same layout also occurs in The Odyssey. Both of these novels use the decorative mode to display their visuals. This means that Hinds created a new page organization that doesn’t have any specific form. Depending on what’s happening in the story, Hinds creates a layout that makes sense for that scene.

Overall, graphic novels are a very important part of literature today. They contain a lot of history relating to comic books, but also have conformed into adaptions of classic literature. Graphic novels can sometimes be underestimated as just being a “picture book” but they contain a plot, themes, and a lesson to be learned from reading the novel. They are important to the history of literature today and will continue to evolve alongside other genres of literature.  

29 April 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now