GRAPHIC NOVELS: Writer’s Tools to Entertain and Educate

By: Kathleen Pickering

Author Plug: Want to put your finger on the pulse of the writing world? Attend writing conferences. The latest? Graphic Novels.


While at the Romantic Times Convention in Chicago last month, I attended a workshop on Graphic Novels with notable panelists such as Gregg Hurwitz, Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson and Jade Lee. Romance author and graphic novelist, Anne Elizabeth, moderated the panel. Quite a line-up of professionals to talk about something as juvenile as comic books, wouldn’t you say?

Let me tell you, the Crash! Boom! Blam! about graphic novels and the impact they are having on the industry opened my eyes faster than a speeding bullet.

Snooping around the Internet, I discovered that as far back as 2005, librarians have espoused the benefits of graphic novels as educational tools in schools and libraries.

In an article written by Leslie Bussert, an ethics/humanities librarian at the University of Washington, Bussert stated, “Comic books and graphic novels are becoming two of the most pervasive and influential media forms of popular culture. Placed within the context of changing society, comic books and graphic novels entertain and educate, but they have also been instrumental in documenting and interpreting social, historical, and current events.”

Comics and graphic novels are proving to be great tools for students to analyze character development, dialogue and language structures. Combine these with visual elements and readers are presented with a multi-variable art form that stimulates the imagination more than just the written word.

Granted, some graphic novels may be too graphic for some folks to digest. Lots of concerned parents feel this way. The issue against graphic novels has been so strong that the American Library Association distributed materials to librarians on how to defend graphic novels in public libraries. Just like going to the movies, parents must take an active role in their children’s entertainment consumption. Concern like this shows how powerful comics and graphic novels are in reaching their readers.

From an author standpoint, writing graphic novels is like screenwriting on steroids. Where a screenwriter must distill the salient points of his story to about 95 pages, a graphic novelist must reduce his story to snippets and still keep the plot powerful with artwork that will say more than words, all within perhaps 30 pages, or less. 

marvel comics

The panelists at the RT workshop provided wonderful insights to this genre. Two points that I found fascinating were that, one, they found working with graphic artists in creating their stories an incredible inspiration during the creation process. And, two, they insisted that not only was creating graphic novels a whole lot of fun, the genre is becoming an excellent and profitable spin-off for novel writing.

Our culture is devouring graphic media, as evident not only in comics and graphic novels, but on the silver screen. The Batman, Spiderman, Superman series have been crowding movie theaters for years. Now, with the Avengers series focusing on all the Super heroes, comics-gone-movies are block busters.


I heard that in comparing first sales, The Avengers outsold Harry Potter in the opening weekend. That says much about the allure of comics and graphic novels.

The TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer has gone graphic novel. Classical greats, such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen’s, Sense and Sensibility, can now be found as graphic novels.


 sense and sensibility

Are graphic novels another venue for the writer to consider? Absolutely. I can see turning my Mythological Sam series into graphic media down the road. Actually, since attending this workshop, graphic media has become another benchmark for my publishing plan. I wouldn’t have thought of it had I not attended this workshop.

How about you? Do you like graphic media? Do you see graphic novels as a part of your writing future?

xox, Piks

We’re not in Kansas Anymore

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’m in the Hilton at Chicago O’Hare airport typing this post so apologies if I don’t get to comments until late Monday as I’ll be flying home from the Historical Novel Society conference. I had a lovely time because for once I didn’t feel like the nerd in the room full of cool thriller writers:)…okay so I still felt like a nerd, it just wasn’t quite as obvious…

On Sunday I moderated a panel on writing about non-Western cultures with a terrific line-up of panelists: Michelle Moran, Jade Lee, Kamran Pasha and Eileen Charbonneau. Of all the (fabulous, of course!) questions I asked, the one that struck me the most related to resistance within publishing houses to publishing books about non-Western cultures. Not surprising but saddening none the less. For most of the panelists, publication sprung from the faith of the one cool editor out there who fell in love with the project and was determined to see it succeed. That’s true for most writers but still the need to justify and convince the marketing and sales force of the commercial viability of such a project remains a unique challenge for the writer of a ‘non-Western’ book.

What I think depressed me the most (though I have to confess much of what the agents, editors and fellow published writers were saying at the conference about the state of the publishing industry was depressing) was the sad truth that in bad economic times most readers want to escape to something they are comfortable with – which usually means something they can easily relate to culturally. I guess readers want the comfy old sweatshirt rather than the exotic shirt they can’t seem to button up. For me, when I start worrying about the economy, I re-read English favorites like the Brontes or Jane Austen with a nice hot cup of tea in my hand – so I readily admit I’m just as bad (though I hope I’m forgiven because I usually have wider, culturally diverse tastes!)

As was evident from our discussion, one of the driving forces behind most of the writers on the panel was a desire to overcome stereotypes (and in Kamran’s case overwhelmingly negative ones regarding Muslims) and to help inform readers about the true nature of a culture which remains to many readers both foreign and inaccessible.

Which brings me to some questions for you all: In a sales driven market, how can writers help broaden the publishing industry’s cultural horizons? What makes a so-called alien culture (and I don’t mean sci-fi or fantasy) accessible for you as a reader?

Despite the economic times, I think we need tolerance and cultural understanding now more than ever. Before I embrace the blogosphere with a group hug (okay, I’m sleep deprived, so cut me some slack here…) I also want to know how do you think readers, writers and the publishing industry can help bridge the cultural divide?

Coming Sunday, June 21, Paul Kemprecos tells us what it’s like to collaborate with Clive Cussler. And future Sunday guest bloggers include Robert Liparulo, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.