I *Heart* Graphic Novels

Poster art for documentary Graphic Novels! Melbourne! by Pat Grant
Poster art for documentary Graphic Novels! Melbourne! by Pat Grant

I didn’t read comics as a kid.  I simply didn’t find them interesting.  I enjoyed cartoon movies and TV shows, but I never translated that enjoyment to books.  I don’t think it was ever a restriction.  There were few restrictions on my reading aside from age-appropriate material.  Even as I got older, that one faded away.  It was simply not a medium that peaked my interest.  I did, however, find myself enjoying graphic novels once I discovered them as an adult.

My first experience with graphic novels was in the 90s after Maus came out.  I talked about that on Wednesday.  I didn’t see many graphic novels after that.  For years they seemed to be merely collections of comics put into book form.  That didn’t peak my interest anymore than the original comics had.  Even now, that is a common format.

What is interesting is that I know more about comic culture and universes than most non-comic readers.  I can tell you more about the X-Men than a typical movies-only watcher.  I didn’t read the comics, but enough people in my life (past and present) enjoy them.  So many so that I have learned from them.  I still don’t want to read comics, but when you give me a universe entirely in graphic novel form, I am far more inclined to read it that way.

It was during my time at Fitchburg State that I really discovered graphic novels.  I ran a discussion series, my first, about Judaica, for the university.  The titles did include Maus since it helped define this genre of literature.  It included work done by Jewish artists and writers about being Jewish.  Here are the other titles:

Of all of them, The Rabbi’s Cat was my favorite.  The story is fun and the illustrations are beautiful.  I kept my copy after the series ended.

From there I was able to branch out with some classic graphic novels.  I even tried those that are collections of original comics like The Best of the Spirit.  Then I looked to universes and authors I already knew.  That’s still where I am.  I read Buffy The Vampire Slayer season 8, only done as a graphic novel series.  I loved how much they were able to do with the story because of the format change.  I continue to read the Dark Tower graphic novels since I read and love the entire book series.  I haven’t even finished Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series yet.  They are intense collections.

I am ready to branch out.  On Monday I wrote about starting Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series.  There are also some classic and popular titles I haven’t yet read.  Abe Books put together a list of 50 Essential Graphic Novels to read.  I was pleased, as I read it over, to realize I had read quite a few of these.

The thing is that these aren’t just super-hero stories.  Many times they have nothing to do with comics, DC, or Marvel.  These are visual stories.  They show you the story as much as tell you.  The stark black and white images in Persepolis are telling you more than the words are telling you.  Images cross cultural and language boundaries.  They let you show something rather than tell it.  They are perfect for ebooks.  You can zoom in to see details better.  You can see things that may be small and easy to miss. Plus, it expands the color options and makes for much more vivid images.

There are graphic novels I dislike.  I dislike adaptations of novels into graphic novels.  Mostly because they do it to capitalize on something popular.  I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as a book, but they created the worst graphic novel.  Why?  They did it without color.  Not because the story was best told in B&W, but for a reason I can understand.  Color is critical to a visual story.  Color helps distinguish similar looking characters, color helps set tone, and color helps the eye see everything.  This is done much too often.

Keep in mind, how you read a graphic novel is very important.  Just as it is with their comic siblings.  For those who are new, here are my tips on…

How to Read a Graphic Novel

  • Typically it is left to right, top to bottom, but the squares will help direct you.  Trust the layout and try it different ways if it doesn’t make sense.
  • Watch the font of speech bubbles.  Boxes are often inner monologues or narration.  Speech bubbles can have different fonts.  The font typically means something about the speaker.
  • Look at the pictures, don’t just brush by. The story is in those images.  Lack of color, color themes, and shadow all mean something.

Tell me your favorite graphic novel.  Is there one I should try?

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