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Graphic Details

Spring 2011 | By Eric Nelson. Photo by Mark Simons.

graphicLook, it’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s another graphic novel or serial comic headed for bookshelves and Hollywood!

Those of us who followed the heroic adventures of Superman in our youth already know the appeal of print media that combine stories and pictures. And if you’re a regular moviegoer, their increasing adaptation onto the big screen is equally apparent.

The medium is gaining readers, too, most recently peaking with the release of more than 3,400 graphic novel titles in 2008. Comic-book characters dominated the box office that year with 11 movie adaptations — a 12 percent market share led by 2008’s top-two grossing films, Batman’s The Dark Night, and Iron Man.

Although print and screen revenues dropped slightly during the recent recession, it’s already on the rebound thanks to an Iron Man sequel in 2010, which earned the year’s fourth-highest movie ticket sales, and the critical success of TV’s The Walking Dead.

What’s behind the current wave of popularity?

“Graphic novels and serial comics have a long history, but their mainstream success reflects the maturation of a relatively young medium,” says comparative literature doctoral student Steve Gooch. “As people get increasingly weary of what corporate-controlled, mass-media offers, the do-it-yourself nature of comics becomes more appealing.”

Along with English professor and comparative literature program director Charles Ross, Gooch helped organize a 2010 conference at Purdue that addressed how comics and graphic novels address politics, religion, gender, race, class, and other social issues.

Gooch also participated in November’s annual Cancer Culture & Community Colloquium, which used Harvey Pekar’s award-winning 1994 graphic novel Our Cancer Year to explore how arts and literature provide an outlet of expression to those struggling with cancer.

Purdue University Galleries presented original illustrations from the graphic novel in the Stewart Center Gallery, while a second exhibit in Pao Hall showcased classroom projects inspired by the work, including the collaborative mural pictured at right, drawn by students in Art and Design II.

“The fact that comics and graphic novels in the United States are largely associated with superheroes gives them a unique angle for stories about cancer,” Gooch says. “Cancer is the ultimate villain, and battling the deadly disease involves superhuman feats by more ordinary heroes.”

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