Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Weekly Geeks: Graphic Novels

This week's Weekly Geeks evokes strong opinions in me, so I HAD to answer it!

Do you read graphic novels or memoirs? Who are your favorite authors? Which books do you recommend?

If you haven't read any, why not?

Some people have the impression that graphic novels are glorified comic books, are unsophisticated or don't qualify as "serious" literature. What do you think? If you track your book numbers, do you count a graphic novel as a book read?

I read a lot of graphic novels. My favorite authors are Bill Willingham, Jennifer Holm, Sara Varon, and Marjane Satrapi. Many of my favorite words-only-book authors such as Shanon Hale, Meg Cabot, and Holly Black have also come out with graphic novels. Also, let's not forget that Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, which changed comic books.

As for which titles I recommend, it depends on what you like to read. One thing to remember is that graphic novels are a FORMAT, not a genre. Any genre you find in words-only novels, you can find in graphic novels. If you're looking for titles to prove to people the worth of graphic novels, then I'd start people with Maus (both volumes) or Persepolis (both volumes). Alice In Sunderland or The Arrival are also good to show what the format can do, although I wouldn't start someone on Sunderland.

If you want excellent stories, excellent art, and excellent production, it's hard to go wrong with anything that First Second puts out.

Now as to whether or not they are worthy literature or just "glorified comic books," I have to reject the premise of the question. Take Sandman for instance. It was written by Neil Gaiman! And excellent series of books (although it wasn't until the later volumes that I fully understood its complete and utter genius.) But it's not a glorified comic book. It's actually a comic book. The volumes you buy from a bookstore are omnibus editions of multiple issues bound together. I am OBSESSED with the Fables series (written by Bill Willingham, who worked on Sandman, which you can tell in the way that odd plot points or characters come back to haunt the story 5 years later.) I acquire and read them in omnibus form, but they are comic books. (And when I say comic books here, I mean published serially, all paperback, usually bound with staples, and distributed through shops specializing in comic books)

When one says "graphic novel" they think of the one-shot, stand-alone title. It is, however, interesting to note that most authors and artists who work with this format use the word "comics" to describe what they are doing, whether it's an issue of X-Men, or a deeply personal memoir. And I think they do this because they recognize that the lines of distinction aren't that important. You can make silly one-off filled with lots of things blowing up, and you can make a serial that meets the standards of "high literature." Format, not genre.

There are many, many, many books without pictures that aren't serious literature. There are many comic books the same way. (And I'll spare you my ramblings on the importance of reading unsophisticated, un-serious literature.) But there are also several books without pictures that are deep and serious and change your world view. Same with comic books.

Once again, it's a format, not a genre.

And if the book is over 100 pages, it totally gets counted as read. Why wouldn't it?

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1 comment:

Karen Russell said...

Good point about format over genre! I had not thought of it that way. I'm a mystery lover, and the only graphic novel I've read is "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Can you recommend any other mystery/thriller type GNs? You obviously know a lot more about it than I do.