01 July 2009

Cape Town Book Fair and the search for graphic novels

People sure love their books

I know I was supposed to post this a while back, but better late than AWOL.

Last month I attended my first ever book fair, the Cape Town Book Fair. Yes, it may seem strange for an author who has released a book to have not been to a book fair yet, but there’s a lot of things that’s strange about me and how I got to create a graphic novel, so let’s just say that the normal rules don’t apply to me and leave it at that for now.

South African superstar author John van der Ruit signing his latest 'Spud' sequel
As a graphic novelist, the one thing that struck me about the book fair, aside from there being a whole lot of books, was the obvious absence of graphic novels. And that was disappointing considering the rise of popularity of the format globally. The only significant graphic novel presence was the Readers Den booth, which is a comics shop in Cape Town.

When I spoke to the guy in charge of the booth about why he thought there was such scant graphic novel representation, he gave me the typical response about South Africa always being behind the times, but then he also filled me in about how the book fair organisers had supposedly planned some kind of focus on graphic novels but were unable to secure significant sponsorship from the book industry.

Something I stumbled upon that I found quite interesting was a booth that featured, amongst other stuff, graphic novels based on classic novels such as Jane Eyre, Frankenstein and a few Charles Dickens books plus some graphic novel adaptations of William Shakespeare plays as well, all by a publisher called Classic Comics. I can’t exactly remember who the booth belonged to, but the graphic novels were merely amongst the many other publications they distributed in South Africa, so it wasn’t their main area of focus. But it was nonetheless quite exciting to see such revered work being translated into the ‘disposable’ format of comics.

I have to admit, for most of my time at the fair an all too familiar feeling came over me: that I was an outsider, a stranger in this world of literary types. There still seems to be this notion that real books is all about words only, and that if it contains pictures then it must be for kids. I feel a bit disappointed by a large majority of South Africans that in this world of the internet and global connectivity that they still have this outdated and elitist view of graphic novels, as if it cannot approach anything close to real literature.

The only graphic novel/comic presence at the fair was the Readers Den comics shop

When you consider what literature fundamentally is, which is the expression of stories, ideas, emotions and humanity via the words of an author, why do we continue to assume that pictures (the same pictures when framed in an art gallery is revered) cannot express those same stories, ideas, emotions and humanity when integrated with word balloons?

So I guess the journey to enlightenment continues. Who knows, maybe next year. We can only pray.

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