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Britain Finally Embraces the Graphic Novel

Other countries, most notably America and France, may have embraced the graphic novel format and lauded several notable titles with praise, but as the New York Times’ Tara Mulholland reports, Britain was a little slower to catch on to the form. “On the Continent graphic novels have been as accepted as films or books for many years,” said the author Raymond Briggs in a 2005 interview with the newspaper The Observer, “but England has had a snobby attitude towards them. They’ve always been seen as something just for children.”

But the success of Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST, not to mention Chris Ware‘s surprise win of the Guardian First Book Award, has had publishers snapping up would-be graphic novel stars. Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Random House UK, has more than tripled its graphic novel output over the past year, publishing nine new titles since July 2006. Dan Franklin, Cape’s publishing director, said he hoped to increase this number. “When we started about nine years ago with ETHEL AND ERNEST I said that we wouldn’t do more than one a year,” he said. “And they’ve been so successful that I am now doing potentially up to 12 a year, if I can find them.”

Other publishers have hopped on the bandwagon and sales are on the rise. Michael Rowley, the graphic-novel buyer for Waterstone’s, Britain’s largest bookshop chain, said sales of the books had increased 41 percent in the last year alone. S what is behind this sudden wave of enthusiasm for a genre that has previously been sidelined in Britain, wonders Mulholland? For Paul Gravett, the author of GREAT BRITISH COMICS and one of the country’s foremost promoter of graphic novels, one of the primary reasons is simply the creation of the “graphic novel” category. “The word comics is laden with so many negative connotations, while the words ‘graphic novel’ give it a certain cachet,” he said.

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