Browsing my local bookstore last weekend, I stumbled across three volumes in Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking Sandman series.
“Do you have other graphic novels?” I asked the nearest clerk.
“Graphic novels?” She looked perplexed.
“Yeah,” I said, holding up a Gaiman cover. “Like these?”
“Oh.” More confusion. “I thought those were comic books.”
My point exactly.
Tell an adult story via text and sequential art, and chances are most people will see it as a comic book on steroids. But a graphic novel is much more than that. And these days it may not even be fiction: Modern graphic “novels” present all manner of true-life stories, from the plight of Saharan refugees (Journalism by Joe Sacco) to a gay woman grappling with her sexual identity (Fun Home by Alison Bechdel) to a Vietnamese family assimilating in the United States (Vietnamerica by G. B. Tran).
We’re a long way from supervillians intent on world domination here, people. Check out, for example, Will Eisner’s A Contract with God: It explores a man’s loss of faith after the death of his adopted daughter-a layered subject you might be surprised to encounter outside the works of Philip Roth or Louise Erdrich.
Equally intricate is Maus, in which Art Spiegelman interviews his father about his experiences as a Polish survivor of the Holocaust. The result is a blend of history, memoir, and fiction so powerful and complex it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 (a first for a graphic novel).
With new graphic novels hitting bookstore shelves each week, I hope to use this space to help you tour this undiscovered country. I hope you’ll join me for a wide-ranging dialogue about one of my favorite mediums: Which graphic novels do you like? And why?
Full disclosure: I’m a bit biased when it comes to artwork. If I like the art in a graphic novel, odds are I’m going to like the story line too. If I don’t like the art, well-even Dickens would have a hard time winning me over.
In my next post we’ll look at Chris Ware’s Building Stories, which many critics deemed one of 2012’s finest novels (of any kind). In the weeks after that we’ll page through works by Neil Gaiman, Joe Kubert, Hope Larson, Joe Sacco-and any others you’d like to see here.
Native Kansan John Reinhart is a comic-book devotee, foodie, runner, and cyclist. You can follow his reading life at bibliobloggin.blogspot.com or on Twitter @bibliobaggins.
Cover of the Kitchen Sink Press edition of A Contract With God with permission from the Will Eisner estate.
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