Do not despair if your child prefers the lively pages of a graphic novel to a “visually deprived” tome. You know, a book.
The younger generation has been deluged since infancy with visual stimulation from computers and the Internet, TV, and video games. They seem to need a lot of visual input, and graphic novels satisfy this need.
But we’re not talking Archie and Jughead anymore: graphic novels have outgrown comic books in their sophistication, although they employ similar techniques of sequential art. These illustrated books have become the fastest growing sector of publishing and can be found in abundance on library and book store shelves.
Further, teachers and librarians are using graphic novels to encourage literacy. You’ll even find panels of images and text in the New York Times Magazine as well as the New Yorker. For example, an excerpt from artist R. Crumb’s “Book of Genesis” ran in the New Yorker in June, 2009.
Now the museum world has embraced the graphic novel as art. “LitGraphic: the World of the Graphic Novel” is on view at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, through January 10. This traveling exhibit, organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, and curated by that museum’s Stephanie Plunkett, examines the history and artistic identity of the graphic novel. Some 200 original works, including paintings, drawings, storyboards, books and photographs, are featured.
On view are works by Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, Jessica Abel, Sue Coe, Harvey Kurtzman, Milt Gross, Terry Moore, Niko Henrichon, and many more. A number of special events have been planned to go with the exhibit, including “The Art of Graphic Novels,” a lecture and demonstration by Bucks County, PA-based illustrator Scott Hanna on Sunday, December 5.
Hanna, who is one of the most in-demand illustrators in the field, will be bringing samples of his work, offering his books for sale, and discussing the growing phenomenon of graphic novels.
“I’ll also give a live demonstration of how I create my art work,” he says, speaking by phone from his home studio in Reigelsville, PA. “I’ve been doing classes for art teachers on how to incorporate graphic novels in the classroom, so I may do a bit of that as well. I’ll show the variety of graphic novels and talk about how we tell a story through the language and art of the graphic novel.
“We’ll also talk about how team members work together,” Hanna says. “For example, I have a letterer, an inker, a separate writer in England, a penciler in Turkey, and colorist in California. We’re all over the world, but there are also some people who do it all themselves.”
Although the popularity of the graphic novel might seem like a recent happening, Hanna points out that superheroes on the pages of comic books were saving the world 70 years ago. But sequential art and telling stories through illustration goes back long, long before the 20th century: think of cave paintings.
“One of the cool things about the exhibit is that it’s very modern but also historical,” Hanna says. “Everybody alive today has lived through the comic book generation. Back in the late ’30s, Superman was a comic book hero, but he was also on the radio and in the movies. Even back then, it became a pop culture phenomenon. They were creating Superman toys even in the beginning.
“Today, there is no standard age for readers of graphic novels,” he continues. “Grandparents have a connection to comics, and our kids have it too. Graphic novels cross barriers and connect to every age level. Kids who are seven are starting to read them, and people who are in their 60s have been reading them for 50 years. That’s one of the good things about this exhibit: with some shows, parents bring their kids, and the kids will get bored, or vice versa. This exhibit can interest young people as well as adults.”
Hanna also notes the influence graphic novels have on a variety of media. For example, in the last decade or so, more and more movies have been based on graphic novels. “V for Vendetta,” “300,” “The Road to Perdition,” “Watchmen,” and the “Spider-Man” and “Batman” movies are just a few.
Then there was the critically praised animated film “Persepolis,” co-written and co-directed by Marjane Satrapi and based on her graphic novels about coming of age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. “Graphic novels are so influential,” Hanna says. “You see references all around. For me it’s nice that graphic novels are becoming more respected and have this sophistication and depth to them.”
A top inker in the graphic novel industry, Hanna, 48, has been drawing and inking comic books for more than 20 years. At Marvel Comics, he’s worked on all the top characters at the company, including Spider-Man, IronMan, the X-Men, and the Hulk. At DC Comics, he worked on many of their major titles, and for five years worked on Detective Comics starring Batman. Currently, he is working on Batman and Robin and R.E.B.E.L.S. for DC Comics and a number of characters for Marvel. His work has been published in over 100 graphic novels, and he’s inked some 14,000 pages of graphic art.
“That’s actually a low estimate,” he says. “I guess I’m a workaholic, but I love what I do, and I work really hard, long hours, seven days a week. My services are in high demand, and even when I turn down job offers, I am still busy full time.”
Hanna grew up in Mountain Lakes, in Morris County, and is a third generation artist. His grandfather did manuscript work, calligraphy, and book illumination, and his mother, Annette Adrian Hanna, is an award-winning portrait and landscape artist.
He says he entered his first art contest when he was five, and by age 10, he had made the decision to pursue art professionally. “I resisted getting into comic art professionally for a long time,” Hanna says. “I did do it in grade school and high school, though.”
Famed illustrator Joe Kubert learned of Hanna’s talent and tried to recruit him into the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, but Hanna wanted to go to what he calls a “real art school” instead. In the late ’70s/early ’80s he majored in illustration at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and emerged with the intention to make a living as a general illustrator.
“I did four years of college, and everyone was into comics, but I was focused on general illustration,” he says. “It was a lot of work, and I wasn’t having fun, so I got back into comics and discovered that I loved it as much as I did when I was a kid. I was good at it, and they paid me.
“I figured that as long as it was still fun, I would continue to do it,” Hanna says. “I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and I’m still having fun. And it’s more ‘adult’ now because they call them ‘graphic novels.’”
The studio where Hanna churns out prodigious amounts of pages is located in rural Upper Bucks County, and he says he has more turkeys and deer than human neighbors. His wife, Pamela Ptak, is an acclaimed fashion designer, who also teaches at Drexel University. She recently showed her work at Philadelphia Fashion Week and was featured on “Project Runway” last season.
Hanna reflects that comics have come a long way since he read them as a child, “but they still have the same ingredients,” he says. “For kids growing up today, everything is very active and quick and visual by nature. Think of Twitter, how abbreviated they’re getting with writing. When you abbreviate the literary information, you need to compensate with lots of pictures, and that’s what comic books have done for a long time. They’re accessible to kids because that’s their language.”
“LitGraphic: the World of the Graphic Novel,” James A. Michener Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA. On view through January 10. $10 adults, $9 seniors, $7.50 college students with valid ID, $5 ages 6-18, free under age 6. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. 215-340-9800 or www.michenermuseum.org.
Illustrator Scott Hanna will give a lecture and demonstration in the museum’s Ann and Herman Silverman Pavilion, Sunday, December 5, 2 p.m. $20. Advance registration is required. Scott Hanna on the Web: www.theartistschoice.com.