Tag Archives: graphic novel

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.

Cairo: Ready to Be a Movie

Cairo by G. Willow WilsonI’ve been getting into G. Willow Wilson since the Festival of Faith and Writing and appreciating her unique perspective. Cairo is her first graphic novel and brings together a group of characters that cross paths in the city of Cairo and shape each other’s destinies.

It draws on Middle Eastern mythology and recasts it for a modern age. It’s full of gritty realism and fantastic moments, peppered with comic book wit.

I can picture it as a movie. I suppose that’s natural with the shorter length of a graphic novel and the fact that it’s already visual. But even the story and the characters. It’s unique enough to be a fascinating movie, flipping stereotypes on their head and exploring new legends. Plus it could have a killer ensemble cast.

New/Old Asian Superhero: The Shadow Hero

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen YangThis is fun: Gene Luen Yang is releasing a new retelling of a classic Asian superhero, the Green Turtle.

It’s an exploration of the immigrant experience through the superhero genre, which is essentially all about immigrants and living in two cultures at once. As Gene says:

Superheroes are also about immigrants.  Take at look at Superman, the granddaddy of them all.  His parents sent him to America in search of a better life.  He had two names, one American (Clark Kent) and the other foreign (Kal-El).  He wears two sets of clothes and lives in between two cultures.  He loves his new home, but a part of him longs for his old one.

The character originated in the 1940s and had a short run, but Gene is reviving this forgotten superhero with a new story.

It’s being released as a complete graphic novel this summer, The Shadow Hero, or you can grab digital releases as they come out (#4 of 6 comes out this week).

I discovered Gene Luen Yang earlier this spring thanks to the Festival of Faith and Writing. If his past work is any indication (especially Boxers & Saints and American Born Chinese), this one is going to be worth checking out.

Doug TenNapel’s Cardboard & Comic Book References

In Cardboard, the creator of Earthworm Jim (Doug TenNapel) gives us a graphic novel about cardboard creations that come to life. It’s full of heart and off-beat quips.

I’m slowly getting into comic books and graphic novels, thanks to Gene Luen Yang and G. Willow Wilson most recently, but also the longtime influence of Ben Edlund (The Tick!) and TenNapel.

One thing I’m loving about comics that I can also see being a big downside is the referential nature. Here’s a perfect example from Cardboard that I just loved:

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel: "Speak 'Friend'--then pull the trigger!"

Of course if you’re not down with Tolkien, you’ll be completely confused by the Lord of the Rings reference. But it’s kind of hilarious in the off-beat, quirky hero tone of Cardboard. Good stuff.