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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Geeks with Books
Geek Confidential
The Louvin Brothers
My piece on the importance of Watchmen
Neil Gaiman
Alan Moore
Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot
Recent Books of Interest
Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot Adapted by Jacques Tardi from the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette (Fantagraphics)
Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot Contract killer Martin Terrier plans on completing one final assassination then retiring to a quiet life alongside his long lost girlfriend. As these things often go, his employers have a different idea. Reminiscent of the classic Michael Winner-helmed and Charles Bronson-starred The Mechanic, Tardi's follow up to his acclaimed adaptation of a Manchette crime novel West Coast Blues, Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot (La Position du tireur couché) delivers a superior sequential thriller. Violent, sexy, and littered with enough shocks to excite the most hardened crime fiction fan, Tardi once again produces one of the finest examples of the genre.

Lucille by Ludovic Debeurme (Top Shelf)
Lucille The English language debut of the lauded French cartoonist Debeurme, Lucille chronicles the parallel lives of troubled teens Lucille and Arthur. Both living with dysfunctional families, the former suffers from anorexia. The latter, a burgeoning schizophrenic, struggles with the legacy of an alcoholic, prideful father. Debeurme's simplistic and elegant art slowly unveils these complex characters, deftly maneuvering them into a meeting. A powerful connection emerges as the duo travel across Europe. The subtle, intelligent, and lyrical Lucille emerges as one of the year's biggest surprises and best books.

As it sometimes happens, my original concept for a Nexus Graphica episode leads me down a rabbit hole, digging deeper and deeper into the abyss of nonsense. Rather than subject you, our loyal reader, to the unadulterated chaos of my thoughts, I decided to reach into the Klaw archives and reprint a circa 2001 essay that originally appeared as part of my previous long running SF Site column Geeks With Books and reprinted in my collection Geek Confidential.

One of my earliest pieces on graphic novels, "Broadminded" recounts the struggles of an unabashed comics fan in the often close-minded realities of 90s science fiction fandom and publishers.

It's amazing how things have changed in the past ten years. Now an accepted as an integral part of the literary landscape, most bookstores feature extensive and prominent graphic novel selections. The majority of publishing houses produce several comic titles a season.

Hope you enjoy this blast from my past.


  "That word broadminded is spelled S-I-N."
--The Louvin Brothers

Violent Cases
American Gods
The Metabarons
In the 50s the duo of Charles and Ira Louvin were the hottest thing going. With their countrified brand of gospel music, the brothers sang of fire, brimstone, and Satan. One of their biggest hits, the 1952 "Broadminded," told us that the Bible taught that broadminded is really spelled S-I-N. They talk about how things must remain how they are. That drinking and dancing are wrong. All this brings to mind most SF fans reaction to graphic novels.

Even though graphic novels (or as I prefer, funny books) have been readily available since the early 80s, it hasn't been until the last couple of years that the beleaguered art form garnered any respect from the SF fandom. (I can hear someone from the gallery now. "What about Watchmen? Didn't it win a Hugo award in the 80s?" Sorta. We'll return this subject in a moment.) It is a struggle I know well. I backed my way into an SF career by editing a comic book anthology for Blackbird Comics. The book is... how should I put this?... not the best work of the people involved (including me). The only piece worthy of mention was Carlos Kastro's beautiful adaptation of Lewis Shiner's brilliant short story "Scales." With the publication of that story, I got, as they say, "noticed." Soon after its publication I was invited to my first SF convention where I was promptly treated like a leper. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but let me use this panel story as an example.

Despite my comic book pedigree, I somehow found myself on a panel of editors. And not just any group but the who's who of SF editors at the time. I feel no shame in telling you I felt outclassed. The conversation turned to anthologies and at last a subject I could speak about. Except they wouldn't let me. Well that's not entirely true. One of the editors, who happened to be the moderator, wrinkled her nose up in the air and silenced me every time a question came my way. I did have a savior that day in the form of Ellen Datlow. She would hold up the discussion and ask me what I thought about things.

