Getting Into Graphic Novels

I spent an hour talking books last week with Mykl Roventine for the Social Media Breakfast Minneapolis-St. Paul podcast. One of the topics that came up was trends in my 2015 reading and I think graphic novels were a huge trend.

I read a lot of graphic novels.

It’s an interesting medium that really takes some time to find your footing as a reader. I tend to read too fast because there are so few words. While graphic novels are quick reads, if you go too fast you tend to miss a lot.

So a few thoughts on the trend of graphic novels, at least within my reading from the last year:

Comic Books

It starts with comic books. Certainly not all graphic novels are comic books, but they get lumped together (for good reason), so deal with it.

I think comic books are a weird industry. They have an exceptionally high barrier to entry. It’s really hard for newbies to figure out how to get into comics.

But one approach I’ve discovered is to forget the weekly one-off comics and wait for the trade paperbacks. This is when they gather up half a dozen comics and print them in one book. You get the benefit of a longer story arc and don’t have to hunt down each individual comic. And many libraries will stock these.

In 2015 I really enjoyed Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Serenity: Leaves on the Wind and Princeless.

Historic Graphic Novels

Lately there seems to be a mini-trend of historic graphic novels. I don’t know if this is some attempt to get those pesky kids interested in books again, as if graphic novels are some kind of gateway drug. I don’t think it works that way.

But graphic novels about history are pretty cool. It’s a gateway drug to history. See March Book One and Two by John Lewis, Harlem Hellfighters and the Boxers/Saints two-part set by Gene Luen Yang as examples.

Graphic Memoirs

Then there’s this oddly new trend of memoir in graphic novel form. I don’t know if it started with Blankets by Craig Thompson, but that’s certainly an early one that got a lot of attention. El Deafo and Honor Girl are more recent ones. All three are sort of coming of age stories, dealing with a fundamental faith, deafness and same sex attraction respectively.

I think the genre can be an engaging way to tell the deeply personal story that is memoir.

Straight Up Graphic Novels

Finally, there are a lot of just interesting stories told in a graphic format. It really frees up the narrative structure and allows for some interesting things, without being too literary and weird.

Gene Luen Yang is perhaps my favorite. His American-Born Chinese is just a mind-bending riff on race in America. It would definitely benefit from multiple readings.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is another favorite. It’s got a reluctant super-villain, quirky humor and an original story. Good stuff.

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