Aug 11, 2013 0
Over the past few years I’ve started reading graphic novels (and nonfiction) now and then, in a small way. Some folks say this is just another term for comic books, for those who don’t want to admit to reading comic books, but I don’t agree. I have nothing against comic books, although I was never particularly into them as a kid, but I think the goal of a graphic novel or memoir is different: more focused on the text (although using the illustrations to augment the words in creative ways); more serious (complex narratives and/or social scrutiny); more likely to be nonfiction; and less likely to be serialized.
In any case, here is what I have on my bookshelf now and below are some thoughts for future reading (aimed at myself as much as anyone else):
- Perhaps the two classic examples in this genre are Persepolis and Maus. The former is a memoir (in two parts) about a girl’s childhood in Iran, and the latter is an historically accurate allegory about the holocaust, also in two installments. Both fairly quick reads (compared to ‘standard’ books) and very good.
- I just picked up and started what is apparently another real classic of the genre: Watchmen. Here the subject matter (masked heroes) is much closer to comic book history, but it is a real novel: long and intricate, mixing comic-style panels with straight text from one of the character’s [fictional] memoir. It was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 best english-language novels since 1923. Assuming I continue to like it, I am also very intrigued by Alan Moore’s other books: V for Vendetta but especially From Hell about Jack the Ripper.
- My first introduction to the genre was the Unknown Soldier series (four short volumes). It is about a doctor who becomes a killer (for the side of good, sort of) during the civil war in northern uganda. Having worked in that area I was mostly attracted to the subject matter, and the plot may not be as good as some of the others listed here, but the use of the medium (some things can only be conveyed by mixing or alternating words and pictures) is probably the best I’ve seen.
- Somewhat related: I also own (but have not yet read) Abina and the Important Men, a “graphic history” of a 19th-century west african woman, based on court transcripts.
- Finally, I recommend Joe and Azat, a comical travel novella based loosely on the author’s peace corps adventures in turkmenistan and a light fun read. The last book on my shelf is The Winter Men, which was a fine read (and e.g. much more impressive visuals than Joe and Azat) but didn’t stand out.
And after doing some googling, here is a possible list of where to go next in this space, in addition to anything above:
- Blankets: semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in an evangelical family in wisconsin
- The Rabbi’s Cat: about a philosophically-inclined talking jewish cat in 1930s algeria
- Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth: less plot, but highly inventive and effective visual effects such as diagrams
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic: memoir of a funeral home, sexuality, and literature
- 300: greece and persia, honor and loyalty, history and fiction
- The Sandman: multi-volume definitive and epic tale from master Neil Gaiman
- Palestine: “graphic journalism” about the early 90s intifada
- plus Tintin and Asterix: the belgian and french originals!