Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New and Novel Graphic Novels

Long dismissed as a less serious art form, graphic novels have finally started to gain more mainstream credibility over the last 20 years... The world of the graphic novel is one that spans a wide range of authors, artists, styles, and subject matter... While the distinction between graphic novels and comic books gets dicey (the term “graphic novel” was only introduced in the late 1970s), for [our] purposes...they are lengthier, meatier book-like works — and they’re all brilliant for both their literary and visual merit.
~ , "25 Essential Graphic Novels"

Graphic novels are a genre close to my reading heart. While I confess to a lack of expertise in the field of manga and only a nodding acquaintance with superhero comics (and I welcome your recommendations on these subjects!), I love to read all sorts of other graphic novels.  Sometimes other adults ask, "What's the appeal?" It's hard to pin down into words.  I've long been an avid comic reader, starting with Tintin, Asterix, Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbes, Doonesbury, and Archie back in my childhood, so I've always been drawn to the medium. Perhaps it is just the combination of "literary and visual merit" in the quote above - words and pictures on the page together managing to appeal to both my English major's love of literature and my sense of aesthetics (I am very picky about the art in graphic novels in much the same way a bad reader can ruin an audiobook for me).

I asked a couple of friends what the appeal of comics was to them. We discussed whether or not, as one person said, reading comics is "like a combination of reading a book and watching a movie". Sometimes a comic will contain extras such as a copy the writer's working "script" before the art is added, and one friend was quite interested in how the comic's writer seemed to be storyboarding the action for the illustrator, including instructions such as "The scene has shifted to the next day, so the characters should be wearing different clothes". We agreed that reading comics and/or graphic novels is a fast medium, and details are easily absorbed visually.  Even though you are still only using one sense, sight, with comics you take in more sensory detail.  As another friend said:

You can do that with comics, create that immersion and empathy.  That gutter I mentioned [the space between the panels where the reader's imagination completes the story] is part of why.  Your brain is being stimulated, through language and image, to experience with all your senses, as well as emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, whatever-allys the comic's creators are adept enough to reach.  The reader in the gutter is the one actually pulling it all together, fitting the pieces of the puzzle, participating in its creation.  The comic itself is just a series of guideposts, instructions for a scavenger hunt - turn the corner here, shuffle that cobblestone, watch for the rusty nail - too late!, and then what's next?

Alas, one my friends said when he tried to suggest a graphic novel to his book club, almost none of the club's members read it and a few who tried were confused by the genre - they professed to not understand how to read comics, or at least to not understand how to follow the action from panel to panel across the page. I guess there will always be people who don't like or don't get the appeal of comics, but those who do can be pretty diehard - Albuquerque alone has two comic book conventions and at least seven dedicated comic stores.

Others sometimes ask, "What's the difference between comics and graphic novels?" Wikipedia defines the difference thusly:

A graphic novel is a book made up of comics content. Although the word "novel" normally refers to long fictional works, the term "graphic novel" is applied broadly, and includes fiction, non-fiction, and anthologized work. It is distinguished from the term "comic book", which is used for comics periodicals.

That definition can be a point of contention. Writers such as Alan Moore (Watchmen), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Neil Gaiman (Sandman) have objected to the term "graphic novel" as unnecessary and/or pretentious. The author Douglas Wolk said:

Comics are not prose. Comics are not movies. They are not a text-driven medium with added pictures; they're not the visual equivalent of prose narrative or a static version of a film. They are their own thing: a medium with its own devices, its own innovators, its own clichés, its own genres and traps and liberties. The first step toward attentively reading and fully appreciating comics is acknowledging that. 

Whether you want to call them graphic novels or comics, there are a lot of good ones out there on a lot of different topics.  There are graphic (or "visual") memoirs and biographies, graphic short story collections, classics of the canon adapted to a graphic format.  There is a graphic version of the U.S. Constitution. There are graphic versions of Game of Thrones, the Millennium Trilogy, and Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series for adults, and graphic versions of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Blue Bloods for teens. Don't hesitate to check the graphic novel bounty available in the library catalog - a search of "graphic novels" is easy-peasy in Encore, and using the categories in the left sidebar (format, collection, tag) will help you to limit your search!

For your convenience, we have compiled a list of graphic novels from the library catalog to get you started - some new, some novel, some both. The graphic novels listed are recommended for young adult to adult readers, unless otherwise noted. 

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni

The Red Ruby by Lars Jakobsen [YA]

On the Ropes by James Vance and Dan E. Burr

Persia Blues: Volume 1 by Dara Naraghi & Brent Bowman

Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen

The Property by Rutu Modan

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan

World Map Room by Yuichi Yokoyama

Incidents in the Night: Bk 1 by David B.

Fanny & Romeo by Yves Pelletier, Pascal Girard

Mind the Gap - Vol. 1 : Intimate Strangers by Jim McCann

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached [YA]

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez (J)

Steve Jobs: Genius By Design by Jason Quinn

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea by Hugo Pratt

Dominique Laveau, Voodoo Child - Volume 1: Requiem by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds

Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer by Trina Robbins (J)

Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey by GB Tran

Bad Habits: A Love Story by Cristy C. Road [eBook]

The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes

Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert

Berlin: City of Stones by Jason Lutes

Howl: A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg

Bandette: In Presto! by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (J)
The Comic Book History of Comics  by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey

If you are a fan of this genre, the Lomas Tramway Library has a Graphic Novel Club for Adults!


2014 Eisner Award Nominees   

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards are considered the “Oscars” of the comics world. Named for the pioneering comics creator and graphic novelist Will Eisner, the awards are given out in more than two dozen categories during a ceremony each year at Comic-Con International: San Diego. 

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