Stop Me If You've Heard This Story Before.
Some traditions stand the test of time in a world of ever-changing technological advances. Comic books and graphic novels are one example; the art form has been around since the 1930s and shows no sign of slowing down. Moreover, comics and graphic novels may be more popular than ever, thanks partly to adaptations like "The Walking Dead" and "Stranger Things." However, with popularity come unfortunate caveats. Comics and related physical media have grown into an industrial complex. From conventions to billions of dollars in revenue, if you're a fan or have been one for the last ten years, no one needs to explain just how far the industry has come in a short time. Rapid growth means higher demand and increased interest from parties looking to cash in or build an equitable business or platform.
The macro results are debatable. Some see growth as a good thing; others see it as unsustainable. Devil, however, is most comfortable in the details.As a result, the On the micro level, what does a burgeoning industrial complex mean?
The only financial stability available is found in the larger parts of the industry. While anyone can make a comic book, the only hope of financial success resides in creating a product that bigger companies feel confident will sell.
I have been making comics for more than a decade. I know from experience that comics are more than a genre, and people create them for reasons beyond monetary returns. But what if there's another way to make comics without sacrificing artistic integrity or shamelessly chasing a check?
Graphic light novels captivate readers with their unique combination of words and pictures, providing a fresh take on traditional storytelling. In addition, they provide the space for writers to spread their wings and artists to create without being overburdened by drawing too many panels per page.
So, what are graphic light novels, and why should you be reading them? First, let's start with the basics:
Graphic Light Novel is a term I came up with to describe this new direction of content Shabazz Arts will be producing. That isn't to say I created the first graphic light novel. But, as you'll see, many existing books fall into the category. Furthermore, reading How To Draw Black People Volume 2 would give you the clearest example of what a Shabazz Arts graphic light novel is.
So, let's look at the specs.
A graphic light novel is 256 to 296 pages long. Longer than the average trade paperback (120-page average) but shorter than a true graphic novel (300+ pages).
The word count can be anywhere between 19 and 25k, with a minimum of 64 pages of comic book panels and or illustrations. Bearcat Wright & The Kayfable Chronicles follows a design structure similar to the example I've provided.
It's not hard to see how many books already exist with a similar motif. The most accurate examples are the many "how to draw comic book" subgenre entries which are in no short supply.
Why graphic light novels? Why now?
Understandably, most people cannot fathom how industrial complexes work. People that participate rarely see their place in the grand design, and that result is purposeful. Also, the personal effects of ICs are hard to perceive without guidance or experience. (Hell, if not for my work in social justice, I may not be aware myself.) Something easy to point out is that the average comic buyer is also a comic book creator or otherwise associated with the industry. That means that success in the comic book industry ties directly to social standing. For example, you can be a horrible person and terrific athlete and still be successful. In comics, however, there's a support exchange powered by networking. If word gets around that you're a terrible person, hard to work with, etc. It becomes harder to get work. That's a long-form explanation of gatekeeping, but like any social system, it has its pros and cons. The positive side exemplifies itself in the pariah status attached to creative professionals that operate in a toxic fashion. The negative side is not as clear-cut. Sometimes fairness excludes vulnerable people for indirect reasons, and the industry will always move to protect its assets over any individual claim of wrongdoing. It's taken years-long campaigns to remove very harmful people from positions of power. Moreover, every experienced professional is one of a kind and hard to replace. Adding the social media fandom that can arise, disputes between artists and publishers can flare into public dustups that harm everyone remotely involved. If all that sounds exhausting, it should because it is. I consciously chose to dedicate my skill to this medium, and I love it more than what's probably healthy. I've written on my blog extensively about the issues I've faced speaking out against racism and pushing for change within the industry. The truth is no person can change an industrial complex; from what I can tell, not everyone wants things to change.
Comics have a value problem.
If 100k floppies must be printed to sell maybe 10k, and if the leading distributor has a monopoly on available shelf space, what can the value of a comic book be? To comic book consumers, each book represents an investment in the future of the industry but also in the creators. What I find hard to measure are the benefits of comics to anyone other than comic book readers. The contents of any given comic book could have art and storytelling that could stand shoulder to shoulder with anything hanging in a museum or praised as great literature. Yet, despite cultural merits, comics are viewed as cheap entertainment.
The medium is open to anyone with the know-how, determination, and financial support necessary to make, market, and sell a comic book. The culture, however, is segmented and politically hostile. So how much can one fake it until they make it? Only time can answer that and primarily on an individual basis. Building a relationship with a readership that feels views you as competition is not an easy feat.
Graphic Light Novels represent an option rather than an opportunity for change. So I'm taking Shabazz Arts in this direction to blaze a trail others may follow. After How To Draw Black People, a dozen different creators released their versions, and broader discussions on black characterizations became more involved. Every day, I see people implementing my teaching and those of others.
What makes our books different is that they appeal to comic book readers and novel readers. Our production method allows writers to express their ideas and artist to visualize without restraint. Most important, we're not competing with anyone. I'm pitching the idea to you and my followers directly. If this book doesn't reach the funding goal, we go back to the drawing board and pitch you a different one. Graphic light novels are just that flexible. The main goal is to innovate. Together we've changed the way people see Black culture in character designs. I think we can do the same with the value of comics. By creating an experience that doesn't exist in either comics or novels, we build a space for creative expression outside the norm.
Also, Graphic Light Novels are inexpensive and not nearly as time intensive. Once I've trained the artists and writers I'm working with, they'll be able to apply the methods to create their own.
Join us on this journey and become a part of the graphic light novel revolution! Are you ready to take the next step? Join our prelaunch page and be one of the first people to receive updates about our upcoming Kickstarter campaign. We can't wait to see what amazing things you create!