This was in the early 90s and even though at the time DC was hiring SF writers left and right to script comics, the offending editor still felt "funny books" were beneath her notice, even though respected authors K.W. Jeter, Joe R. Lansdale, and Lewis Shiner were all doing some comics work. This really wasn't anything new. Back in the 40s The Golden Age of Comics, SF writers were a common fixture in the comic pages. Legends Otto Binder, Robert Bloch, Alfred Bester and others graced the pages of that decade's "funny books." Into the 50s and 60s, the next generation of writers including Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, Harry Harrison, and Harlan Ellison tried their hands at scripting comics.

And now almost ten years later, things are a lot better for me from increased confidence and having the chance to edit "real" books. (And let me state this for the record: It is much harder to edit a good comic than a good novel.) They are slightly better for graphic novels thanks to people like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

Gaiman made his name as the talented writer of Sandman, Violent Cases, and Mr. Punch. He even went as far as to win a World Fantasy Award with Charles Vess for best short story "A Midsummer Night's Dream." 'Course they changed the rules soon after so comic stories couldn't win. This month saw the release of American Gods. Although Gaiman had produced some prose work before (three novels and a short story collection), this was easily his most ambitious and eagerly awaited work. The book has garnered rave reviews and is selling very well. This is all fine and dandy but even now in a day and age when esteemed publishers like Henry Holt, Pantheon, and even Shambhala all publish graphic novels, HarperCollins, his current publisher, failed to list his graphic novels as part of his previous books. Oh sure on the back flap in his bio they have a brief mention of Sandman but that is all. It's almost like we should be ashamed of this little thing he did. ("Quick! Look the other way! It's his comic book career!")

I probably should have mentioned Alan Moore first since he is one of the most important comic book writers. Without his works like Swamp Thing and Watchmen, there never would have been Sandman. And that is no hyperbole. Those comics changed everything. Suddenly our heroes could be taken seriously in long complex storylines. In 1988 Watchmen was nominated in a category called Other Forms on the Hugo ballot. It won, although technically the award wasn't a Hugo. (Please don't ask me to explain. I don't get it either.) What I do know is that Watchmen would have had a great shot at winning the Hugo for Best Novel. Watchmen is the finest example of what comics can do for science fiction. It is one of the great alternate histories, comic or not.

It does seem odd to me that none of the large SF publishers have published graphic novels. Sure they have produced illustrated novels but nothing resembling comics. Every time I discuss this with anyone in publishing, I get the same answer: they won't sell. And you can guess what I say to that.

Every bookstore I work for experiences a surge in graphic novel sales. Years ago I was the buyer/manager for Adventures in Crime & Space, Texas' premiere SF/mystery specialty store. For most of my year and half there, graphic novels were close to 15 percent of our sales. At Book People (where I am not even the graphic novel buyer) I have seen the graphic novels go from a fairly insignificant section to the fourth bestselling fiction area ahead of both mystery and romance. I doubt I am the only person who knows how to sell these things.

In order to successfully produce graphic novels, book publishers need to learn how to promote them. Distributing advance reading copies are a must, or at the very least samples of the book before publication. Also, a serious effort must be made to enable these fine books to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards of the world. This doesn't cheapen the awards but rather expands their scope. The best science fiction book I read this year was The Metabarons. Granted the year is only half over, but this French space opera was full of adventure, science, and beautiful art. Yet it has no chance of winning any of the major awards. What makes this any less of a serious piece of fiction?

There are some positive signs. Comic book writers/artists are frequent guests at SF conventions. Companies like LPC are making it much easier for bookstores to order graphic novels on a returnable basis. This encourages the stores to experiment. Until a few years ago, the only way to order most of the graphic novels was through an archaic system that comic book specialty stores used. The comics were bought on a non-returnable basis and were often very difficult to reorder.

This brings me back to the Louvin Brothers. Until the time arrives that SF fandom opens up to the graphic novel; when they realize that comics can be as good as prose books, little will change in this arena. All I can do is continue to chip away at the misconceptions and try to rattle the boundaries of the box.

Copyright © 2011 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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