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The Film Photonovel

The Film Photonovel
A Cultural History of Forgotten Adaptations

The first book devoted to the hybrid genre of the film photonovel, applying a comparative textual media framework to a previously overlooked aspect of the history of film and literary adaptation.

Series: World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction Series

April 2019
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200 pages | 6 x 9 | 33 b&w photos |

Discarded by archivists and disregarded by scholars despite its cultural impact on post–World War II Europe, the film photonovel represents a unique crossroads. This hybrid medium presented popular films in a magazine format that joined film stills or set pictures with captions and dialogue balloons to re-create a cinematic story, producing a tremendously popular blend of cinema and text that supported more than two dozen weekly or monthly publications.

Illuminating a long-overlooked ‘lowbrow’ medium with a significant social impact, The Film Photonovel studies the history of the format as a hybrid of film novelizations, drawn novels, and nonfilm photonovels. While the field of adaptation studies has tended to focus on literary adaptations, this book explores how the juxtaposition of words and pictures functioned in this format and how page layout and photo cropping could affect reading. Finally, the book follows the film photonovel's brief history in Latin America and the United States. Adding an important dimension to the interactions between filmmakers and their audiences, this work fills a gap in the study of transnational movie culture.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Excavating the Film Photonovel
  • 2. A Brief History of the Film Photonovel
  • 3. Word and Image, Telling and Showing
  • 4. Clear Grids, Blurred Lines
  • 5. Action? Stop! Pose and Movement
  • 6. Globalizing the Film Photonovel?
  • Appendix. Publishers and Magazines
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Jan Baetens
Leuven, Belgium

Baetens is a professor of cultural studies at the University of Leuven. He is also the author or editor of numerous books, including Novelization: From Film to Novel, The Graphic Novel: An Introduction, and The Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel.


“Baetens' keen eye and deep scholarly understanding of word and image narrative brings out the gems in [the film photonovel genre]...This richly illustrated book, with clear and engaging prose, is both an important contribution to the widening field of adaptation studies and a model of medium-specific analysis that considers a form's unique historical materiality to be in complex relationship with its remediation of past genres.”

“It is to be hoped that this first study of the film photonovel will not remain a one-shot in the field. Baetens’s book has already proven, however, to be a game changer.”
French Review

“This elegantly written, thoroughly documented and richly illustrated volume is a first step in stimulating further research that poses critical questions concerning issues of narratology and narrativity while expanding the range of possible debates in genre, medium, adaptation and transmediation studies. The Film Photonovel is, and will remain for a long time, an indispensable resource for literary and cultural study scholars, especially those involved in exploring the complex processes of remediation and adaptation that underlie the mechanics of popular culture in its manifold expressions, environments and constituencies.”
Visual Studies

“Baetens explores the many ways in which films were adapted, with a focus on page layout, the choice of images and the use of dialogue and narration...We are left with the impression that most adaptations failed to do their source material justice.”
Times Literary Supplement

“Baetens offers a refreshing and valuable contribution to visual culture studies by examining and historicizing, with great sophistication and theoretical depth, this long-forgotten hybrid medium.... Passionate in nature and elegant in style, it is the field expanding conclusions to The Film Photonovel that constantly captivate the reader, conclusions that result from Baetens’ sophisticated cultural, semiological, material and narratological analysis of this prolific genre.”
Journal of Visual Culture

“Baetens fills a critical gap in scholarship regarding the relatively neglected medium of film photonovels...[The Film Photonovel is] a phenomenal resource that would be an excellent read for any scholar interested in adaptation studies, film studies, or comics’ studies. The curiously underresearched film photonovel provides an intriguing intersection between the three aforementioned extremely thorough and well-argued book. This book is quite enlightening; as the fields of literary and cultural studies shift toward examining genres once discarded as 'lowbrow,' we may well see an increased interest in this once-neglected medium. Baetens does a fantastic job establishing the framework for this academic niche.”
Journal of Popular Culture

“Jan Baetens makes the case that the film photonovel is an important literary/visual genre and gives excellent reasons for its formerly high place in the popular culture of several countries. This book will be a valuable addition to the literature on this genre for both students and scholars. The reader will gain knowledge not only about the film photonovel and the photonovel but also about comics and film. I certainly did.”
Stephen E. Tabachnick, University of Memphis, editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Graphic Novel

“This is a much needed book on a topic that has been widely neglected thus far. It adds an important element to previous discussions on film, comics, photonovels, glamour or celebrity photography, film novelization, and other related genres.”
Fabrice Leroy, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, author of Sfar So Far: Identity, History, Fantasy, and Mimesis in Joann Sfar's Graphic Novels


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca