Sunday, March 18, 2007

more on graphic novels

Graphic novels have been increasing in popularity and rather than being any threat to prose novels they may reinforce reading habits for some. I think graphic novels invite far more introspection than a completely passive diversion, like TV, and they invite art appreciation right along with story participation. Good graphic novels have a clean-cut similarity to attractive block prints of modern art . The coupling of art forms and expressions to the story in progress can be intriguing.

One of the best I’ve read is “Blankets,” by Craig Thompson. It’s an engrossing memoir of a young man who has been raised in a severely strict, fundamentalist Christian family, and who meets an attractive young woman, Raina, in a Christian summer camp. Raina is a warm, beautiful, liberal-minded individual who is very popular among her similar-minded friends. She intrigues Thompson, and invites him to spend a couple weeks of his winter break visiting at her home in another town. Her family has some internal disconnects, but Thompson falls in love there with Raina, and although it becomes clear it can’t last beyond this visit, he grows and matures in ways he couldn’t have imagined before. The artwork is great, and the graphic unfolding of the story is wonderfully done.

More recently I enjoyed American Born Chinese, by Gene Luan Yang. This is a handsomely done graphic novel about a young boy of Chinese immigrant parents growing up in America, mostly centered around his life and friendships in school. Episodes from the Chinese Monkey King fables are interspersed in the story, and they seem very much to belong. Jin Wang is so intent on being "American" that for a part of the book he's drawn as Western-looking boy named Danny, though we don't quite know what's going on yet. Danny's visiting cousin from China, a crude stereotype, mystifies us, and is an embarrassment to Danny in front of the all-American girl he idolizes. The threads come together when the Monkey King comes to visit Jin and convinces Jin he'll be a happier person if he'd just be himself. Besides the great graphics, it's a well structured story.

I’ll have to mention just one more, Amelia Rules-The whole world’s crazy,” by Jimmy Gownley. It’s a MG graphic novel, kids playing at being superheroes, and coping with life at school and at home. Story is, of course, a lot less sophisticated than the older books discussed, but the graphics are neat and appealing.

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