Let’s Get Graphic

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In the comments section of my last post, I threatened to write a post about graphic novels. Here it is. If graphic novels aren’t your thing, I’ll save you the trouble and give you the punch line: It fits the theme of the last post.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I grew up reading comic books. But I have my father to thank for my love of comics in general. He always read the comics in the newspaper. Following in his footsteps, I read them too. So, it’s only natural that I would gravitate to the graphic novel. I haven’t written one, though I’m a fan of the form. If you saw my bookshelves and living room floor, you’d believe that instantly.

Years ago, while searching on Amazon for graphic novels, I was surprised at how appalled some individuals were that authors like Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs wrote graphic novels for their urban fantasy series for adults. (I have one of Jim Butcher’s graphic novels on my shelf—Welcome to the Jungle, illustrated by Ardian Syaf.) Some individuals voiced their complaints, which boiled down to “graphic novels are just comics” or “graphic novels are for kids.” Expressions of disdain.

Because I grew up in a house with an adult who loved comics, I’ve never understood the prejudice against them. I admit I’m biased about them, since at one point I wanted to be an illustrator. But I’ve never thought of comic books or graphic novels as solely “for kids.”

6493842I’m not certain what age range is meant when commenters talk of kids and graphic novels. Middle grade kids or younger? Many graphic novels were written for kids, including
• Jeff Smith’s Bone series
• The Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon
• The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (He’s the illustrator of the new covers for the Harry Potter series.)
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel—an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, illustrated by Hope Larson
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

And there are many others. By the way, the Bone series won 10 Eisners, which Wikipedia describes as “the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards.” It also won 11 Harvey Awards. I had to look those up:

The Harveys recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories, ranging from Best Artist to the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. They are the only industry awards both nominated by and selected by the full body of comic book professionals.

Telgemeier also was nominated for an Eisner, but for another of her graphic novels—Smile.

118944Perhaps teens are the audience some would assign to graphic novels. Many graphic novels were written for young adults, including
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

And there are many others. 472331But I can’t believe anyone with the “graphic novels are just for kids” belief has ever cracked open Watchmen written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (or basically any other graphic novel by Alan Moore); Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series; Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli or any other Frank Miller graphic novel; Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi; Blankets or Habibi by Craig Thompson; or the Fables series by Bill Willingham. And I certainly can’t believe anyone who would sneer at graphic novels as if they were a lower life-form has ever read Watchmen, which appears on some best novels lists, or American Born Chinese, which won the Printz Award in 2007—the award for best young adult novel.

Perhaps the graphic novels’ position in the library leads some to conclude that they’re “just for kids.” At the library close to me, graphic novels are shelved in the teen section.

Anyway, I can understand that graphic novels are an acquired taste. Either you like them or you don’t. But why put down a hard-working author/illustrator team simply because they elected to add another form to broaden the appeal of a series? Is the belief that graphic novels add to the “dumbing down” factor of this country (and I’ve heard that opinion expressed in regard to some colleges which have courses on graphic novels) at the root of the prejudice toward them? I’m not really sure. So, I’m asking you. Have you heard anyone voice this opinion? What’s your belief?

Book covers from Goodreads

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16 thoughts on “Let’s Get Graphic

  1. I never thought of comic books as being for kids because I didn’t grow up reading them–I was exposed to the medium as an adult, with titles like Alan Moore’s “Miricleman” (which featured the famous “contains graphic scenes of childbirth” warning label on one issue).

    On my shelf right now I have Art Speigleman’s “Maus”, which is one of the most harrowing personal accounts of the Holocaust in any medium.

    I do believe that it is a difficult medium to work in, and that it doesn’t suit every writer, or even every artist. There is a particular style of pacing a story to fit the page that that seems to be very tough to master. However, artists and writers who get the rhythm right can tell use the medium to achieve effects that can’t really be done in any other way. I would advise checking Phil & Kaja Foglio’s “Girl Genius”, for example–

    http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20021104

    • Thanks for that link, Misha! I bookmarked it, and will check that out. I recently read the first volume of Maus (My Father Bleeds History). I didn’t list it, because I’m still reading this series (as opposed to the others listed). I agree with you about it–it’s definitely harrowing and deserving of accolades. I also agree that some graphic novels are more effective than others, just as some novels are.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been experimenting with graphic storytelling and found Instagram a great place to connect directly with audiences and figure out what works and what doesn’t (along with reading outstanding graphic novels like the ones that have been mentioned). Another graphic novel for adults, but also suitable for YA readers, that I like is Waltz with Bashir, by Ari Folman and David Polonsky. It’s the story of a former Israeli soldier coming to terms with atrocities he witnessed and committed during the 1982 war in Lebanon. The graphic novel was eventually made into a movie. Most of the story works best in the graphic novel format, with the exception of the final live-action scene, and comparing the two is a great way of exploring the potential and limitations of both media.

  3. The professor doesn’t mind comic (or graphic) books in the least. Sometimes they’re enjoyable. And I don’t know if I’d agree about them being just for kids. You see, if a professor’s find, everyone should be!

  4. I am personally not very familiar with graphic novels – but I resent when people snub their noses and start putting down writers who want to explore! I hate that mentality – as we often hear when discussing authors of children’s book. That they are not REALLY real authors! GRRRRRRRRR. Thanks for sticking up for all genres! 🙂

    • Thanks, Maria. Yeah, I don’t like putdowns of any kind! I’ve read some outstanding graphic novels, so my hat is off to any authors and illustrators who produce them.

  5. On the contrary, I believe graphics of all kinds will find their way into print books of the future. I am investing no paltry amount of money to get the right illustrations for my novel for this reason.

    • It’s time like this that I wish I’d continued illustrating. I quit too soon!
      Yeah, I agree, Andra. With the advent of the television and computers, we’re becoming more visual as a society. We’re used to images sliding across our screens. I’ve seen adult novels with graphics, namely fantasy books with games or maps. I have illustrations in my novels–mainly maps and a game I’m developing.

  6. I’ve read Maud and Persepolis as an adult, as well as compilations of Charles Shulz, Doonesbury and others. Graphic novels are just a different way to read. I wish I could draw well enough to write my own but, alas, I don’t have that skill and to writing the text for a graphic novel w/o the art requires a different skill set (like writing a screenplay).

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