3 (Photo)Graphic Novels
Double-page spread from Aztlángst by Harry Gamboa Jr.
I am always a little surprised that there seem to be so few graphic novels that use photography and that the tradition of the Spanish and Italian fotonovella (essentially a soap opera in graphic novel format, using photographs) rarely crosses over into more creative fictional use. Nevertheless, here are three different examples.
Melvin van Peebles’ Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha (NY: Akashic, 2009) is part graphic novel and part photo novel, based on his 2008 film of the same name, There is a long history of publishing photo novels that essentially retell the story of a feature film or television program using production stills, both as a way of extending the product line and enlarging the fan base. What is so interesting about the book version of Confessions is that it blends traditional hand-drawn imagery of the graphic novel with film stills.
The drawings are credited to an entity referred to as “Caktus Tree..?”(with the ellipsis and the question mark as part of the name). Confessions is a picaresque story of a young man who travels the world, looking for love in all the wrong places, and finally ending up back where he started in Harlem, a little bit wiser. His final act is to try to reconnect with his onetime-girlfriend, who happens to be cleaning her apartment when he appears on her doorstep. Shocked and excited to see him, she drops the roll of toilet paper in her hand.
It rolls toward me.
A blue collar red carpet
A poor man’s welcoming mat…
One thousand two-ply extra-soft squares of pure happiness!
At the moment, the only other example of a graphic novel that I can find that uses both photographs and drawings is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel (NY: Yen Press, 2013), which extends the story in the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs published in 2011. That novel, and it’s just-published sequel Hollow City (Philadelphia: Quirk, 2014), are based on the author’s fascination with and collection of vintage found photographs, picked up at flea markets and through specialized dealers. In the graphic novel, there are photographs from the earlier book, but most of the plot is achieved through the artwork of Cassandra Jean. There is a recent interview with Riggs over at Fine Books & Collections that includes images from his collection. In this case, the graphic novel is not just a graphic equivalent of the original novel, but goes off in new directions with the characters.
Finally, here is a contemporary take on the fotonovela by Los Angeles-based Latino artist Harry Gamboa Jr. called Aztlángst (Los Angeles: CreateSpace, 2011) ,a portmanteau for Aztlán angst. The performance group Virtual Vérité acts out the scenarios that Gamboa photographs. The “plot,” such as it is, involves a kind of sci-fi, anti-war romance in which different kinds of chemistry get mixed up, all done tongue-in-cheek. Sort of.
There is a series of photographic comics produced in Seattle called Night Zero, which can be viewed online or purchased in comic stores.