starting a PhD in Children’s Literature I’ve often found myself having to
explain what I am doing to people who are only half interested in situations
that vary from polite dinner parties to crowded and raucous clubs. Initially, I
made the mistake of assuming that everybody had heard of the term ‘hybrid
novel’ (by which I mean, novels in which graphic devices like photographs,
drawings and experimental typography are integrated into the written text)
Looking back now (after three whole months of experience!) I don’t find it
surprising that nobody knew what I was talking about, what I do still find
strange is that there does not appear to be much said about hybrid novels in
reviewed academic journals and literary criticism.
found out that to date the term ‘hybrid novel’ has been used sporadically to
refer to novels that break with conventions by including scripts, photographs
and semi-autobiographical narratives (Thompson, 1993; Harris, 2001; Hout, 2008;
Jannarone, 2011). This loose use of the term in academic criticism is reflected
in the definition given by Christin Galster in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Narrative Theory
Hybrid novels such as the ones listed combine, transform, and
subvert the conventions of several narrative sub-genres; break down the
boundaries between fiction, poetry, and drama; import non-literary discourses
and text types; and employ narrative strategies that strive to imitate the
organizing principles of painting, music, and film. (p. 227)
accepted this definition of the term then it seemed possible to argue that most
ground-breaking novels could be called hybrid novels. So I cast my net and
began to explore the wider reaches of the Internet. Here I found a much more
interesting definition by the visual design researcher Zoë Sadokierski’s PhD
Thesis, Visual Writing: A Critique of
Graphic Devices in Hybrid Novels from a Visual Communication Design Perspective
In it she states that:
Hybrid novels [are] novels in which graphic devices like
photographs, drawings and experimental typography are integrated into the
written text. Within hybrid novels, word and image combine to create a text
that is neither purely written nor purely visual. (ibid.
, p. ix)
definition was both stricter and more radical than Galster’s (2005) because it
proposed that hybrid novels were not simply a mix of different kinds of text but
of different modes of communication (written and visual).
previous experience and hours spent in bookshops I knew that there were many
well-known examples of hybrid novels for both adults and young people that
range from Diary of a Wimpy Kid
2007) to The Savage
(Almond, 2009), My Name is Mina
2012), The Invention
of Hugo Cabret
(Selznick, 2007), Extremely
Loud and Incredibly Close
(Safron Foer, 2005) and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen
Various libraries in the USA and some websites had already begun to compile
recommendation lists of hybrid novels but I couldn’t find any studies of the
genre. In a world where images are replacing words as the dominant mode of
expression (Kress, 1998; Shlain, 1998; Seward, 1997; Mitchell, 2005) it is
perhaps not surprising to see novels adapting to the current climate. After
all, as the Russian literary theorist and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981) states
“the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, between literature and
non-literature and so forth are not laid up in heaven” (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 33)
and the novel has always been known to appropriate different discourses due to
its close proximity to the “inconclusive present” (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 27).
style of novel may offer the reader opportunities to move beyond a narrow
understanding of meaning that is tied to language. Like picturebooks they are
able to use both words and pictures to open up new ways of seeing, thinking and
talking that invite us to examine the limitations of any one mode of
expression. By integrating visual elements into the text it requires us to
change our reading habits and take into equal consideration “not just the
meaning of images, but their silence, their reticence, their wildness and
nonsensical obduracy” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 9 – 10). Sadokierski’s thesis (2010) uses
the language of Visual Design to critique and explore hybrid novels. I would
like to suggest that there is also a wealth of experience to be mined in studies
what extent can we transfer the detailed analyses of word and picture interaction
already developed by scholars like Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott (2006) and
the empirical research methods employed so successfully by Morag Styles and
Evelyn Arizpe (2003)?
when people ask me what it is I’m studying I’ve learnt to smile, assess the
situation and then launch into one of three prepared speeches that range in
length from brief to complicated. All three are still very much works in
progress, but then again I have three years to perfect them!
Almond, D. (2009) The Savage. London: Walker.
(2012) My Name is Mina. New York: Yearling Books.
Arizpe, E. & Styles, M. (2003) Children Reading Pictures: Interpreting Visual Texts. London: Routledge Farmer.
Bakhtin, M. (1981) “Epic and the Novel” in The Dialogical Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
C. (2005) “Hybrid Genres” in D. Herman, M. Jahn & M.L. Ryan (eds) Routledge Encyclopaedia of Narrative Theory
S. (2001) ‘The Return of the Dead: Memory and Photography in W.G. Sebald’s “Die
Ausgewanderten”’ in The German Quarterly.
74(4) pp. 379 – 391.
S.C. (2008) ‘The Tears of Trauma: memories of Home, War and Exile in Rahib
Alameddine’s “I, the Divine”’ in World
82(5) pp. 58 – 62.
K. (2011) ‘“L’amour Chez Jarry”: Rupture, Ridicule and Theatre’ in New Theatre Quarterly
. 27 (4) pp. 329 –
J. (2007) Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
G. (1998) “Visual and Verbal
Modes of Representation in Electronically Mediated Communication: the
Potentials of New Forms of Text” in I. Snyder & M. Joyce (eds) Page to Screen: Taking Literacy into the
London: Routledge. pp. 53 – 79.
(2000) “Design and
Transformation: New Theories of Meaning” in B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (eds) Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and
Design of Social Futures.
New York: Routledge.
W.J.T. (2005) What do Pictures Want: the
Lives and Loves of Images.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
M. & Scott, C. (2001) How
London: Garland Publishing.
Z. (2010) Visual Writing: A Critique of
Graphic Devices in Hybrid Novels from a Visual Communication Design
PhD Thesis. University of Technology Sydney, Australia.
A.M.B. (1997) Visual Intelligence.
State University of New York Press.
L. (1998) The Alphabet versus the
Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image.
New York: Penguin.
D. (1993) ‘Villains, Victims and Veterans: Buchheim’s “Das Boot” and the
Problem of the Hybrid Novel – Memoir or History in Twentieth Century Literature
. 39(1) pp. 59 – 78.
Labels: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, graphic devices, hybrid novel, My Name is Mina, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Savage, Visual Design