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The rise of graphic novels

Industry group says graphic novel format tops $1 billion in annual sales.
Award-winning author, illustrator Mark Siegel presents lecture on Tempe campus.
February 14, 2017

Award-winning author and illustrator Mark Siegel to lead discussion on format, facilitate storytelling event with artists, ASU scientists

Print book sales have been on the decline since the Great Recession with one exception: graphic novels.

Trade group ICv2 says the novel-in-comic-strip format has gone over $1 billion in annual sales, with top sellers moving up to 150,000 units a week. Taking advantage of the momentum, ASU is bringing a leading industry voice to deliver a lecture and communication workshop on the rising popularity of the visual art form.

Award-winning author and illustrator Mark Siegel is the founder, editorial and creative director of First Second Books, the Macmillan publisher of graphic novels in every age category.

Siegel’s lecture, “The Great American Graphic Novel” on Thursday afternoon in Payne Hall on the Tempe campus, will cover the history of comics and graphic novels, the creative process, and the importance of the medium as a tool for literacy in an increasingly visual culture. The lecture is free and guests are asked to RSVP online.

And on Friday, ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination and the Institute for Humanities Research are hosting a workshop with Siegel that pairs local comic artists with ASU faculty to create an original, visual narrative of their research.

ASU Now reached out to Siegel in advance of his Tempe visit.

Question: What do you account for the rise of the graphic novel in the past decade?

Answer: Comics have deep roots in America whether it’s the newspaper strip or the superhero comics. They have a deep place in the American psyche, and it’s an American form of storytelling, even though it’s all over the world.

A decade ago the sounds coming out of the comic book industry were really grim and looked hopeless. Then a couple of things happened: Hollywood began basing movies on graphic novels coupled with the emergence of manga, which has been popular in Japan since the 1960s.

Suddenly, there were millions of dollars changing hands, huge sections of graphic novels appearing at bookstores. Publishers began asking, “What is this? And why are we missing out on these millions of dollars?”

It’s the fastest growing category in publishing, and America is the leading in this new graphic novel form.

Q: What is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel?

A: If you ask different people, you’ll get slightly different answers. Some people are super militant about the differences.

For me, comics are a medium. So when you say comic, it’s generally the comic form, paneled and has word balloons.

A graphic novel has become a publishing category. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a novel, but it includes fiction, non-fiction and memoirs. It uses the comic form, but it has a spine like a book, not a pamphlet. Typically, when you say comic, that’s usually a pamphlet. That’s how I gauge it in a very practical way.

Comic book
Mark Siegel wrote "To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel" with his wife, Siena Cherson Siegel, in 2006.

Q: What is the power of the graphic novel?

A: We’re moving into an age where there’s a visual literacy that can go as deep and as substantive as prose literacy. People are being raised to think both visually and verbally. The graphic novel does those two things, and the dance of those two produces an experience.

There’s an interesting thing that cartoonist Art Spiegelman said about word balloons. That is, if they’re done well, they’re not like chunks of paragraphs or texts of words, but rather they’re puffs of thought. Brain scientists say that’s how your brain actually works.

We don’t really think in paragraphs or full sentences, but more like phrases that kind of clump together. The really good comics authors do that really well. There’s a pacing of thought that they establish. It can reach deeply, and it’s an active mental act.

Q: Let’s talk numbers. How big is this industry?

A: It’s huge numbers. Between comics, manga and graphic novels, it’s a big industry.

A title like “The Olympians,” a retelling of the Greek myths, we’ve sold well over 350,000 copies. So while that sounds like a lot of copies, there’s a lot of time that’s involved and you have to be a little nuts to do one of these things.

What’s interesting about the other book models is that it’s like the Hollywood blockbuster: it’s either huge or it dies on the spot. Graphic novels aren’t like that. If they stick, they can keep selling and selling and selling. They have this really long tail. But it’s not a quick money scheme; it’s more of a long-term investment.

Q: What do you hope to convey in your upcoming Feb. 16 lecture and Feb. 17 workshop?

A: The lecture will be a fun and lighthearted history of comics in America to see where we are today.

The presentation the following day is a behind-the-scenes of making a comics project. We’ll team scientists with local comic book artists and develop a rough mockup of a non-fiction comic.

It’s an event that may be even bigger than we had anticipated. Something wants to happen here.

