Comic book culture has become ubiquitous over the last thirty years, and its reach has seeped into numerous forms of media. Thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies are the medium most often associated with comic influence, but comics have greatly influenced the literary world as well. This very issue of Dark Matter Magazine includes a prose story by comic book creator, Sloane Leong, whose ongoing series, Prism Stalker, is published by Image Comics.
With that in mind, let’s explore a few novelists whose work has been inspired by, adapted for, or written originally as a comic book or graphic novel.
The rise of British comic book creators working and publishing within the United States marketplace in the 1980’s included a young and talented writer who would soon become world renowned. His name was Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s landmark title, The Sandman, made its DC Comics debut in 1988 and was immediately welcomed by fans and critics alike. It was apparent from the first issue that Gaiman’s masterpiece had more in common with the works of literary fantasists like Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges than it did with a monthly issue of say, The Incredible Hulk. The Sandman blended elements from the Gothic tradition, world mythology, and dark fantasy to tell a high-concept genre tale that still managed to speak directly of the quotidian realities we inhabit every day. This level of sophistication was not yet common in the world of comic books, and direct references to Shakespeare, The Decameron, Paradise Lost, and The Thousand and One Arabian Nights was groundbreaking for the medium. After finishing his 75-issue run on The Sandman in 1996, Gaiman switched gears to focus more on his prose writing and, like was the case with his comic book career, found immediate financial and critical success. More than two decades later, much of Gaiman’s work has come full circle, with many of his wildly popular novels having since been adapted for…yes, comic books.
Despite being primarily a literary novelist, Michael Chabon has long been a vocal supporter of genre fiction and a lifelong comic book fan. His Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000, Penguin Random House), is a love letter to the Golden Age of comic books and to the New York City of the 1940s and ’50s. The novel’s protagonists, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, are cousins and creative partners working on their own fledgling comic book during the rise of the comic book industry at the time of World War II. The hero they create is called The Escapist, who is part Harry Houdini, part Captain America, and 100% anti-fascist. Chabon’s novel, which is a very much a literary exploration of pop culture, quickly won the hearts of genre fans as well. This crossover success led a few short years later to the 2004 comic book, Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Chabon and illustrated by an outstanding array of top tier comic artists, the series picked up an Eisner Award for “Best Anthology” in 2005. Critically acclaimed comic book creator, Brian K. Vaughn, even wrote a follow-up series in 2006.
Jerome Charyn’s inaugural crime novel, Blue Eyes, made its debut in 1975. The novel was the starting point for the long-running and critically acclaimed Isaac Sidel series. Charyn’s police procedural follows the fortunes of the canny and ambitious New York Police Department detective, Isaac Sidel and his various family members and associates. Charyn has had a long-standing relationship with France’s comic book industry. In 1985, he introduced the French-speaking world to The Magician’s Wife. This bandes dessinees, or “graphic album” as they are commonly known in the United States, was the first collaboration between Charyn and illustrator, Francois Boucq (the two creators would work together on later albums, including Billy Budd, KGB, and Little Tulip). The Magician’s Wife is a phantasmagoric masterpiece brought to life by Charyn’s enigmatic script and the gorgeous line work of Boucq. This graphic album won the prestigious 1986 Prix Alfred (Angouleme) and the Grand Prix (Sierre). In 1995, Charyn produced the dystopian three-issue miniseries, Family Man, with American illustrator, Joe Staton. These three albums were published under Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics. Family Man is a much less whimsical work in comparison to The Magician’s Wife, but both works explore the theme of family and familial duty.
Famed novelist and Booker Prize winner, Salman Rushdie, is one of the world’s most renowned literary voices working today, but he is also one of genre fiction’s greatest champions, even if his work within the realm of speculative fiction is often classified as the more literary-friendly “magical realism.” Both his 1981 Booker Prize winning novel, Midnight’s Children,and his 2015 novel, Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, tell the tale of individuals born with special powers. By combining serious themes of national identity and social justice with twenty-first century pop culture mythology, Rushdie creates Marvel comic books for the The New York Times Review of Books crowd. He creates works that blend highbrow culture and low brow entertainment into something extraordinary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in several online venues. He can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.
© 2021, Anthony Perconti