Is it art? Is it a novel? When comics grow up.

What has:
gorgeous illustrations on every page
   — a beginning, middle, and end
   — thoughtful content meant for adult understanding?

They’re called graphic novels.  They are everywhere, and growing in popularity, and if you’re dismissing them as “comics” or “just for kids,” you are making a grievous error and shorting yourself.

For instance, next time you’re in the library, pick up one of these and page through it.  See if, like me, you’re intrigued and engaged by the beautiful art and powerful messages of these novels.

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, is a novel without words — literately.   It is the most powerful story about immigration I’ve ever read, and Tan does it by inventing a completely new world in which to explore the concept.  Because the reader cannot attach his or her ideas to a particular American ethnicity’s experience, she or he are free to experience the book in a whole new way.

Then there’s Maus, a set of two graphic novels which are early classics in this young genre.  The art here is stark and messy, which is appropriate because the topic is the Holocaust.  The author, Art Speilgman, won countless awards for this book, which is on one level the story of a narrator interviewing his aging father, who was a concentration camp survivor.  On another level, the narrator becomes so involved in the story that he draws an ongoing cartoon of a terrible conflict between cats and mice.

The variety of graphic novels these days is awesome.  They are published for every age level.  They include biographies (we have one of Nelson Mandela), history (we have Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, a two-volume novel of her experiences growing up in Iraq), and issues from the tragic to the light-hearted (look at The Tale of One Bad Rat, by Bryan Talbot; Another Chance To Get It Right, by Andrew Vachess; and Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughn.

Let me know what you think!
                                –Mary Beth



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