Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Graphic Novels and Game Design: The Future of Poetry?

Today is the birthday of Art Spiegelman, the first graphic novelist to win a Pulitzer prize. I remember the day when Maus came in the mail. I had ordered it from the Quality Paperback Book Club, source of many great books I bought in the mid 80's. I pulled it out of the package and thought, I have never seen anything quite like this before. I thought it was an amazing way to tell a story. I still do.

I thought it was interesting to see the wide variety of panels at this year's AWP--in terms of genres, the graphic novel was severely underrepresented. Lots of poetry, lots about the short story, even more about online issues. Only one or two sessions that focused on graphic novels--if even that many.

My students, art, design, and culinary students, are not a representative audience by any means. But I'm here to tell you, they don't read poetry, they don't read short stories, a handful of them read traditional novels--but almost all of them read graphic novels. Even the ones who come to our school simply because they want to cook will read a graphic novel.

And frankly, more of them come to narrative by way of video games than anything else, except for movies.

I remember years ago when I got my first full-time teaching job at a huge community college in South Carolina. A member of our writing group got a teaching job at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Come to find out, he'd had a secret life all along. He'd been writing what goes in the speaking bubbles in the Batman comics.

Very telling, isn't it, how he kept that life secret? If he'd been writing and publishing novels, we'd have all known about it. We'd have celebrated it.

When he left to go to SCAD, we thought he'd lost his mind. In the early 1990's, SCAD was not the school it is today. Back then it was tiny, unaccredited (or barely accredited). Why would you leave a solid job at a community college to teach comic book writing?

Well, now, of course, the move looks absolutely brilliant. When I look at the SCAD website I'm torn between wanting to teach there and wanting to go there to study any number of art forms.

It's interesting to me how many art forms seem to be swirling around these days, how impossible it seems to go on much longer creating our one art form in a vacuum. Some of us do full-blown collaborations--a dream of mine, even in these arts-funding-starved times. I loved the collaboration panel at AWP: hearing about poets collaborating with fabric artists, poets collaborating with photographers, poets collaborating with dance troupes. Some of us learn enough about our computer's capabilities to create websites or book promotions. Some of us are pioneers in forms so new they don't have a name: animated poetry, for example.

Art Spiegelman was one of those pioneers. He showed us that the comic book had potential beyond the imaginings of most of us. And now, so many people are doing such a wide variety of creating with that medium.

Thoughts for the day: could we have a graphic poem sequence? A whole book of poems with illustrations? I feel like I'm thinking too small. How could the idea of adding graphic designs to a book of poems change the work (for better or worse)? Could poets reach a larger audience by embracing ideas presented by graphic novelists?

And for those of you who want to think even more radically: how could we use game design in our poems? Could we create a video game based on a poem?

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

I was interested in the animated sequence in the film Howl. Admittedly these were an addition to the text but it might be nice to see a graphic poetry book where the illustrations are an integral part and not there just to add a wee bit of colour.