Sharjah: Comics & Graphic Novels

Britain is notoriously squeamish when it comes to illustrated work.

Despite delivering excellent artists and writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and a bevy of other superstars – they still lack a mainstream following or any significant literary respect.

Whether that’s the cause of or effect behind the cagey, insular and incredibly risk-averse market is hard to guess – but it astounds me every time I travel how far behind we are in this arena.

The work being done elsewhere in unconventional, illustrated formats is astounding.

Sure, Tintin has his pluses. And I love a good, gothic Batman, but these are not the same.

Lumping graphic novels together is like lumping conventional novels together.

Enid Blyton and Irvine Welsh and Stephen Hawking and Charles Dickens all in the same bookshelf. Can you even imagine the classification merely consisting of the idea that they all put words on paper?

Anyway, I could rant and rave about this for days, and there are exceptions to every sweeping statement [there is a just irony in my over simplification of this form of stereotyping, but that’s a thought for another day].

There is just so much exciting work in this sphere, and such an opportunity for cultural dialogue.

One I noticed in particular at the Sharjah International Book Fair is an Indian graphic novel without any of the conventional structure – it’s illustrated in a more traditional style with no text boxes, no 9 frame pages.

It’s fluid and dynamic and incredibly vivid.

The publisher, Navayana, look at the caste system of India – from an anti-caste outset.

Bhimayana is going to be published by Tate in the UK, hopefully next year, under the title Outcast [interestingly, he refused to let them call it Untouchable. As he said, “that’s like calling a Martin Luther King biography Nigger“, for that is the very stigma and segregation the book looks to diffuse, not propagate]

It was listed in Paul Gravett’s recent top five political graphic novels.

Paul is an expert on the subject and director of Comica Festival in London. He’s an excellent guy, and I’d take his recommendations any day.

So the fact that’s listed alongside the Big Three is kudos indeed.




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