April is the month of the graphic novel

But only in the Netherlands. Which is a bit odd, because “graphic novel” as either a gerne or an upmarket term for comics has not been used much here. It’s an American term after all and the Dutch comics scene has always looked towards Belgium and France, with US comics being seen as childish pulp, though there have of course always been exceptions. Mature comics readers have never had problems buying strips, not being trapped in the superhero ghetto, though as almost everywhere, it’s still seen as a somewhat nerdy hobby, capes or no capes. There’s been “comics for adults” for decades, but they’re still largely sold through the comics shop.

What’s new is the interest of “proper” book publishers in comics, both domestic and translations which started in the late nineties and early naughties. I’m not quite sure why and how that happened, but it might’ve been a combination of a new generation of alternative cartoonists like Maaike Hartjes or Barbara Stok finding an audience outside of the traditional stripzines, (Hartjes e.g. did a regular strip for women’s magazine Viva) and more established masters tackling serious literary works — especially Dick Matena and his series of adaptations of classic novels. Perhaps it’s just a matter that enough singular, breakthrough works had been published over the years (Maus, Persopolis, you know the drill) for book publishers to notice the market for intelligent comics that looked like and could be bought like normal books.

In any case, there’s clearly a market for “graphic novels” now, with the press release for the month of the graphic novel talking about sales of 10,000 copies of Logicomics and Robert Crumb’s Genesis, which is certainly not bad for a small country like the Netherlands. There’s a sound commercial motive than behind this promotion of the graphic novel, an attempt to get people to try graphic novels by offering nine classics for a lower price than usual. It’s a good idea, but disappointing in that amongst the nine chosen works there is no original Dutch work.

the nine graphic novels offered in the month of the graphic novel

Instead there’s translations of various classic American graphic novels, like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Bryan Talbot’s Tale of One Bad Rat, Charles Burns’ Black Hole, as well as Y the Last Man. There’s also the graphic novel version of Walsh with Bashir, as well as several other translations of Serious Works about war and the mafia, but no original Dutch graphic novels. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good list, with some impressive books on it, but by only offering translations it has missed a trick.

I’m not sure why no Dutch graphic novels were offered in this promotion, though it might be that the three publishers involved, De Vliegende Hollander, Oog en Blik and Silvester Strips had no suitable items in print for this promotion, which is damning enough if true. I hope that if this initiative is succesful, it will be repeated next year but include some worthy Dutch authors as well — a new collected edition of Lian Ong’s Horizon perhaps?