Stereotypes in the Graphic Novel Sin City By Frank Miller
A genre is a division of a particular form of art according to criteria particular to that form. In all art forms, genres are vague categories with no fixed boundaries. Genres are formed by sets of conventions, and many works cross into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.
1 The genre of noir is one that is one of the most difficult to define. It satisfies the norms f a style more than a genre. It assimilates the characteristics of a variety of genres/styles to formulate itself, thus preventing limiting definitions.
2 The noir style first saw itself popularized through the medium of film, but with time, has allowed itself to be extended to other forms of popular literature, like the graphic novel art form.
Each genre/style is defined through its essential stereotypes, that, far from limiting it, it builds on the expectations that are set up and moves ahead to confuse a few boundaries with the strict lines that stereotypes tend to draw. A stereotype is a standardized conception or image of a specific group of people.3 It is used for the purpose of allowing a neat classification of people into types; it was Walter Lipman who first adopted the term from the arena of printing to apply it to popular culture. In his book, Public Opinion, he looks at how the adopted term is used in popular culture as way of categorizing people. This categorizing of people provides a basic structure to associate with people as it is not possible to know every individual.
A graphic novel (GN) is a long-form work in the comics form, usually with lengthy and complex storylines, and often aimed at mature audiences. 4 It is a novel whose narrative is related through a combination of text and art, often in comic-strip form 5.Sin City is a graphic novel that is written in a very noir-like style. The dark shadows, stark backgrounds, the celebration of the doomed hero with a dark past, the femme fatale and many other characters that is intrinsic to the style are all present to add to the atmosphere in the novel.
Noir is a style that is often confused with genre. It is, rather, a mood, style and even a point of view. The style is distinct to the historical period of post world war Europe. Originating in film, the style has been actively adapted to the graphic novel genre by Frank Miller in his series- Sin City.
The noir style is adhered to right from the setting to the characters. It is a typically urban setting,6 that allows for complexity of character and use of stereotypes. The city is deemed the underlying cause for the characters insecurities. The style typically has a very oneiric or dreamlike quality to it. The backgrounds in the frames are usually stark and low key. There is an extensive use of shadows which gives it the quality of a black-and-white film. The visual style is representative of the content. The darkly looming city in the background with its own tortured souls allows for the hero with the tortured past, the gangster family who have an invisible hold over the city and the classic Femme Fatale.
Dwight, the main protagonist, is not what you could call a hero in the strict sense of the term, but completely satisfies the norm of the noir hero. He is a character whose past is never clearly outlined, and yet there are various hints to his past, creating an aura of mystery around him. It is the influence of French poetic realism that celebrated the doomed heroes and the style’s fatalistic attitude toward them. The idea that Dwight is stereotyped to fit into the style allows one to form assumptions of his character. Frank Miller makes complete use of this tendency, saving himself the trouble of having to give general outlines and character sketches. This prevents the need of having the writer get into reductive descriptions of his characters. This use of the stereotype allows for the plot to move forward without getting hung up on tangential narratives. Through the narrative, it is made clear that Dwight had been left by his lover, Ava, for a man with wealth and status. This neatly falls into place as most heroes in this style of storytelling, have had a relationship that still haunts them,making them ruthless in character on the surface, yet, susceptible to the charms of the lover. On the other hand, the use of stereotyping poses as an excuse for his violent behavior, especially toward women. This erratic behavior is justified by the fact that he is now a, supposedly, broken man because of harsh past experiences that have changed his personality.
Ava fits the stereotype of the Femme Fatale. She is the character who deliberately misleads the hero in order to achieve her goal, something that she is sure the hero would not have helped her achieve otherwise. In the novel, she persuades Dwight to murder her husband, whom she claims was torturing her. Her ultimate goal was to inherit his money and estate. True to her type, she uses her sexuality to ensnare him and achieve her purpose. While stereotyping the Femme Fatale, the woman is shown to be a sort of sexual vampire. Her sexual appetite and independence leave her with no qualms of using her sexuality to ensnare men and adhere to her hidden agenda. The femme fatale is shown to be especially well endowed in these qualities, and so also fits into the broad stereotype of the villainess. This becomes problematic because it shows the problems that society seems to have with a woman who us physically, sexually and mentally independent by demonizing her so an extent. This neat stereotyping allows for her socially inexcusable behavior and methodology, because she has already been written off as the villainess. This also excuses the objectification of the woman. She is depicted as the predator in the false relationship between the hero and her, which again legitimizes the objectification. It is at this point that stereotyping becomes problematic.
Other than these two stereotypes, the noir genre also demands the presence of a looming villain, like a mafia family. Typically picked up from the gangster genre, the noir integrates this element seamlessly to fit into the dark, oneiric style that is synonymous with the genre. In Sin City, it is the Roark family who establishes its sinister presence as the mafia family. As with every mafia family, there is a godfather-like figure, a patriarchal head that runs the show. Senator Roark is a person of powerful political affiliation and position, thus allowing him to wield his power in a way that makes it untraceable to him. Adding to that, the presence of the opposing powerful gang-lord adds to the struggle for power in the setup. Here, the opposing villain is Wallenquist also fulfills the role of the mafia lord. They are shown as sophisticated and moneyed, willing to cut down anyone who stands in their way as long as their hands don’t get dirty. This allows the element of uncertainty and cynicism on the part of the anti-hero to be maintained, as well as justified.
Each of the stereotypes that have been woven into the series by Frank Miller is done so with the purpose of satisfying the demands and the expectations that are set up by that particular style. The extensive reliance on stereotypes becomes problematic because of the assumptions they are based on. These assumptions, as is in the case of most, are highly convoluted notions of the real. The problem arises when they are extended to real life and one actually starts believing them. Otherwise, the negative idea that is associated with the term stereotype is not entirely true, as they form the structure on which to build an analysis. Thus, stereotypes are the building blocks of any art form that has become a part of popular culture today.