Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Graphic Novels

It feels like it's been forever since my last post. Sorry guys, but things have been busy. And I've kind of been all over the place. And I've been getting a million spammy comments from this blog which has been annoying. Anyway! Today's post is about the new hot thing in the children's book world - graphic novels. If you haven't seen them before, think comic book but longer. Since I've never been a comic book fan, I wasn't very excited about these when they started coming out. I must admit, most of the time, I don't give a crap about superheroes. But graphic novels are getting interesting - they're not just about the Green Latern anymore. Here are two that I've read and really enjoyed.

American Born Chinese. this just won the prestigious ALA Printz award - the first graphic novel to ever do so. This book has three storylines, but the common thread is racism. This graphic novel combines ancient legend with every day conflict in a way that has never really been done before (at least not that I've seen) and of course, it's one of few books out there that focuses on the Asian characters. I read it in a single lunch hour, and recommend picking it up.

Blankets. This graphic novel is a love story, which I am almost always a sucker for. The main character is about seventeen - struggling with a heavy Christian upbringing, thoughts of becoming a priest and of course, his first love. I read this in one night too - the story pulled me in and the illustrations only made it more poignant,

Despite my uncertainty about graphic novels, I really enjoyed both these books. My company is at work on one of these too - we're hoping it will be out by the end of 07!


Anonymous Drapo said...

Graphic novels are the best things ever! How did we never talk about this before? "V for Vendetta", "Sin City", the future movie "300"--only a smattering of great graphic novels (of course, those are only examples made into movies--many, many, many more out there!).

My fave is "Maus," which I read as a freshman in college. It's the story of a Jewish man trying to get his father's story dealing with Nazis. The Jews are mice, and the Nazis are rats. The list goes on.

I (heart) graphic novels!!! I hope you come out with a great one!!!

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Mondo said...

These books look interesting and different. I will have to check them out.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Eric Carroll said...

Couldn't agree with your friend Drapo more.

Welcome. The really cool/creepy thing is that I had read Blankets quite a while ago (was it a year ago already?), and realized that I had given my copy to someone in NY, and didn't have one anymore. So I bought a new copy THIS WEEK, and read it. Its great. I love all the themes in it (although I am glad I didn't go through some of the things the author did), but my favorite (aside from the Love Story, which is perfect) is the feelings of guilt and responsibility an older sibling feels...

Anyway, I'll try and come up with a few more for you to look into. And I know it takes baby steps, but there are even a few comics you should check out... a lot of "comics" aren't about Green Lantern and his buddies anymore either. Superheros/Zombies/Fantasy are still 96% of the comics scene and I love those too, but there are good number of comics devoted to more "everyday" subject matter...

Anyway, glad you're reading GNs now, obviously the format makes them quick reads in most cases, but hope you check out some more...

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose someone has to say this, and I suppose I'll be the one. After all, how many cranky old men read this blog? What concerns me is the future audience we are building for serious literature when we spend our time reading what are, in effect, picture books. I am concerned that the diminished intellectual commitment required to deal with graphic novels will eventually rob us of our ability to recognize and judge and participate in good novels. There is in the construction of a novel a delicate balance between offering so little that the reader is not engaged and offering so much that the reader is stifled. In the "prepackaged" milieu of the graphic novel the necessary intellectual engagement does not seem to be at a very high level. Sure, you can like Herman's Hermits and Mozart, but Herman's Hermits will eventually begin to crowd out Mozart if we are not careful.

Sigh. William F. Buckley once said that it was the job of a conservative to stand athwart history and cry, "Stop!" This is my contribution. And if there are any "lighten up, it's just a comic book" responses, well, they will only make me feel worse, not better.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Okay, I have to respond to anonymous.

First, I agree with the other two comments. Graphic novels are just another medium for storytelling and there are many great ones out there. Sin City and 300 and the Dark Knight Returns are my favorites.

But getting back to William F Buckley over there. What the hell? What exactly are you bemoaning here? The downfall of literary fiction? It's been around as long as the printing press and it ain't going anywhere. So if you fear other mediums may diminish your readership, all I can say is, evolution's a bitch eh?

I love those people who want to "stand athwart history and shout 'stop'". I love to see them get run over by the unstoppable force of progress and human nature.

Feel free to not like change. Feel free to try and restrain people from indulging in whatever entertainment options they feel legitimately satisfy their needs. Feel free to stand in front of the train. It's a win-win situation, you get to hurl yourself under the wheels and I get to watch.

Novels, either graphic or prosaic, are art. And art is personal. And no one gets to say one kind of art is better or worse than another. That's the beauty of it.

So chill out Buckley. It's just a comic book.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"First, I agree with the other two comments." It is, I suppose, a saddening confirmation of my observation of the effect of graphic novels on the complexity of the thought process to note that there are actually three comments before mine, not two.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Jlyn said...

Look everybody, my blog is causing a heated debate. How exciting. Try to keep the gloves up! :-)

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Eric Carroll said...

