Comics Train: 6

The graphic novella is a thing I’d wanted to talk about a bit.

I characterise the graphic novella as 48 to 64 pages, ish. 40 on the “yeah, okay, if I squint at it, I can kinda let you have that” end, 72 at the top end?

This is yet another format that I’ve been banging on about for probably decades. Yeah, there’s a pattern, haha. I’ve been delighted to see Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have so much success with it, most recently with BAD WEEKEND.

In an ideal world, as I enter the late period of my career, I’d have a partnership with an artist where I could write three or four graphic novellas a year. I like the novella form. NORMAL, my last prose book, was a 30,000 novella.

At 64 pages, a graphic novella can be sold in bookstores as well as comics shops. At 48, it becomes more of a comics-shop-only thing, and that’s okay too. With the same team producing them, 48-page books can be collected into a “box set” trade paperback after a year — being very old, I have this memory that The Smiths produced a single every three months and one album a year, and the notion is kind of in that zone.

(Obviously, that citation comes from the simpler days when we’d say “okay, that comment by Morrissey was kinda strange and creepy and a bit racist, he can’t possibly have meant that,” not from today, when… well, you know)

Anyway. There’s nothing wrong with a format optimised for comics shop sales. But comics retail goes through periods of deep financial conservatism, and there’s a fair chance a few thousand stores will not want your graphic novella about something that isn’t Batman, you know? The decision that Ed and Sean and Image took with BAD WEEKEND and MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, to do chunkier, pricier 64-page hardback editions that can appeal to both comics and books markets, is probably an economically sound one. Doing new original material in comics is always a re-invention of the wheel in a market entirely happy with horsepower and good solid saddlebags. Most people don’t want to bet their own money on the future. I’m not pointing any fingers. Life in retail has become uniquely hard in this period, and comics retail has always been more reading-entrails and rolling-bones than economic science.

I’ve told this story before, but, an aeon ago, I was at a retailer meeting, where a guy said, “I don’t want all this new shit. I just want the old stuff, but done better.” And I said to him, by that reasoning, if WATCHMEN came out today, you wouldn’t order it for your store. And he looked me in the eye and said “So?”

So when I spin out these notions and daydreams about comics formats and engines in this blogchain, I am always entirely aware that, even though I think their consideration and exploitation would enhance the medium – nobody wants these things. I’m just muttering to myself and hoping I’m providing food for thought for somebody down the line.

But, yeah, I daydream about my little line of graphic novellas with an artist who was prepared to strike out for the edges of the territory with me. In my head, they’d even have a shared trade dress, like the Second Run DVD catalogue…

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