Posted on: Friday 02 July 2010 8:08am

Are graphic novels and comics for young people experiencing a renaissance in the UK?

Moderator: Paul Gravett, International Comics Ambassador, Comica Festival


David Almond, Author

Esther Bircham, MD, Pulp Theatre

Jamie Smart, Comic Book Artist

Lizzie Spratt, Commissioning Editor, Walker Books

A well-represented panel of speakers came together in this session to cast an expert eye over the growing world of comics and graphic novels.

Paul Gravett, who is often described as an international comics ambassador, shared a selection of images from some of his favourite comics and graphic novels, including ‘Aya’ which set in the Ivory Coast and is soon to be animated and ‘MeZolith’, which Paul described as one of the most spectacularly drawn graphic novels in the world.

David Almond, author of the famous children’s novel ‘Skellig’ and winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Author Award for 2010, spoke of his childhood interest in the printing process. For David, writing is about transferring visuals and the children’s book world is a place for great experimentation.

There are many cultural forces working on kids who are 7-8 yrs old that encourage them to ‘move on’ from reading picture books to prose books. For David, this seemed regressive, and he developed a number of picture books to cater for children of these ages, including ‘My Dad’s a Birdman’ and ‘Savage’ which was illustrated by Dave McKean. Many people were troubled by ‘Savage’ due to its very dark nature, and as it was a picture book that wasn’t for young children, many bookshops didn’t know where to place the book.

Comics haven’t always been perceived in a good way. In the US in the 1940’s, there was a belief that comics were a bad influence on kids – encouraging bad behaviour due to often dark and mischievous content. Mass comic-burnings took place with teachers and parents encouraging kids to throw comics into a fire. Times sure have changed since then.

Lizzy Spratt, Commissioning Editor for Graphic Novels at Walker Books, spoke of how graphic novels have a particular relevance to kids today as we all live in such an image-rich world. In particular, graphic novels have a great appeal for many boys (who read much less than girls) and can be of enormous educational benefit.

According to Jamie Smart, a comic artist, the strongest component of any story is the character. “The best stories don’t come TO your character, they come FROM your character.” Jamie pointed out that these days, comic artists can have a huge following thanks to social media websites. Artists can now make a comfortable living by posting their work for free online and making money by selling merchandise and web adverts.

Sales of graphic novels in the UK rose by 28% in 2009 making a turnover of £1.8m. As a result, there’s much more shelf-space in bookshops and publishers are generally expanding their lists. And then there are the potential spin offs such as film adaptations. So is it a time of renaissance for graphic novels? This panel certainly seemed to think so…