The Graphic Novel: Blurring the Lines of Genre

Posted: March 30, 2012 in kind of like news

On Feb. 24 – 26, I joined a handful of students from Paradise Valley Community College, to attend this year’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference at Arizona State University.  This was a new thing for me, a virgin voyage into the world of obsessed, passionate and crazy writers.

The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference, in its ninth year, serves as a source of ideas, advice and inspiration for both returning writers and novices like myself.

By the second morning of the conference, I realized that for me, there was an underlying theme to the weekend — genre busting.  I was beginning to learn as much about myself as the craft of creative writing.  I could see that I don’t like to be boxed in by genre.

Much of the talk was about blurring the lines between art, fiction, music, non-fiction and poetry.

For instance, Adam Johnson, an associate professor of English from Stanford University, led a unique panel discussion about the “Graphic Novel.” The Stanford Graphic Novel Project started when Johnson asked his creative writing students to design a picture or graphic image of the stories they were working on.  He later introduced graphic novels into his writing class after realizing a shift in the medium from common entertainment genres to serious non-fiction works and memoirs.

This requires a collaboration of artists.  Students are coming together as teams of writers, visual artists, and illustrators, each one with a specific job to do.  After choosing the story they will tell, the writers develop the characters and create an angle for the story.  They collaborate on the chapter and pass their work to thumbnailers, who storyboard the plot for the illustrators.  This process is repeated until the book is done and put through post-production.

One of Johnson’s, latest student-run projects, “Pika-don,” tells the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945.  Yamaguchi, a navy engineer during WWII in Hiroshima, watches the senseless destruction of a country he loved and reevaluates the importance of life, duty and family.

This Project is providing a whole new face to the “comic book” and giving a voice to those who might go unnoticed.  There is a potential to attract a new audience of readers to artistic works and real-life stories that center around the theme of social justice.

As an artist and a writer, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities that lay ahead with our changing technology, new art mediums and a generation of creative people that are ready to experiment and push back the boundaries of genre.

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