Style and substance

<strong>99 Ways to Tell a Story</strong>

Matt Madden <em>Jonathan Cape, 206pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN

No longer the preserve of 11-year-old Spiderman fans (nothing wrong with that, of course), comic books have in recent years been blessed with a new-found literary and artistic merit, earning them the weightier title of "graphic novels".

The latest of these is 99 Ways to Tell a Story, which provides a fresh take on the literary experiments of the French avant-garde. Taking his cue from Raymond Queneau's 1947 book Exercices de style, which tells a short story in 99 different ways, artist Matt Madden has produced 99 versions of the same one-page comic strip.

The plot is simple: man gets up from desk, goes downstairs, his girlfriend asks what time it is, he opens the fridge only to realise he's forgotten what he was looking for. But the story is told in styles ranging from Marvel superheroes to Japanese manga to a pastiche of the Bayeaux tapestry.

As well as being Madden's personal history of the comic book (there are notes at the back explaining all the different styles), 99 Ways is a fascinating and funny exposé of the techniques of visual storytelling. When so much of our culture is based on the fusion of image and text - even current-affairs magazines are spending their cash on glitzy redesigns nowadays - there's never been a better time to take a look.