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Graphic novel’s appeal widens

Graphic novel films

Some films based on graphic novels, including some that might surprise you

Men in Black (1997)

Ghost World (2001)

From Hell (2001)

Road To Perdition (2002)

Constantine (2005)

A History of Violence (2005)

V for Vendetta (2006)

30 Days of Night (2007)

300 (2007)

Persepolis (2008)

Whiteout (2009)

Watchmen (2009)


Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Years of waiting for acceptance from a broader audience than teen-agers and die-hard fans and collectors seem to have paid off for graphic novelists.

The popularity of the illustrated books has soared, with comic and book stores and even libraries devoting large amounts of shelf space to them.

Elgin has two comic book stores that sell graphic novels. They also can be found in separate sections of book stores such as Border’s and Barnes & Noble.

The graphic novel sections at the Gail Borden Public Library and its Rakow Branch, meanwhile, have grown and have some of the highest checkout rates of any collection in the library. The main library has more than 6,100 graphic novels available for checkout. Coupled with the Rakow Branch’s collection, the total jumps to more than 7,100 total graphic novels in the library district’s collection.

The library even labels its teen and adult graphic novels under several categories: collected comic books; manga; original literary works in graphic novel form; collected newspaper cartoons; and short nonfiction books or adaptations of literary classics in the graphic novel form.

“Graphic novels are also expanding to a younger audience,” said Jennifer Bueche, assistant director of youth services at the Gail Borden Public Library. “There are several books made to look like graphic novels, set up in the same format, to help younger readers start reading. A publisher, Toon Books, has a series with different authors aimed at the second- and third-grade reading level to help them read.”

Evolving form

The wide variety of books being published and considered graphic novels means the art form is evolving, according to Thom Wicklein, the owner of Thom’s Comics & Collectibles at 817 Walnut Ave. in Elgin, who prefers going by his first name.

“When Marvel Comics and DC Comics started putting out graphic novels, they were original stories collected in one volume,” Thom said.

He explained by using an example of a Superman comic in the continuing series.

“If it (connects) a certain issue to another issue (like #1 to #8), then it’s not a graphic novel. It’s a trade-paperback collected together in one book,” he said.

But Thom said he understands the term is used more loosely now.

Like those different categories in the library, there are different definitions — often vague and debatable — for what a graphic novel is. But most seem to agree with this description from the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: A novel whose narrative is related through a combination of text and art, often in comic-strip form.

Like a more traditional novel, a graphic novel usually consists of a beginning, middle and end of a story. In its loosest definition, it’s sequential art telling a story collected in a volume of work, though many comic and graphic novel “purists” would argue that’s considered an anthology.

Though defining what a graphic novel is might be difficult, the rising popularity is easy to see.

Outside of ordering more graphic novels and having a high checkout rate, the Gail Borden library also had a themed comic book/graphic novel exhibit last summer and also had artists and writers show up for free comic book day last May.

A few employees from Graham Crackers Comics, 610 S. Randall Road in St. Charles, gave their input on how libraries expanding their sections have helped the popularity of graphic novels and helped sales at their stores.

“I think it helps overall,” said Dan, manager at Graham Crackers Comics. Like Thom in Elgin — and certain entertainers — Dan prefers going just by his first name.

He explained if a person checks out a graphic novel and likes it, the reader might come in to buy the book or get more into comics and graphic novels. He also thinks it might get more comic book buyers into the libraries.

“I think it works both ways,” he said.

Thom said his shop sees only die-hard fans most of the time. The library, on the other hand, gives people an opportunity to read the material for free. While that probably doesn’t help business, it does keep people interested in reading comics and graphic novels, he said.

“If people can get the graphic novels for free, then why would they want to pay for it?” he said. “I don’t think it helps bring in a lot of new customers. I usually see the same group of people come into the store. But it could make people more interested in comics, sure. Maybe after that they would want to become collectors.”

Hollywood connection

Both Thom and Dan pointed to Hollywood being one of the biggest factors in the rising popularity of comic books and graphic novels, with a number of movies based on the them.

As the appeal of graphic novels has grown in recent years, the plots and themes have matured as well, which has caught the eye of many filmmaker and producers.

The film “Green Hornet” currently out in theatres is considered in the comic-book movie realm, but it got its start in the 1930s as a radio program and was a television series in the 1960s. The fact it had a comic book series and a subsequent stand-alone graphic novels puts it in the category of comic-book movie.

Other new comic-based movies slated for release later this year include “Thor” and “The First Avenger: Captain America.”

But Hollywood hasn’t only concentrated on big name superhero movie adaptations. Filmmakers also have looked into lesser known source material from graphic novels. An example is 2002’s “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks, much of which was shot in the northern Fox Valley.

Sometimes, however, the “based on a graphic novel” gets left out of the advertising for a film like “Road to Perdition.” The movie “Whiteout” (2009), starring Kate Beckinsale, is another example of a film based on a graphic novel, but lacking the heavy promotion.

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