Monday, February 12, 2007

Graphic Novels: Where to Start?

This article perfectly depicts my feelings about reading and writing about graphic novels this week. I will be completely honest: before reading American Born Chinese, I knew close to nothing about graphic novels. I had heard of them and assumed they were similar to comic books, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

Fortunately, I was introduced to Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, which I, along with everyone else, absolutely loved! In fact, I am almost hesitant to read other graphic novels because I am concerned that I will not be as impressed as I was with ABC. However, ABC will certainly not be the last graphic novel that I read because I am now intrigued. Should they actually be categorized as ‘novels’? What about graphic novels allows them to be so popular? These questions have already been addressed in depth by our fellow classmates, so I will do my best to avoid being repetitive and will provide my input.

I agree with Jessica in that I do not think that ABC should be classified as a novel. I think it’s interesting that Jessica mentioned being “stoned” for expressing that opinion because I felt similarly uncomfortable admitting that. However, when saying that I wouldn’t call ABC a novel, I am not saying that I don’t think it’s a fantastic piece of literature because, as I said, I really enjoyed it. I am saying that it just isn’t a novel. The first point mentioned in the article above is that “graphic novels and comics are not a genre but a format”. This statement is contrasted in this article, which I agree with more. It explains that comics are a genre because they are about the pictures, but graphic novels are a format because they “can stand alone as stories -- the graphics simply work to add to the story”. Thus, a graphic novel is just that: a novel that benefits and gains its popularity through the use of graphics. Calling it a “novel” ignores its defining feature.

So what aspect of graphic novels gives them such popularity? In addition to the images and the fact that they help readers follow the story and find humor in certain jokes, most of which would not be nearly as funny without picture, I think two other aspects of graphic novel captivate audiences: visual stimulation, in general, and novelty. First, the pictures help tell the story, but more importantly, they make use of the fact that people today rely heavily on visually stimulating mediums for entertainment, such as TV, movies, even talking on the phone has become more visual with Skype and other Internet services that allow for video phone calls. Second, the novelty of graphic novels has likely helped them take off in regard to popularity. People no longer have to shamefully admit to reading comics, whether they are in the form of comic books or newspaper comics. Now fans can read comics that are novels. Now the comics are longer and have more depth, with character development, theme, etc.

Thus, the graphic novel takes the best of both worlds--images from comics and literary aspects from novels—and quickly draws the attention and heart of the reader.

Nonfiction graphic novels are an area I would like to peruse at some point. Sure, I see the humor in Awkward, as it discusses “the ever present awkward nature of growing up,” or in a graphic novel called The Big Book of Losers. In fact, these sound great to me. However, I am not sure how I would react to a graphic novel about the Holocaust or about the lives of people living in New York City during the Depression. As I said, ABC was my first graphic novel, but it will not be my last…


Lauren said...

Interestingly enough, one of the most famous and seminal graphic novels is Art Spiegelman's Maus, which is about the Holocaust. You should check it out and see how you like it.

Carolyn Penner said...

Really?! I'll have to check that out. My doubts lie in the fact that it's such a serious topic, but I definitely look forward to exploring that area more.