Monday, June 28, 2010

The post where I preach about the virtues of graphic novels

I have recently discovered some amazing graphic novels.  First off, let me explain what a graphic novel is for any Red Hot Eyebrows readers who are wondering what it is I'm talking about.  The word graphic is being used in the sense that it is a novel told in pictures, not graphic as in a graphic nature.  It's also a term for comic books, but honestly, the graphic novels I've read don't bear much resemblance to comic books, so having a whole different word makes sense to me.

In the past, I've reviewed some graphic novels without realizing what a big deal they are.  I mean, the term graphic novel didn't exist in my vocabulary until a couple of years ago, so I wouldn't have known that, for instance, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, could be considered one.  It won the Caldecott award recently for the best picture book of the year.  Can you imagine a comic book receiving the same honor?  Not me, but much of Hugo Cabret is told in pictures, which is a defining characteristic of graphic novels and also of comic books.  So what makes them different from each other?  Good question, Jenny.  Thank you, I thought so too.

Comic books and graphic novels share some qualities but differ in other ways.  Graphic novels are longer, are more in a book format than a thinner magazine format, are more accepted by librarians as acceptable literature, and are sometimes based on already familiar stories.  Moms around the world get more warm fuzzies if their child is reading graphic novels versus reading comic books.  Honestly, I'd take a graphic novel over a comic book any day, but that's because the nature of comic books is to never have closure, to continually keep the reader buying new installments.  It's the boy's version of soap operas.  That's a turn off for me.  Graphic novels tell stories that don't require the reader to have read the last 20 years worth of comics.  That's a big appeal for me.

I always pictured comic books as something nerdy adolescent boys perused in dimly lit shops run by men chasing their own adolescence, wearing t-shirts with obscure slogans on them and bemoaning their inability to move out of their parents' houses.  Whew, that was harsh, but forgive me while I eventually get to my point. Comic book collecting is a profitable business and good golly, there are enough movies made out of comic book stories to make Stan Lee a rich man many times over.  Obviously there's a demand.  So what if it's stories based on aliens and superheroes and villains and mutations and whatever?  I happen to like that sort of stuff, but it's a universal fact that parents and teachers have been scorning comic books since the first caveman drew his first flying boy on his cave wall.  "Put that burnt stick down and quick making up those stupid flying caveboy stories!" his mom would cry.  "Why can't you make nice drawings like your brother, with buffalo and fire and real things?"  And thus the first comic book nerd was born.

What's interesting to me is that reluctant readers are known to devour graphic novels, yet there are still parents and teachers who still discourage kids from reading them.  Now, I'm not talking about graphic novels that are not intended for children.  There's plenty of graphic graphic novels out there.  I'm talking about graphic novels, or comic books for that matter, that are written for kids.  I can't believe that there are adults out there that would discourage children from reading.  Who cares if they'd rather read Pride and Prejudice the graphic novel versus the original?  They're reading, for cryin' in the mud!  Hook 'em, reel 'em in and then get them tackling Mark Twain!  

Luckily, I've only encountered really good graphic novels so far.  Shannon and Dean Hale did an excellent job with Rapunzel's Revenge and its sequel Calamity Jack.  The stories were exciting and the voice of the narrators witty, funny and interesting.  Nathan Hale (no relation to Shannon and Dean) did an excellent job with the illustrations and he kept the story constantly moving.  Shannon Hale has proven herself amazing at telling her own version of familiar stories and these books are no exception.  I found myself glued to the pages, absorbed in the story and the visual treat it was to read.  I had these books at my house for over a month, waiting for me to get around to reading them for this blog post.  My kids must have read them a dozen times at least, including my five-year-old who isn't a proficient reader yet.  She was drawn into the stories just from the pictures.  These books are great for the eight and up crowd, due to some scary critters and very slight romantic elements, but you'll know your own kids best.  Tying in the already familiar stories of Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk made these great graphic novels for younger kids and I highly recommend them.  Heck, I recommend them for adult readers.  They're that awesome.

The next graphic novel was something different.  Eric Shanower retold The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as L. Frank Baum wrote it, not like the Hollywood version most people know best.  My kids and I read the original Baum book a few years ago so they already knew what to expect.  Skottie Young's illustrations were way scarier than those of Nathan Hale, so I wish I had taken more time to carefully look it over before my kids got a hold of it.  Regardless, my older kids read the book at least three or four times each before we returned it to the library.  It was suspenseful and exciting.  The storytelling seemed a bit forced to me, but it didn't deter my kids one bit.

If you're already a graphic novel convert then I'm preaching to the choir.  If you've looked down on the genre, I hope I've shown you a different angle or convinced you to give them a try.  I've certainly enjoyed myself with the ones I've found and I hope to add a few more to my list.  I'll try not to skulk about in darkened stores with the other nerds too much in the mean time.


  1. Okay, I'm one of those who has been really skeptical of the graphic novel genre. I have just thought about them as comic books trying to sneak into the ranks of acceptable literature and never considered them to include the likes of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." I love Shannon Hale's work and have been curious about her "Rapunzel's Revenge," but wouldn't condescend to read it. So now that I know there is a sequel and you really enjoyed them both, I guess I'll have to stop being a snob and give them a try!

  2. I have been fascinated to this kind of novel ever since. I love the graphics and drawings are very amazing. I wish I can have all those books.