In today’s age of comic book popularity, it’s surprising that it took so long for someone to finally come right out and coin the term “Graphic Novella.” It’s a clever marketing move for Storyworlds to lay claim to it and build their brand around it, and I’m glad to see that it’s finally happening, as shorter-form stories can be very enticing to new readers.
Traditional graphic novels range wildly in length; The Tale of One Bad Rat is a tight 62 pages long, while Black Hole and Persepolis (later turned into an animated film) are both 300+ pages, and as any reader knows, longer does not always equal better. Many a great story has been reduced to simply a good story by authors trying to shoehorn content into a manuscript just to hit an arbitrary page count, so it is incredibly heartening to see Storyworlds offer more creators more opportunities (even though they are not accepting submissions, which hopefully they will change to help further their stated mission of nurturing diverse talent).
To kick off their foray into the world of comics publishing, they have three strong books which they have chosen as their launch titles: FAB, Only Hope, and United States of Magic. It’s an interesting selection, as all three have similar themes of technophobia and anti-establishmentarianism, but approach them from radically different perspectives.
United States of Magic (USM) posits that there is a secret cabal of magicians who maintain a geopolitical power balance through the trade of magical artifacts; should any one country lose all of its artifacts, they fall into chaos and the nation ultimately dissolves. As someone who is woefully under-educated in Middle-Eastern culture and history, I was incredibly excited to learn more about the mythology of an area through this comic’s involvement of magic…but ultimately, it failed to deliver. The characters are well-defined, but the overall story felt rushed and lacking exposition. The most glorious moments in the book (sorry, I don’t want to spoil anything by calling them out in detail) were just panels on a page, with minimal buildup and practically no afterward. I wanted to love this story - I wanted a deep, intricate, detailed world where magic was real and nations fought for control of it, and I was sad that the book left me with more questions than answers (until book two comes out).[Only Hope.jpg]
Only Hope was the next of the three, and has a much more fully-realized world…which it then assumes you’re fully aware of and familiar with. It’s regrettable that I spent so much of this book wondering what the characters were talking about, because it had really well-written characters, who clearly had their own drive and backstories, and I really wanted to know more about them as I read the book. I appreciate stories that take place in other worlds, but while the characters of the world know all about their home, we, the reader, do not, and so there must be some mechanic for explaining the differences, and it was unfortunate that it was missing. I was glad, however, that Only Hope was a self-contained story, as advertised (see below), since USM was very clearly only a single issue in an ongoing series.
FAB is far and away the strongest title of the launch, with a well-defined story arc, characters that are real (or are they…?), the requisite exposition and explanation necessary for the readers to enjoy and appreciate the story, and a good story behind it. It takes cues from several other books, movies, and comics - such as Terminator, The Matrix, Fight Club, and Surrogates - and mixes them into something that’s familiar, yet unique. As with Only Hope, FAB was a complete story, and the longest of the three (65 pages vs. only 52 for both Only Hope and 62 for USM), but it used those few extra pages to tell the most full, rich story of the three. If you’re looking to support a new independent publisher and want to pick up one of their launch titles, this is the one to get.
Before I wrap up, there is one more point that has been poking me in the back of my brain, which is the idea of serialization. Nobody begrudges comics as serialized and sequential art - it’s the defining characteristic of the genre, so it really stands out to me that on their website, they stated:
“The Storyworlds Graphic Novella (SGN) is our launch format of 50-60 page self-contained stories that launch our characters and story worlds. 60 page stories, like European Bandes Dessinées, create deeper experiences than monthlies.”
…and then all three of their launch titles are labeled “Book One.” While FAB and Only Hope delivered whole stories, as promised, in a single book, USM was entirely unfinished within its pages, and all three are marketed as part of an ongoing series. As someone with a history in marketing and sales, this all comes across as disingenuous, and I would have much rather preferred that they were up front and honest about their delivery formatting, and what they are selling.
All in all, I am always excited for the expansion of the industry and the growth of new publishing houses. New publishers means more stories, and more stories means more opportunity for story, so I have great hopes for Storyworlds to be successful in their efforts to bring more comics to the world in a format that is inviting to both creators and readers. Their upcoming release The Sword and the Six-Shooter looks absolutely amazing and I will be picking up a copy as soon as it’s available - hopeful that it delivers as promised. Until then, I wish them all the success in the world, and look forward to more titles in the future.
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