I too wanted to comment that "Anonymous" seems to have a pretty narrow definition of what is a constructive use of time. Swearing off any one entire genre of literature is as ignorant as only sticking to one. Its like saying that "Science Fiction" is silly and worthless due to the fact that a lot of it (you might even say MOST) is completely frivolous, and fantastic. But as soon as we do that, we discount classics like "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Fahrenheit 451," and "A Clockwork Orange." So my argument is that the Genre, or Format isn't Dangerous people not knowing what a good Graphic Novel looks like and where to find it is. Also Dangerous is people telling other people not to bother, they won't find anything worth reading in the genre, especially when this statement seems to be coming from a place of being under-informed, or generally less than knowledgeable about the format... at its worst this could be down right irresponsible (like when my fellow Christians try to boycott movies they have never seen). Perhaps a graphic Novel that deals with themes of rejection, being molested as a child or the dangers of seriously contemplating suicide would be of great value to the right person, but what if someone told that person they would never find the answers or comfort they are seeking in that format... Thats the danger of writing off an entire genre, and its amplified when someone decides starts telling people the genre is "lesser."

I would never recommend that we ditch the "Novel" format in favor of graphic novels. For one thing, not everyone can draw, or wants pictures with their stories. The lack of pictures is almost a defining characteristic of the "Novel"... But to say that no graphic novel has literary value, or doesn't require an "intellectual commitment" on par with some great novels, just because images are provided and as a result might not take as long to read, seems... well, again, ignorant. Do you feel that no movie can require an serious intellectual commitment since it provides not only pictures, but moving pictures with sound and doesn't take more than 3 hours to watch?

On a similar theme though, you'll also notice that in both of our posts (Drapo, and Mine I mean, there were 3 posts, but I'll address that in a moment) concerning our love of the medium, both of us only spoke about themes, story and plot, never once were pictures, the aspect you are so hung-up on referenced.

And even if I were to agree that all Graphic novels require a lesser, or "diminished" intellectual commitment, which I don't (you're obviously not very well read in the genre if you think they are all "easy" reads dealing with silly subject matter), are you insisting that only "War and Peace" and other "Serious" LIterature is worth reading? What about times when we don't have the time to devote our attention to literature of that magnitude, attention I agree that it DESERVES, should we not read at all? I would rather my little sister read a graphic novel and take something away from it, than half-assedly try to read "important" literature. As long as you never completely and ultimately forsake "Serious" literature for the "Easy Read" I would argue that graphic novels, and other "lighter literature" have their place.

Also, your comment on there being 3 posts before yours? Well, Brian was obviously only referencing the 2 he agreed with, the ones that offered Jenn congrats on discovering a new (to her) and exciting medium, and not the one that said they would have to "check them out too." Perhaps this demonstrates a problem with how you retain information, being more caught up on the format and number of posts than the content...

I think in the end we'd all agree that what we wish there was less of is TRASH. I don't ONLY read Graphic Novels, but Iwhen I do read graphic novels I do try to read ones worth reading, same with Novels. I love Hemingway, and place his works higher than any Graphic Novel I have ever read, and 90% of the time, all things being Equal I would rather read "A Farewell to Arms" than "The Watchmen", but 8% of the time I read GOOD Graphic Novels (and yes the leftover time I read things like Superman and Batman, but I'd have to start a whole new post to argue the value of that genre, which by the way, is for the most part, completely separate from most Graphic Novels...). But there are certainly Graphic Novels I would QUICKLY place above any trashy novel...

So in fact, I would never say "Lighten Up, It's Only a Comic Book"... In fact I would argue the opposite, asking that you give at LEAST the great examples of GOOD Graphic Novels the respect they deserve. I'm not arguing that an issue of Batman Comics is on par with any classic literature written in the novel format, but I'm arguing that claiming no Graphic Novels are more important than an issue of Batman comics is downright false.

I hope this can be taken as the passionate and well-meaning debate it is and not as attack on your person.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I appreciate Eric's views on these matters, and I confess that he has offered some interesting perspectives. I have still not changed my mind, and I am sure that I shall defend my position at some length. I am, however, in the middle of somewhat manic preparation for my next business trip (yes, I am a salesman, one who goes from morning until night without a single elevated thought) and cannot do it for the next couple of days. In the meantime, before I sign off, two quick notes:

1. No, of course I am not offended by anything you said; I don't take any of it personally. It's a pretty worthy subject to discuss, and your opinions are both well organized and artfully expressed. I know the difference between a response and a slam.

2. I am not, believe me, a fascist about the proper or permitted uses of time. I spend hours wandering, in ever self-renewing awe, the streets of three or four of the world's great cities, and I pass as much of my life as I can concentrating on the four killer bees: bourbon, babes, blues and baseball.

More later, really.

9:22 PM  
Anonymous Eric Carroll said...

Good, I like a person who can engage in a little debate with out taking it personally! Look forward to your reply

And I am glad to hear you wouldn't try to tell us how to spend our time, although judging from your Four Bs we'd get along just fine. 12 days until Opening Day for my Detriot Tigers (and yes, I was a Fan long before they were a World Series Team, in fact I've been a fan since last time they were a World Series Team, Jenn can attest to this, I was a fan even 4 years ago when they can dangerously close to setting the record for worse record ever...)

So like I said, look forward to a response, and until then, enjoy your Bs!

1:09 PM  

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