Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sunday Wednesday Salon: On the Legitimacy of Graphic Novels

(I had intended to write this post on Sunday, for the Salon, but a three day migraine has me behind.)

It has been my experience that 100% of librarians get their underwear painfully twisted when handling a graphic novel. I mean, they must, else why the odd faces when I check out one? They handle them as if the novel is (or perhaps I am) going to contaminate them and they are going to suddenly find themselves sporting purple hair, piercing and a tattoo (like me). Naturally, when they start with that pained expression, what I'd like to ask is: "have you ever read one?" and if not, check the attitude.

I'm of the school of "I've you've not tried it, don't knock it" or (as my mother, quoting her Native American ancestors, says) "don't judge a man until you've walked a moon in his moccasins". That goes for everything: people, food, books. . . Yes, even the graphic novel genre.

I was a bit a of a skeptic, graphical novel-wise, myself. I had read two and just didn't care for either one; neither book (one of which was Jane Eyre, and not really suited to this medium, and the other was a supposedly factual retelling of Gettysburg, which was full of historical errors) left me with warm regards toward the graphic novel as a whole.

Morpheus, Gaiman's "Sandman"

Then, after years of being a Neil Gaiman fan, I decided to see just what the big deal was about the Sandman graphic novels that have given him such a devoted fan base.

I started the first chapter ("issue"), reading the Absolute Sandman Vol 1 around 10p, and finished up the twentieth chapter around 2a. After all those hours of hold that heavy (seven pounds!) grimoire, my neck and back ached, but my head was filled with the world of Morpheus and Gaiman's amazing mythology and atories, plus the way that the illustrators used the images as a vehicle to further the story. Suddenly, I was no longer leaning toward the negative as far as graphic novels were concerned. I saw the graphic novel as a medium that could tell a story in a way that no other medium can: visually with pictures, textures, nuances, fonts, as well as with the magic of words.

I've been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. Some of which are just plain comic books--not reaching the art (literary and artistically) of graphic novels. If I'd started with some of these, I'd never fallen in love with the graphic novel as a medium. I'd continue to be saying, "eh, I've tried them, they're not for me". I even wondered for a bit, if the Sandman, if Gaiman and his partners were the only ones that really got the medium, used its full potential, and if all the rest really were nothing but glorified comic book writers and illustrators, making adult versions of the children's picture book.

Thank goodness I read 300 and then Britten and Brülightly which restored my relatively new faith in the true literary and artistic merit of the graphic novel.

Britten and BrülightlyI will be recommending Britten and Brülightly to anyone reluctant to try the genre, because it's a love letter to the graphic novel medium.

Yes, I had always questioned the legitimacy of graphic novels as literature, but after such spectacular examples as these I've mentioned, I have reversed my opinion. As for the not-as-spectacular ones, they aren't any worse than a mass market paperback, and in some cases way better. When a graphic novel is good, when the story is fine and the art helps to pull the story along, stop it for a moment's pause, relay as much information as the words, then a graphic novel is worthy of a read by any of the high brow literary crowd.

As for the librarians, meh. There's only one nice librarian at that particular library anyway (yes, YOU, Donna!) and the rest are only slightly less rude about my choice of other novels, kids books, and classic movies than they are about the graphic novels, so. . . Hey, maybe it IS just me and not the actual graphic novels anyway.  And maybe, just maybe, if I keep checking them out one of the librarians will get curious and try one herself.  Hey, I said "maybe"!

~the Sunday Salon~

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