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Novels in cartoons and hybrid novels

Is it a novel? Is it a comic? Watch Sarah Olive talk you through the rise of hybrid novels and novels in cartoons.
You might have come across little books such as those today - in fact, if you have children, you can’t really avoid them. ‘Novels in cartoons’, as they are called, have been hugely popular in the past decade. As you can see, they cannot quite be called comics - they generally don’t use panels, and most of the storytelling occurs within the prose text in-between the strips. The cartoons, in those novels, are often used for comic relief, though sometimes they do also tell parts of the story. Novels in cartoons are cheap, highly collectible, and there exist many different kinds of more or less derivative series.
They are generally extremely funny, using clever balances of toilet humour, slapstick, and more sophisticated kinds of humour such as sarcasm, wordplay, irony and parody. In The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, we also have some pretty smart metafictional play. As you may remember from last week, this means that the book takes its own artistic category as an object of interest. Greg, the antihero of the story, thus wants to be a comic artist, and the book plays with the various styles of cartoons drawn by different characters in the story. We see here a category of text interested in its own strange status and the possibilities it affords.
Children’s literature scholar Eve Tandoi calls such texts ‘hybrid novels’, in that they are a mixture of visual and verbal narrative that isn’t quite a comic nor an illustrated novel. She highlights the rise of such novels in recent years,
including very dark ones, such as this one: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay.
The pictures are not just there for decoration: they are profoundly part of the narrative experience, and require visual literacy skills to be processes meaningfully by the reader. There are plenty such hybrid novels today, including those that include emoticons, layouts pastiching internet conversations, etc. The increase in the use of graphic devices in novels for teenagers reflects the extent to which young people’s highly visual thinking and communication finds itself reflected in the cultural products they consume, value, and produce themselves.

What do you think of these emerging forms of literature?

Can you think of similarly hybrid texts for an adult audience?

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Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

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