9 April 2008Graphic Novels: A ReviewThe Story about Ping and Fantastic Mr. FoxIt would not be an exaggeration to say that the term “graphic novel” is at the center of one of the most controversial debates in the literary community today. What exactly is a graphic novel? Few are able to provide a definition agreeable to all. Fans and writers (as well as artists) are divided on the matter and establishing a universal standard for identifying what is and isn’t a graphic novel remains a difficulty at present. This study, however, shall utilize the definition of the term as provided by Will Eisner – a pioneer of the genre.
Eisner defines the graphic novel as “sequential art; the arrangement of pictures or words or images to narrate a story or dramatize an idea” (Eisner 1985, p. 5). Given such a definition, the crucial issue in a graphic novel is its ability to weave a narrative using a combination of images and words. More importantly, a graphic novel is a format, not a genre. This paper shall look into two graphic novels: Marjorie Flack’s The Story about Ping and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr.
Fox. Both are listed under the children’s literature genre, yet possess very different characteristics. Though both are indeed suitable for young readers in terms of theme and language, it may be said that these two stories belong to different genres that may appear similar on the surface, yet different inside. The Story about PingMarjorie Flack’s narration of a young duck’s adventure can be described as a traditional story in the canon of children’s literature. First published in 1933, it tells the story of a young duck named Ping, who lived with his large family on a boat in the Yangtze River.
Afraid of the certified spanking his tardiness would earn him, Ping decides to hide instead. As such, his adventure begins, swimming up and down the Yangtze River in search for his family. Along the way, Ping learns a few things, especially after he barely escaped becoming a Chinese family’s dinner. Eventually making his way back to the boat, Ping realized that he was, unfortunately, tardy again. This time, though, he braved the spanking and was finally reunited with his large family. The Story about Ping is a straightforward children’s story in the traditional sense.
The narrative structure of the story is simple and direct, with no excessive convolutions as found in other literary genres. Rather, like other stories under the genre of children’s literature, The Story about Ping has a linear narrative, presenting the events of the story in a chronological fashion easily understandable by young readers. The story begins with the introduction of the main character, Ping, and then proceeds to unfold the events as they occur to the young protagonist in a manner that makes the identification of cause and effect significantly effortless. The format is largely episodic in nature, as it unfolds step by step.
The story unravels in a manner direct and uncomplicated, moving from one scene to another following the changes in the protagonist’s actions. The plot moves forward primarily due to the actions of the protagonist alone. This external decision to leave his family – spurred by fear of corporal punishment – leads to Ping’s adventures in the Yangtze River.
This is the catalyst of the story, propelling Ping towards an experience different from his usual pattern. Rather than present an internalized transformation, The Story about Ping follows another children’s literature tradition by making all actions and effects immediately external.