A “Documentary Graphic Novel” — Photo Reference as Art?

Th3rdWorld Studios will be releasing Dad! A Documentary Graphic Novel by Scott King later this year. It’s debuting at SPX in October with the official release in early November for $19.99.

Dad! A Documentary Graphic Novel cover
Dad! A Documentary Graphic Novel
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It’s described as “about a family dealing with a father’s illness and adjusting their entire existence to it. … the story of a bitter son feeling guilty about leaving home.” They’re aiming for readers of books like Mom’s Cancer or Fun Home. (Ambitious, since both of those garnered major awards when they came out two years ago.)

The most distinctive factor, though, is that they describe the creation as having been “filmed”, and a look at the preview shows that … well, I wouldn’t call it a graphic novel at all. It’s photos with word balloons put on. That limits what the author can do, and it doesn’t provide the level of removal I want to be able to approach the material as a story. I got caught up in trying to figure out how they arranged shots, whether they were recreating things as they happened, who took which photos when… all things that got in the way of my “reading” the pages.

It feels as though someone’s trying to use the hot publishing tag “graphic novel” without going through the difficult step of drawing (or the as difficult step of finding an artist). I didn’t care for the approach.

What do you think? Am I too stuck on what graphic novels have been to see what they could be? Or is this just a storyboard on paper, not an appropriate use of the “graphic novel” tag?


8 Responses to “A “Documentary Graphic Novel” — Photo Reference as Art?”

  1. Comics Worth Reading on “DAD!” | Says:

    […] Comics Worth Reading is the first site/publication to mention “DAD! A Documentary Graphic Novel” […]

  2. Paul Sizer Says:

    This is a tough call; I looked through all the sample pages for this release. I used a similar approach for a part of my BPM graphic novel; altered photos for the backgrounds with drawn characters on top. There were parts where I used the actual people in the photos as part of the photo background. I find myself thinking much the same thing as you; were these shots set up/recreated just for the book?

    I think the term for this is “fumetti” (sp?), an Italian term for books that are photos with word balloons over them. One of the biggest challenges I had on BPM was to integrate the photo elements and the drawn elements. The only nit I would pick on the art is that sometimes the panels get a little flat because of all the same intensity on all the details.

    The other thing that seems kind of off-putting is that it DOES seem too close to the subject matter, meaning that this is like looking at someone’s personal pictures, which I guess could be the whole intent of the author to make you in close and personal with a very personal story. “Fun Home” and “Blankets” were masterpieces because of the distance and perspective the author had on the subject matter. I’m not sure this has that same distance. I’d have to see the whole book to really make that assessment.

    As for whether this is a graphic novel; I’d say yes. Your problem may be stemming from whether or not the author made the best artistic choices for storytelling with the techniques he used.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Interesting comparison, Paul. When I saw your work, I certainly wasn’t thinking about the photo-taking, because your art was always the central focus. I never got that feeling from this preview. And yes, you phrased my question better than I did.

  4. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I looked at the preview pages and my problem with calling it a graphic novel is that it reminds me of the photo books that Scholastic sold when I was in elementary school. The books where they would take still frames from popular TV shows and add dialogue balloons to retale the TV episode in book format. (I remember Welcome Back Kotter especially getting this treatment.) Even as a kid, I never saw those as real books, so I’m already prejudiced against this book. I would prefer it be called a photo novel. This is more honest to the content.

  5. John Says:

    Technically it would depend on your definition of ‘graphic’, but personally I would not consider this a graphic novel. Is it art? Some might say, but it is not comic art.

    Using a single photo in the background (like in the old Fantastic Fours from the 60’s)might work, or using a cut out photo in a comic panel as in Bloom County, but if every panel of every page is a photo, then no. You can stage the scene, and pose the characters, but I never could stomache this kind of thing… especially after the 3 years it took me to illustrate my own graphic novel. ;0)

    Cheers, JOHN :0)

  6. Ali Kokmen Says:

    “I think the term for this is “fumetti” (sp?), an Italian term for books that are photos with word balloons over them.”

    Small digressive note. Yeah, it seems that the U.S. (and maybe the UK) has used the term “fumetti” to describe comics where the illustrations are photographs–like the “Marvel Fumetti Book” from years back, or the kind of thing Wizard does with their Twisted Toyfare feature (or whatever that’s called.)

    But in Italian “fumetti” is just the word for “comics” (like how “manga” is just the Japanese word for comics.) Years and years back, I had an amusing conversation with an Italian literary agent who represented one of Italy’s big comics properties. I was apparently confused that they’d refer to “fumetti” but the work was clearly drawn, not photographed. And they were confused to hear that “fumetti” was used in the U.S. to mean photograph-illustraed comics. Ah, good times…

    Regardless, “fumetti” doesn’t seem to have caught on as a mainstream to describe the form. Publishers have called them “photo novels” before. Tokyopop coined (and trademarked) the term “cine-manga”. But I don’t know that there really is a popular, good, accepted, and generic term for the format.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Wow, I didn’t know all that about the term! Cool!

    I’m now missing my Grease 2 photo movie adaptation book.

  8. David Oakes Says:

    I was also taught in my college art classes that the entire medium of Photo Collage was called “Fumetti”, though later teachers said it only applied to versions were you added text.

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