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Graphic novels and 'the nerd diaspora'

April 30, 2008 | 11:00 pm

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When Jaime Hernandez and his brother, Gilbert, started writing and drawing the comic book "Love and  Rockets" in the early 1980s, there was no market for graphic novels. "By the late 1980s," says Jaime Hernandez, "it had become hip."

"I think it's the nerd diaspora," chimed in fellow author Cecil Castellucci. "A lot of people who grew up reading comic books have now become the tastemakers."

Even as the popular and cultural cachet of print publishing declines--fueled in part by a hyper-mediated, web-based culture better versed in visual than literary cues--the past few years have seen an explosion in top-shelf graphic novels. Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" and Joe Sacco's "Palestine" make the political very personal while Charles Burns' "Black Hole" spins a beautiful sci-fi/coming-of-age drama and Alison Bechdel writes and illustrates her autobiography in "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic."

"Graphic novels are at an interesting juncture. A few years ago you mostly saw superhero stories or small personal stories in the vein of R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar," said Deb Vankin, moderator of the "Every Picture Tells a Story" panel at the Festival of Books on Sunday.

Sitting down with living legend Jaime Hernandez, Castellucci ("The Plain Janes," "Boy Proof," "Beige") and Joe Matt ("Spent," "Peepshow," "The Poor Bastard"), the trio of authors discussed their inspiration, their methodology (or whether they even have one), their love of the comic book medium and the cathartic drive to work through their personal memories. Or as Hernandez said, "That's why a lot of us do comics, because we want to hide behind our work."

Elina Shatkin

[Image: From the Hernandez brothers' "Love and Rockets Collection"]

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