The graphic novel has finally received literary recognition after two examples of the illustrated genre were selected to compete alongside the double Booker prize-winner Hilary Mantel in the Costa Book awards shortlist.
Once associated with superhero comic books pored over by enthusiasts, the graphic novel has come of age as an immersive story-telling device, capable of conveying profound emotions.
For the first time, the Costa shortlist features two graphic works: Joff Winterhart for Days of the Bagnold Summer in the Novel category and Mary and Bryan Talbot in the Biography category for the graphic memoir, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes.
Part memoir, part biography, Dotter… is written by the husband and wife duo of academic Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot, an award-winning graphic novels pioneer who has illustrated underground comics.
The story contrasts two coming-of-age narratives: that of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, who aspired to be a dancer but was shut away in a mental institution and that of Mary, daughter of the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton.
Selecting the book in the Biography category, the judges hailed a “strikingly original graphic memoir which links two lives in a highly imaginative way.”
Bryan Talbot, who drew Judge Dredd for the 2000 AD comic, said: “This is one more step on the path to acceptance for the art form. Nearly every literary festival now incorporates a graphic novel element.”
He acknowledged: “There is still a lot of prejudice from people who don’t know about the art form but there’s whole range of quality material out there. There’s a tradition of comics being just for children but in France they sell 43 million books a year.”
Mr Talbot and his wife would discuss the concept for the book over dinner and then Mary would hand him a finished script to illustrate. “A graphic novel is more than the sum of its parts,” Mr Talbot said. “The illustrations work like a descriptive passage of text but the reader must have a love of drawings.”
Winterhart, a film-maker from Bristol who plays drums in a band, competes against Mantel’s Booker-winning Tudor epic Bring Up The Bodies in the Novel category.
The judges described the illustrator’s novel about a mother-son relationship between Sue, 52, who works in a library and heavy metal fan Daniel, 15, as “Funny, sad, touching, original.”
When the pair are thrown together for six long weeks, the story follows Sue’s attempts at bonding - listening to Daniel’s Megadeth CDs in the car and admiring his “poems”, which are actually the lyrics of a Metallica song.
Winterhart said: “It is kind of terrifying competing against Hilary Mantel. My book isn’t a novel in the conventional sense, it’s a comic with pictures and speech boards. I was looking for a low-key, minimal way of telling a character-based narrative. I’m very grateful for the nomination.”
Winterhart believes that the perception of graphic novels began to change with the 1991 publication of Maus, the acclaimed depiction of the Holocaust using Jews as mice, by the American illustrator, Art Spiegelman.
Persepolis, Iranian-born graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi’s account of her childhood growing up in the shadow of the country’s Islamic revolution, further established the genre’s literary credentials. The comics were turned into an Oscar-nominated animated film in 2007.
“Graphic novels aren’t just fantasy and superheroes, the format encompasses memoirs and they are becoming very popular,” said Winterhart, who grew up on a diet of Spider-man comics. “They can be more accessible to new readers too.”
The first Novel category features J W Ironmonger, an expert on freshwater leeches who was previously author of the Good Zoo Guide. Ironmonger is recognised for The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder.
Winners in the five Costa categories, who each receive £5,000, will be announced on Wednesday 2nd January 2013. The overall Costa Book of the Year winner will receive £30,000.
In the poetry section, a collection on beekeeping, which chronicles the life of a hive, and poems tackling the writer's experience of IVF are among those shortlisted.
Contenders for the children’s award include books featuring identical twins who fall for the same boy and a story about a child who has a "second-sight" that enables him to spot Nazis hiding in post-war Britain.
The overall winner has been won on 10 occasions by a novel and only once by a children's book.
Last year’s winner was historical novel Pure by Andrew Miller.
Costa Book Awards 2012 Shortlists:
Artemis Cooper for Patrick Leigh-Fermor: An Adventure
Selina Guinness for The Crocodile By The Door: The Story Of A House, A Farm And A Family
Kate Hubbard for Serving Victoria: Life In The Royal Household
Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot for Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes
Sean Borodale for Bee Journal
Julia Copus for The World's Two Smallest Humans
Selima Hill for People Who Like Meatballs
Kathleen Jamie for The Overhaul
Sally Gardner for Maggot Moon
Diana Hendry for The Seeing
Hayley Long for What's Up With Jody Barton?
Dave Shelton for A Boy And A Bear In A Boat