the New York Times magazine
"Such labor demands a certain obsessional personality and sometimes results in obsessional storytelling."
though slightly disturbed that the writer failed to mention Neil Gaiman as one of the foremost 'graphic novelists' for Sandman [update: my mistake; they talk about him on page 8 of 10, where he gets a brief para mention for Sandman.], i'm pleased that the Times Magazine did a feature article on the genre last weekend. (and that just made me miss my paper copy even more. damn, i don't even have hard copy now.) go read the whole thing.
"What all graphic novelists aspire to, however -- whether they start with words or with an image or two -- is a sense of motion, of action unfolding in the blank spaces between their stop-action frames. They spend a lot of time thinking about how the panels are arranged and the number of panels it takes (or doesn't) to depict a given amount of narrative. Most of these effects are meant to work on us, the readers, almost subconsciously, but they require a certain effort nonetheless. You have to be able to read and look at the same time, a trick not easily mastered, especially if you're someone who is used to reading fast. Graphic novels, or the good ones anyway, are virtually unskimmable. And until you get the hang of their particular rhythm and way of storytelling, they may require more, not less, concentration than traditional books."
i think that's the thing that makes graphic novels appeal to me (other than the fact that so many of them seem to revolve around darkness, like Batman's Gotham City, and yes, the Endless in Sandman. it's the space between the panels where your mind is free to fill in what happens, unlike in novels where the spaces are not so clearly delineated. Also it seems that the spaces pictorially are easily accepted, and the storyline assumes a continuity in my mind that wouldn't exist if the same spaces had been left in a novel. the suspension of disbelief, of the obssessive need for detail, is much easier with the graphic novel, or the comic (not in the Archie sense, however) than it is with the novel. the spaces are like Emily Dickinson's dashes - they hint at something you have to imagine, to believe. you have to focus on the moments that are shown to you - it is far more obvious that the world you see is a partial, not a complete picture, and you are left free to fill-in-the-blanks between moments (odd moments, precious moments, moments that would otherwise be called 'filler' material or mundane reflections of ordinary life) with anything you choose. it wakes the imagination.
i'm not sure that it's because the collective attention span has gone down - as the writer notes, it's almost impossible to skim the graphic novel and understand it (though frankly it is quite possible to devour it fastfastfast in one sitting, and then read it again to fill-in-the-spaces) and understanding it really requires more focused attention than reading a novel does. novels are easy to skim, to read standing up in the train on the way to work in the morning (elbows tucked into your sides to avoid poking the suit next to you; hanging from the straps that finally you can reach because you're no longer in the land of tall people); i can't imagine taking Sandman in to the office instead of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, because losing myself in stop-action-framed pictures results in fogginess and dreamery all morning, while it is easy to find my way back out from the word-maze.
oh, go read the article. then go read some Sandman, or today's Get Fuzzy, which i shall post as soon as i ever can. more from me later.