Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Geeks with Books
The Louvin Brothers
My piece on the importance of Watchmen
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)
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)
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.
Copyright © 2011 Rick Klaw
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
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.
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications
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.