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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Graphic novels emerge into mainstream

By Todd Dvorak
Associated Press

Comic books are undergoing a transformation of sorts, thanks to a longer, more literary offshoot called the graphic novel.

Bolstered by comic writers and artists bent on telling more complex tales and by a string of Hollywood movies adapted from graphic novels — including "Road to Perdition" — publishers, booksellers and readers are beginning to take note.

"This art form is every bit as valid for telling stories and entertaining people as movies or any other," said Max Allan Collins, author of "Road to Perdition," who for 15 years wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip.

In the 300-page "Road to Perdition," black-and-white panels drawn by London-based cartoonist Richard Piers Rayner make visual the images and action of traditional literature. The panels give form and feature to characters, set scenes of homes, diners and downtowns in sharp detail and provide a sense of action and drama. Text balloons advance the plot and story line.

The 1987 publication of "Maus," a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Art Spiegelman about the Holocaust, is credited by many for setting the graphic novel apart from traditional comic books.

In bookstores, superhero stories still exist, but so do humor, mystery, erotica, historical fiction and journalism, such as Joe Sacco's "Gorazde: War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995." In recent years, more traditional publishing houses, such as Pantheon and Doubleday, have opened graphic novel divisions.

Hollywood has adapted movies from many graphic novels, including last year's "Ghost World" and "From Hell," the Jack the Ripper thriller, starring Johnny Depp.

As of last week, 1.5 million have sold so far this year, according to Neilsen BookScan. It is an increase of 700,000 over last year. A run of 25,000 to 50,000 copies per book is considered successful by industry standards.

For Collins, 50, mainstream acceptance may be too long a wait. "Road to Perdition," published in 1998 as the first of a trilogy, took more than four years to write. He plans to write his next book as traditional fiction.

"There is a part of me that wants to move faster with the next ones," said Collins. "There is also a need to reach out to a wider audience."