BY NED COFFMAN ON OCTOBER 9TH, 2014
Over the last nine years, the entertainment industry has seen a rise in critically acclaimed films and TV shows such as Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, Zach Snyder’s “300” and “Watchmen” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” But what were really the inspirations for these modern day cult classics? The answer is graphic novels.
Its origins dating back all the way to the Middle Ages, a graphic novel is a novel primarily composed of comic book strip content. At the time of its inception, graphic novels were simply painted manuscripts created by local artists and artisans to help tell a narrative. The first graphic novel to be published in modern day society, however, wouldn’t be until 1971, when Marvel Comics’ artist Gil Kane wrote his 120 page science fiction/sword and sorcery novel known as “Blackmark”. As an artist for hire, Kane served as the regular penciller for “The Amazing Spider-Man” comics during the late 1960s. He later collaborated with Marvel editor Stan Lee on a three issue “The Amazing Spider-Man” story arc that killed off Spiderman’s girlfriend: Gwen Stacy, along with his archenemy: The Green Goblin.
Upon its release, “Blackmark” was a financial hit. Seven years later, another graphic novel was published, this time by DC Comics artist Will Eisner. Unlike the storyline of “Blackmark”, which focused primarily on science fiction and fantasy characteristics, Eisner’s “A Contract with God” focused on the lives of several people living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This was the first novel to officially use the term “graphic novel”. In 1979, Kane’s 117 page sequel to “Blackmark”, titled “The Mind Demons”, appeared in Marvel Preview #17.
Following “The Mind Demons” release, graphic novels became more and more popular with the release of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Maus” in 1985, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” in 1986 and Alan Moore’s “Watchmen”. While “Watchmen” would later have it’s own film adaptation in 2010, directors Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan have cited “The Dark Knight Returns” as an influence for their independent film adaptations of Batman in 1989 and 2012. Like in “The Dark Knight Returns”, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” features an old and weary Batman who comes out of retirement to fight crime after 10 years. Another similarity between the two is Batman’s first public re-appearance during a car pursuit between the Police and some criminals. Tim Burton’s “Batman” also references the “The Dark Knight Returns” with photographs taken by main character Vicki Vale, played by Kim Basinger, of the fictional South American island of Corto Maltese.
Over the next 20 years, graphic novels would continue to become more and more popular with the release of Frank Miller’s “300” in 1998 and Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” in 2003, both of which would have their own film and television adaptations. Overall, graphic novels have evolved over the last 50 years and have helped to create our modern form of entertainment today.