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*Not just a crossover comic book
*By Matthew E. Milliken : The Herald-Sun
Oct 27, 2008 *

DURHAM -- Call it a crossover comic book if you like.

But the fotonovela is more than just a cross between a comic book and a camera. The medium has evolved from its origins as a form of movie adaptation in mid-20th-century Italy to a best-selling type of entertainment in Mexico to a common educational tool in the United States.

Fotonovela producer Ana Consuelo Matiella traces fotonovelas' origins to World War II Italy, where the publications -- known as fotoromanzi, according to -- contained frames and dialogue from movies.

The form was wildly popular in the 1950s through the 1970s in Mexico, where it flourished as magazine-style weekly and monthly publications in every genre from crime to romance to pornography, Matiella said. Some fotonovela stories were serials, while others were self-contained. At their peak, she believes there were 70 million copies of fotonovelas published each month.

Fotonovelas are sometimes referred to as historietas, but Matiella distinguishes them this way: fotonovelas feature photographs; historietas, like comic books, consist of drawings.

In Mexico, fotonovelas continue as entertainment, according to a 2005 article for American librarians. On her most recent visit to a Mexican newsstand, however, Matiella found drawn historietas but not a single photographic fotonovela.

"Photonovels" had an American heyday in the 1970s as adaptations of movies and television shows, primarily science fiction. Today, as English-language entertainment, the form seems to exist mainly on the Web.

Robin Lewy of the Rural Women's Health Project suggested that the fotonovela's evolution into an educational medium is somewhat ironic.

"There's a need to change the way in which the form is traditionally used," Lewy said. "Fotonovelas are a lot about sex and power and domination. And for us, the fotonovela has really had to acculturate as it's crossed the border in working with immigrant communities."

/© 2008 by The Durham Herald Company. All rights reserved./