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“Writing” Photonovels

There is quite a lot of interest in how to produce the visual aspects of the photonovel (casting, mise en scène, shooting, layout), but most “how to do” documents pay little attention to the verbal dimensions of it, as if scenario and dialogues were less significant to the impact of a story. All practitioners do know, however, that the art of storytelling and that of filling the captions and speech balloons in the appropriate way are also key to the success of a photonovel. And given the small size of the production teams, good storytellers have to know also how to make the characters talk.

Since many popular – that is, commercial – photonovels are either signed by pseudonyms or not credited at all, it is not always easy to have a complete picture of this part of the making process, hence the importance of the scholarly work focusing on this specific aspect of the genre. A good classic example is the book by Giuseppe Sergio, Liala, dal romanzo al fotoromanzo. Le Scelte linguistiche, lo stile, I temi (Milano/Udine, ed. Mimesis, 2012), which studies the linguistic choices and patterns of an Italian romance writer who worked both for the novel and the photonovel business. Francophone readers can now enlarge and deepen the insights of this pioneering work by reading the pages that Benoît Glaude devotes to the Belgian photonovel in his recent study La bande dialoguée: Une histoire des dialogues de bande dessinée (1830-1960) (Tours, PU François-Rabelais, 2019), published in the prestigious Iconotextes series.

The corpus chosen by the author is that of the (partially uncredited) contributions by Belgian comics scriptwriter Jean-Michel Charlier to the photo novel production of Bonnes Soirées in the early 60s. An excellent choice, which enables him to foreground an often overlooked dimension of the photonovel as well as to highlight the crucial links between dialogue style and storytelling style, each of them strongly influenced by the differences between media (comics and photonovels). A courageous decision as well, since the relationship between comics and photo novels is often framed in stereotypical and dramatically negative ways (the photo novel is then defined as a bad comics, just as it is seen as a degraded version of a movie), which of course, as Glaude convincingly suggests, is not the case.

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