La Novela Gráfica

En la actualidad damos por un hecho la existencia de la novela gráfica. De su accesibilidad, portabilidad y su enorme grado de penetración en mercados fuera de las tiendas especializadas.

Pero esta historia de éxito no lo fue así entre los años 1998 al 2003. No había un compromiso. No había confianza. No era una alternativa.

Necesitaba una ideología. Necesitaba a un público. Y Warren Ellis le dio ambas cosas.

Fue su enérgico proselitismo en el difunto pero aún célebre Warren Ellis Forum en Delphi dot com lo que abrió las puertas a que esta idea formara primero un nicho, y posteriormente un interés generalizado. Sus etapas como autor exclusivo para las publicadoras mainstream de Marvel y DC Comics fueron un paso firme para introducir a este radical modelo de negocio en un mercado aletargado. Con el paso del tiempo, muchos de sus seguidores online dieron el salto al ámbito profesional del comic, convirtiéndose en exponentes destacados y en defensores de la novela gráfica, certificando su viabilidad en una economía cambiante.

Quien mejor sino aquel que puso definitivamente a la Novela Gráfica en el panorama del comic comercial el que puede explicarnos en términos simples esta revolución tanto narrativa como de formato en el arte secuencial. Sin mayor preámbulo compartimos un escrito interesantísimo que desmenuza su potencial.

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The History Man
© Warren Ellis
Publicado originalmente en ArtBomb.net
2003

It’s not so long ago that you couldn’t find graphic novels in bookstores, you know. Hell, not so long ago, you couldn’t find them at all.

Back in the 70s, people looked in envy at the European and Japanese markets, where graphic novels were serialised in magazines and collected into permanent editions — or, chiefly in the Japanese market, released directly into book format.

I coined a term for this in discussing the concept in the Anglophone business, that seems to have gained some common currency: OGN, for Original Graphic Novel. As opposed to TPB, for Trade Paperback, the commonly accepted term for collections of serial work into book form.

In the late 70s, after some fits and starts, OGNs began appearing in the American market. Books like SABRE, DETECTIVES INC and COYOTE were slim, outsize volumes, but they were original permanent-edition works. Will Eisner’s A CONTRACT WITH GOD is the first I remember to have some heft to it, even though it was more correctly a book of short stories than a novel.

By the mid-eighties, major works of superhero fiction by the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller became the first successful trade paperbacks. And that was enough to create a bandwagon. And the bandwagon drove the English-speaking graphic novel into the ground. It was decided that anything forty-eight pages long and drawn big constituted a graphic novel. As the monster collections of the 300-episode fantasy serial CEREBUS gathered an audience, and MAUS became the first serious graphic novel to gain mainstream attention, anyone going to look for them in stores was assaulted by a welter of wannabee dumb comic books with the word GRAPHIC NOVEL stenciled on their skinny spines. It was like discovering there were things called DVDs, but walking into a DVD store to be faced by nothing but releases of single editions of SANTA BARBARA.

Graphic novels and trade paperbacks went away for a while. Only a few companies maintained a book program, and those tended to be depressed and aimed at a cult-collector audience.

It’s only in the last few years that the potential economic paradigm shift started realising itself.

Books by the authors lobbying for a return to the graphic novel, like SANDMAN and PREACHER, sold as much as the serial. My own TRANSMETROPOLITAN actually sold better in graphic novel form than in singles, which illustrated what I and others had been saying for a long time; in business terms, as well as artistic terms, the permanent edition is the better bet. Very soon, the publisher with the best backlist became the most successful publisher, which was a radical shift for a business that had been built for decades on a hard sales frame of precisely one week — the amount of time a single had on face-out on the rack before being cycled to stacks or the back-issue bins.

Comics singles sales have been essentially static for a long time. What increases in sales volume, year on year, is the graphic novel.

The comics retail and bookstore markets still view them with a little suspicion. Bookstores in specific are on a hard learning curve, as graphic novel work across the last several decades are released anew by publishers finally seeing commercial sense in rescuing their back catalogue from mouldering piles in the back room.