‘there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit and taste to recommend them.’
Since the novel’s wholesale acceptance into the canon of mainstream literature, it is difficult to look back to the time Jane Austen writes of above in ‘Northanger Abbey’, when its value was decried, its art-form denied, proof, if any be needed the bastions of the ‘literary establishment’ are not always equal to the challenge of realising the form in which literary classics will make themselves presented in future years’
Should the subject of performance recommend itself still through the genius, wit and taste Austen refers to above, readers could do far worse than to look to the much maligned graphic novel for inspiration. It is exciting therefore that Holtzbrinck Publishing in New York and Pan Macmillan should have collaborated in the formation of a new imprint, First Second, for the wide dissemination of the form across both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The first title published by First Second is the acronymically titled ‘A.L.I.E.E.E.N.’ – ‘Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties’ by French artist and writer Lewis Trondheim. Cleverly masquerading as a journal of alien life-forms, as children’s literature and pedagogy for beings from outer space, the journal was purportedly found in Mid-April 2006 within the epicentre of a perfect circle of singed grass’
Comprising of nine interwoven episodic chapters, we meet a bizarre cast of characters and players. Starting off with what appears to be a charming idyll, events rapidly take a turn towards the depraved and the gratuitous as misfortune follows misfortune, bodily functions are taken to extremes and sado-masochistic tendencies are lived out. This is an unexpected yet somehow also a deeply satisfying read.
In the body of this text there are no words. Between individual frames and their guttering, we as readers are liberated to interpret and decide upon time-spans, probable actions and interactions and ultimately to sequence this narrative form. There is nothing derivative in an art-form that prompts us towards this and in an age when visual literacy exercises an increased dominance ‘ whether through computers and the internet, the television, cinema etc ‘ it can surely only be a matter of time before proponents of the graphic novel exert influence to ensure works such as ‘A.L.I.E.E.E.N.’ assume their rightful place within mainstream literary discourse.