Last week in my column, I discussed how I don't read as often as I feel I should. Getting through a novel sometimes requires a great deal of effort for me. I found a large collection of free classic literature available for download on my iPad, and it took me weeks to get through a couple Agatha Christie novels. However, one medium I have never struggled to get through is the graphic novel.
While some people I've expressed this interest to respond that I like comics or cartoons, I don't take offense to the difference of description. Especially now, with a number of comic books adapted as films every year, comics isn't a dirty word. But, it betrays the mature nature that many graphic novels have.
That's not to say mature in a way that implies it is smut. A teacher in middle school gave me a puzzled and slightly disgusted look when I asked if he knew of any graphic novels I could read. The reality of graphic novels is far removed from that. I was fortunate enough to take a class at Wartburg College about graphic novels, and I was even more fortunate to have it with a professor who is deeply interested in the medium of graphic novels herself. That class cultivated my interest in the medium further.
My senior year at Wartburg, the graphic novel "Persepolis" was required reading for all incoming freshmen. The book, authored by Marjane Satrapi, is an autobiography of her growing up during the Iranian cultural revolution of the 1980s. Her angst turns to despair as the government imposes dress codes, sends her young male classmates to war and detains and kills a member of her family. She is later sent to school in Europe where she becomes mixed up with drugs and lives homeless for some time. Her growth and transformation into an adult is very compelling.
That's all well and good, but you might ask why this work is a graphic novel and not simply a novel? Setting aside the fact that Satrapi had experience in art school, the images helps convey the turmoil of the story to the reader, giving additional meaning. On one page, Satrapi describes how poor, young Iranian men were sent to war against Iraq with keys on necklaces and were sent to the front lines. The keys were to "paradise" where they would go for their martyrdom as they were torn apart by landmines.
Below that image, it shows Satrapi as a young girl dancing with her friends, all from wealthy families, at a party. The images create contrast as the bodies of the soldiers and the dancing boys and girls contort in similar fashions.
The immediacy of these images also adds an element to these works. The still images of those young people allows the reader to soak in the meaning and notice those subtle similarities between the doomed and the dancing groups.
There are many graphic novels that deal with similar topics. But, there are also many that deal with traditional topics of comics. "Watchmen," written by Alan Moore, critiques the traditional concept of the superhero, which is well summarized by the repeated phrase, "Who watches the watchmen?" If you've seen the movie, and haven't read the novel, you have my assurance it's worth a read.
For anyone interested in graphic novels, both of the above come highly recommended by me, but their mature nature makes them not make them suitable for all readers. For an overview, I would recommend the "Best American Comics" series. The Kendall Young Library also offers a selection of graphic novels, including both volumes of "Persepolis" and the entire "Watchmen" series in hardcover. The library also offers graphic novels for young adult readers. For younger readers, I would recommend the "Scott Pilgrim" series. Summer reading season might be over, but hey, it can't be too hard to read comics right?