Monday, September 13, 2010

It's not a comic book, it's a Graphic Novel

We've been going to the library every week ever since we got home from our summer trip. I feel like a really good mommy, my posterity's budding young minds growing, expanding, exploring... But my daughter has been irresistibly drawn to the section of graphic novels. What is this strange and unnatural genre doing on the shelves of my neighborhood library? These are picture books. She was supposed to outgrow picture books at least a year ago. Where is the fine literature she is supposed to be delving into, drinking in the pages of beautiful little lines of 10-12 point serifed print? No, I tell her. NO graphic novels. She begs. Alright, ONE graphic novel, but the other book has to be a chapter book. It takes us another 30 minutes to find a chapter book she is actually willing to read. I feel a little less like a good mommy.

But wait a minute. I'm an illustrator. I've got a handful of novel ideas that I don't know if I'll ever write in full because I just haven't got the experience as a writer, or the robust vocabulary it requires. But if I illustrated them... If I made them into graphic novels... I feel like such a traitor! For a long time now, I've frowned at this rising wave of neatly packaged illiteracy-in-the-making, feeling that it's a poor excuse for reading material. And yet, it would be a perfect medium for me to tell my stories.

Graphic novels seem to be a very popular literary form these days, but is it valid? Sound off, please, ship-mates, because I'm feeling confused!

PS If anyone besides Rebecca laughed at the title, welcome to the MST3 club.


  1. My nine year old son has the same fascination with graphic novels. Everytime we cross the threshold of Books-A-Million, he requests another Dragon Ball Z story. Like you, I also insist on a chapter book, but if he had his way, it would be nothing but graphics...To some extent, I'm glad he wants to read "Something."

    My husband is a big fan of graphic novels. He insists they reference several literary works (he named some, but I can't remember what they are). If it's any consolation, he is by far the most well read person I've ever known. In fact, his love of the fantasy genre stemmed from graphic novels. HOpefully my son will adopt his father's attitude toward reading. In the meantime, I will continue to encourage him.

  2. 1) I love MST3k

    2) If it has words, it counts for reading. Cereal boxes, the manual for the car, and yes, even Graphic Novels

    3) I think Graphic Novels are a fantastic way to hook in reluctant readers, especially older ones

    4) Always provide lots of different material. Want a graphic novel about Robin Hood? GREAT! Did you know there's also a book about him? It's about all the other adventures he had, the ones they couldn't squeeze into the comic book, er, graphic novel. Here, let me find it for you ... :)

    *devious smile*

  3. I must admit, I share the...confusion about graphic novels. I want words-lots of them-not just a few splashed beside a picture. Then my daughter got into Manga.

    I didn't understand. At all. Why spend hours looking at the pictures when you could enter a character's head and live their thoughts through novels?

    Then I started taking drawing lessons from Jonene and developed an appreciation for the art in my daughter's Manga books.

    I still prefer a thick novel, but now I can see so much beauty in the art, too. And to make things even better, my daughter reads about four novels a weeks. I guess she has the best of both worlds.

  4. I think that there are things you can do in a graphic novel, like capture a subtle facial expression or body language, that you can never do in a book. It takes too many words.

    When I was in high school I tried to write graphic novels, much hindered by my lack of drawing ability. I still think very visually, and am constantly hampered by thinking of my novels in graphic or cinematic scenes rather than things that can be easily done with words only.

    Remember how much we loved Calvin and Hobbes? Those are like graphic short stories.

    One thing I don't like about graphic novels is that many of them don't put enough clothing on their females. I guess that's my main objection to the genre.

  5. Rachel, wow, I am so grateful for comic books and graphic novels, because they were the gateway to helping my son with ADHD finally enjoy reading. And he's not the only one. It's been interesting, teaching art over the years. I get so many children who are attention deficit. They can't sit still in a classroom to save their lives, but when they have a way to transfer the images and ideas in their minds onto paper, they sit still for hours. Comic books and graphic novels may not be for everyone, but to me, their invaluable! My son now reads huge novels and loves reading. Thanks for the great post!

  6. Thanks everyone for your feedback! It was good to hear everyone's opinions.

    I think what worries me most about my daughter reading graphic novels is, she was an avid reader, and this feels like a step backwards. I didn't need a bridge to get her hooked on reading, she already was. But as you all have said, there is still value in the story telling, and good art (hopefully). Yes, Rebecca, most graphic novels seem to take place in lands where cloth is being hoarded by the evil overlord so the women must make due with leather handkerchief scraps for their only covering. But there is a new category (at least it's new to me) of GN's written for a much younger set (8-12, I'd guess) where so far I have not seen any offensive drapery. Audrey has been reading a series called "Magic Trixie" which seems fine as far as clothing, though the sass and attitude is a little worrisome. The art is all done in watercolor, which is what really piqued my interest, since most I've seen are pen/ink & solid or gradient coloring. Watercolor is my thing, and if I can do it that way, wow! So excited for the possibilities!

    On the other hand, I just reread the Earthsea trilogy and was completely enamored of the gorgeous weaving of her words. It was poetry! What a command of the language she has. It seems like a cop-out to not even try that kind of description and just draw a scene... Then again, I don't think I can ever achieve that kind of finesse in my writing anyway. So I should probably stick with what I know.

    Do you feel like you're watching a tennis game, the way I keep going back and forth?

  7. lands where cloth is being hoarded by the evil overlord
    *snorts, spits tea* Oh, that's awesome.

    I think there's room for all of it (words, pictures - well maybe not the half-nekkid kind) and the chances that your daughter will abandon the written word for good are very low. Plus, she has YOU for a great example! :)

  8. I once picked up some Manga, opened to the middle, and began to read. It wasn't making any sense. After a while I figured out that I was supposed to be reading it from right to left.

    Then it made more sense. A little.

  9. Books are like food... you get in the mood for different things. Sometimes I want a bowl of Grape-nuts in the evening, sometimes I want a quick graphic novel read. Sometimes I want both together. :)

    But I'm of the mind that (barring stuff that devalues and degrades) reading in all its forms is good stuff, Maynard.


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