 

Top photo: A panel from Sin City, a neo-noir comic by writer Frank Miller. The 2005 movie adaptation and a subsequent sequel helped propel the popularity of the graphic novel. Courtesy of YouTube.com.

 
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ASU's Lawrence Krauss says 'alternative facts' jeopardize democracy

Physicist Lawrence Krauss says speaking plainly is key to educating public.
February 14, 2017

Theoretical physicist Krauss, ASU Law's James Weinstein discuss information, science and educating the public

Losing the truth is no less disconcerting than losing gravity. Suddenly, you’re down a rabbit hole where nothing makes sense and you don’t know what to believe. Normal rules don’t apply any more.

What do you do?

Educate, present a process and data for people to arrive at their own conclusions, and speak to them in a language they understand.

That was the topic of a discussion Tuesday between internationally recognized theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and James Weinstein, the Dan Cracchiolo Chair in Constitutional Law at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. (See it here.) The conversation was part of Second Nature’s Presidential Climate Leadership Summit, which is part of ASU’s Sustainability Solutions Festival.

Before that chat, KraussKrauss is a professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration and is part of the Department of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He is director of the Origins Project, a university initiative created to explore humankind's most fundamental questions about our origins. gave an overview to ASU Now.

Question: You are going to be talking about our new idea of "alternative facts"?

Krauss: There have always been "alternative facts." They’ve just been wrong.

Q: What happens when facts are dismissed, seen as optional or replaced with “alternative facts”?

A: A healthy democracy depends on access to information, because you can’t make reasonable voting decisions without knowing what’s happening.

More importantly, the government requires access to information to make reasonable public policy. That’s a key point.

Governments are going to make policies. If they don’t make policies based on empirical evidence, the policies are going to be bad policies. So they rely on science. Scientists should decide what to do in science, and in a democracy voters should decide what to do.

Ultimately, the voters can’t make reasonable voting decisions and government can’t make reasonable policies if they don’t have access to proper information.

If they discard it, distort it or ignore it, the policies are going to be bad. It’s that simple.

Q: Or accepting pseudo-science like creationism?

A: There’s a deep influence.

First of all, it produces bad policy now, but it also ultimately leads to a more poorly informed electorate — both in the point of view of voting, but also if there’s a notion that there’s no such thing as objective reality, that you can’t trust key sources of information, then how do you proceed as a human being?

Ultimately, it’s a process of education, and we’re at an educational institution.

What too many people think is that science is a bunch of facts. Science is a process to determine how the world works, to ask questions, to separate nonsense from sense.

That’s what we should be teaching. When the government gives up that whole notion of the scientific process, it sets a poor example for parents and children in the school system.

Q: So how do you effectively communicate facts in this kind of an environment?

A: You don’t start with the facts. You start with the process of how to uncover facts.

In a world where people have learned not to trust people and a lot of people sound good on both sides, then you’re automatically starting from a position of weakness in a sense.

There’s also a sense that scientists are a sort of liberal-leaning whatever. There’s a long history in teaching in education that says the only way people can learn is by confronting their own misconceptions.

Ultimately, what you have to do is present a process by which a reasonable person will say, "This seems reasonable, and this seems reasonable, but wait! It leads to an opposite conclusion from what I have."

Then they’ll confront their own misconceptions. One has to start with how you get to the facts, not saying that global warming is happening, but how do we know? Is it complicated? Can the average person understand it? Also, more importantly, present data. Data is a little bit different than facts. Talk about how the globe is warming and people say, "That’s just modeling." Show the data. Show pictures. Show stuff that is evidence in your hands. Then I think people will be more open and accessible. ...

I think that’s ultimately it. If you want people to start trusting, speak in a language they can understand.

They’ll naturally distrust experts. I think the good news about these "alternative facts" is that people are beginning to be distrustful of the people who are speaking "alternative facts."

People are beginning to be skeptical, which is the first step in thinking for yourself. And we’re seeing that happen. I have more faith than I did two weeks ago.

Ultimately, reality has a way of biting you in the butt. It can take a long time before that happens. Even George Orwell said, "Ultimately, you knock up against reality." And as one of my favorite science fiction writers Philip K. Dick said, "Reality is that which continues to exist even when you stop believing in it."

 

Top photo: Foundation Professor Lawrence Krauss talks Tuesday about the detrimental effects of "fake news" and "alternative facts" within communities, education and policy makers. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

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