How the graphic novel came to be regarded as an artform in its own right

Graphic Novel- An art form of its own

Once the preserve of geeky boys locked in their darkened bedrooms, the graphic novel is finally taking its place beside ‘serious’ literature

Are comic books an art form? Well, yes they are, and this fact will be recognised at the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival by the establishment of a major new prize: the 9th Art Award for this year’s Best English Language Graphic Novel. Meanwhile, Blue is the Warmest Colour, a film based on a graphic novel, has just won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes. If a film adaptation can be seen as art, then why can’t the source material, Julie Maroh’s Le Bleu est une Couleur Chaude, be seen the same way?

This, of course, isn’t an issue to the French who, alongside the rest of Western Europe, recognise comics as ‘the ninth art’. Famous graphic novels such as Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust drama, Maus, and Marjane Satrapi’s Iranian Revolution-set Persepolis, have become award-winning crossovers into the mainstream. But even with that recognition, graphic novels still often struggle for respect in the UK.

But perhaps things are slowly changing. Mary Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes was victorious in the 2012 Costa Biography Award, while another graphic novel made the shortlist in this year’s Costa Book Awards: Joff Winterhart’s Days of the Bagnold Summer. Understated, very funny and filled with emotional resonance, Days of the Bagnold Summer, like Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, should be on anyone’s must-read list.

Smaller publishers such as Blank Slate Books and Self Made Hero are taking their place alongside industry heavyweights such as Jonathan Cape in producing challenging, exciting and innovative works. Self Made Hero published Glyn Dillon’s acclaimed The Nao of Brown, while Blank Slate gave us Will Morris’ The Silver Darlings, a coming of age tale set in 1960s Ayrshire.

Graphic literature is not a genre, it’s an art form in itself. For every type of novel out there, there is a graphic equivalent. Crime, horror, romance: name your preference and I’ll find you a comic to read. From Oor Wullie and The Broons to Spider-Man, Tintin and Asterix, you’ve almost certainly read and enjoyed comics. There is a wide and varied world of comics and graphic literature out there waiting to be discovered.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival recognises this too and this year it includes ‘Stripped’, a strand dedicated to comics and graphic novels. A series of events and talks will culminate with the awards ceremony for the 9th Art Award. The establishment of this prize as a major part of the world’s biggest celebration of the written word is a ringing endorsement and recognition of graphic literature taking its place alongside the very best of modern literature.

It’s perhaps fitting that the award should be launched here in Scotland. We lay claim to having produced the world’s first comic, and with Scottish institution DC Thomson still producing The Beano and The Dandy (albeit in digital form) Scotland’s influence in the world of comics and graphic literature continues.

Gordon Robertson is a Director of Graphic Scotland and founder of The Glasgow League of Writers.

Details of the 9th Art Award can be found at