Metaphrog's John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs reflect on the recent rise of graphic literature

This article is from 2013


The team are making an appearance at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013's Stripped strand

‘Graphic novels are enjoying something of a renaissance, as demonstrated by the Stripped strand of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which celebrates comics, graphic novels and the people who create them. Taking place on the last weekend of the festival, ‘40 amazing events for ages 3 to 103’ are lined up with comic creators, ranging from Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman to Posy Simmonds and Rutu Modann.

Working in comics we have seen the graphic novel go in and out of fashion, but the rise of the medium itself has been consistent and can be traced back to the work of pioneers like Will Eisner and the ground-breaking experimentation of underground comics in the 60s and 70s.

Throughout the 80s, Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly edited RAW which serialised the Pulitzer-prize-winning Maus and nurtured such talents as Charles Burns and Chris Ware who went on to win the Guardian First Book Award in 2001. Last year saw the release of the incredible Building Stories and this year’s Graphic Novel in a Box event with Chris Ware in attendance was a festival highlight for many.

The number of small press or independent publishers releasing quality work has dramatically increased in the last twenty years, allowing graphic novels to flourish. Publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Oni, Slave Labor Graphics and Alternative Press in North America and Escape, Slab-o-Concrete and Knockabout in the UK, to name only a few, allowed creators to produce interesting, alternative work. Following Dave Sim’s example with Cerebus, there was also an exponential rise in self-published work, including Jeff Smith’s Bone which crossed over to the mainstream.

Clearly this growth hasn’t happened in a cultural vacuum. Alan Moore’s earliest strips appeared in British music paper Sounds and the music magazines of the 70s and 80s regularly featured cartoons and comic strips by the likes of Ray Lowry and Savage Pencil who would go on to provide iconic cover art for The Clash and The Fall respectively.

In an increasingly visual culture, with screens, game consoles and advertising images all around us, it is understandable that interest in visual storytelling has grown. Our lives are much more multi-cultural and influences from Japan, with manga and animé, or from continental Europe with Bande Dessinée, have fed into British and American comics.

While some people may still think of comics as Mickey Mouse, residual snobbery – and even hostility – among teachers, librarians and parents has gradually disappeared.

Last year two graphic novels were recognised by the Costa Book Awards: Days of Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart was nominated in the novel category and Mary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of her Father’s Eyes won the biography category (they appear at the festival on Sun 25 Aug, 12.00, £10 (£8)).

Mary Talbot says, “For me personally, it’s amazing that my first foray into graphic novel writing should be so well received. But for the medium as a whole the award is another accolade … further recognition of comics as a valid art form. I guess it’s because graphic novels have proliferated over the past ten years or so. There’s an enormous range of high-quality material available these days, in practically every genre and style you could think of.”

Bryan Talbot observes, “I don’t think [interest in graphic novels is] current, I think it’s here to stay. As opposed to other times in the form’s history when there have been brief bursts of interest by the general book-reading public …”

Recent years have also seen growth in comics for children. As well as the more traditional titles published by DC Thomson, publishers such as Walker Books and David Fickling Books have been releasing exciting new works.

The Phoenix publisher David Fickling says, “I have always believed passionately that children love comics and I can only see the market for children’s comics going from strength to strength. We need more publishers to produce brilliant graphic novels and comic books for the young. In other countries these markets are huge. Why not here too? And I also think comics are perfectly suited to the rush of tablets and devices that we’re all becoming fluent with.”

Whether you want to introduce younger people to the delights of graphic literature or discover new artists yourself, there’s enough going on at Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Stripped to satisfy both.’

Metaphrog will be appearing at the mini comic fair on 24 & 25 Aug. Stripped runs until Mon 26 Aug. For full event listings see, and check out Metaphrog’s output at

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Bryan Talbot & Mary Talbot

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