I don’t think this is a real holiday, but today, on World’s Strongest Librarian at least, it is graphic novel appreciation day. I decided to write this post because I have never been a big fan of graphic novels. I’ve begged and pleaded for people to give me suggestions on what I should read, and now I’m back with a few that I have actually loved. And then, when the post is over, I’ll beg and plead some more for additional recommendations.
What is a graphic novel?
Lots of adults I know sneer and say they’re just comics. Lots of adults I know sneer and say they’re not really novels. I have spent the last year kicking all of these people in the shins and now they don’t say much at all.
Here’s my definition: a graphic novel is a book in which the narrative is expressed through sequential art. This can apply to comic books like the old X Men issues, or to massive works like Blankets or Black Hole.
Why I have had trouble appreciating them
Honestly, it’s primarily because I read for story. I did not feel like I had the tools to appreciate the art, or to talk about it. And the art is, in my opinion, at least as important as the dialogue in graphic novels. I asked my friend, an aspiring graphic novelist, to give me a great example of the genre that he loved. He pointed me to Hellboy. I thought the story was kind of fun and told him so. He asked me what I thought of the art. I asked him if he wanted to go get something to eat. He asked me what I thought of the art. Finally I admitted that I had just kind of skipped over it all on my way to the next bubble of dialogue.
He gave me a lengthy speech about the use of red and black in the panels, but I got sleepy and started rooting around in the couch for candy.
But I’m trying, and I can prove it. I can prove it because I have a list of the many graphic novels I have now read. I haven not really enjoyed most of them, but the ones I have loved, I have loved as much as any book I’ve read. I still can’t get into anime, not matter what I try. We’ll see.
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Truly indescribable. Sandman came out over 75 issues, but I had no idea because I read it in ten collections. The series follows a character named Dream through a series of events that I still don’t really know how to talk about. It’s beyond weird and beyond awesome.
Also, the English major in me loves how much of literature this series draws from.You could play a staggering game of “spot the reference” in the right crowd.
Give Sandman a try. You’ll know quickly whether you want to continue.
Black Hole by Charles Burns
I have found that I enjoy the art in black and white graphic novels the most, even though Black Hole is the only black and white one I’ve read where the story grabbed me as well. And what a story! Set in Seattle in the early 70s, there is a freaky STD going around called the “bug.” If you get it, you might notice odd things happening to your body. Mutations. Lesions. Hair in places that you don’t want it. Sometimes lots of it.
The kids that experience the worst mutations wind up living as exiles in the woods. The most fascinating part of this book to me was the idea that love-crazy kids don’t become less love-crazy simply because of some stupid “bug” that’s infecting everyone. Big questions about intimacy and the dynamics of belonging are all over this book. And it’s really, really creepy.
Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman
A look at the Holocaust, with mice as the Jews and Cats as the Nazis. Also a beautiful, hearbreaking story about a father’s disintegrating relationship with his son. People seem to get a lot of different impressions of Maus. I personally think it’s one of the best books about the Holocaust that I have ever read.
Fables by Bill Willingham
What if every fairy tale character you had ever heard of was living in a hidden community in New York? Well, not all of them. Any of the characters who can’t ever pass as human live in a kind of commune called “The Farm.” Every character has undergone a drastic transformation from those we grew up with.
Goldilocks is crazy. The Toy Soldiers are thugs. Pinocchio is furious that he got turned into a real boy before he got to go through puberty and is now 300 years old and can’t ever get busy. The Big Bad Wolf isn’t actually that bad and had some pretty harrowing experiences in World War II. And on and on and on.
I think the art in Fables is great, but the story is a lot of fun. While I was reading the stories I was constantly surprised at the creativity and the unexpected directions Willingham went in.
If I was trying to show someone why graphic novels can be fun and/or worthwhile, my personal pick would probably be Fables.
I have liked many other graphic novels, hated plenty, and have been opinion-less about many others. but these four I absolutely loved.
So then, what have I missed? Gimmie some more recommendations (please). Why can’t I find any anime I like? What books deserve to be on this list?
PS: I’m a big fan of HP Lovecraft, and I was actually sent a copy of a graphic novel based on his work. Here is my review of Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom.
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