Graphic Novels, Or How I Learned to Stop Judging and Start Loving Pictures

Posted on October 24, 2010

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Many children have discovered the joys of comic books; from superheroes like Batman and Thor to characters like the Sandman, comics have influenced countless readers.

I was different however.  Growing up I cut my literary teeth on works such as The Odyssey, Paradise Lost and Tom Sawyer.  I skipped the time in my life when Superman and Spiderman would have been forming my ideas of heroism in my little mind.

So when I picked up the first issue of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman I didn’t know what to expect.  Little did I know, that first volume would lead to my library card being overworked getting every graphic novel in library.

Before going on I feel a need to explain the difference between graphic novel and comic book.  In my basic knowledge a comic book is a small issue, usually no more than 20 pages, released on a regular basis.  Usually each release follows an overarching storyline in some way.

A graphic novel however is exactly what it sounds like; a standalone book with a central storyline and characters within that story. As some of the stories progress a more general storyline is developed, but each novel, for the most part, can stand on its own.

Since beginning my literary adventures in the graphic novel world I have experienced good stories, bad stories and everything in between.

Some of the best storytelling I have seen is in the group of graphic novels entitled Rex Mundi.  The main storyline follows a French doctor during the 1930’s where magic is still prevalent.  The murder of the doctor’s good friend sends him on a journey across France to locate the identity of his friend’s murder and gain some kind of resolution.

The story spans six books and each is packed with action and tight writing.  The story reads like a Dan Brown story.  Mixing history with the extraordinary is not out of place in any of these stories, and with a little willful suspension of disbelief, the stories are completely plausible.

1602 by Neil Gaiman is also a fun story.  It seamlessly blends modern day superheroes such as Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, Captain America and the X-Men into life in 1602.  The New World had just been settled, a power struggle was occurring in England and magic was being practiced despite a command by the Inquisition to cease all fantastical and heretical acts.  The story develops in a cool way, slowly introducing readers to familiar heroes in a whole new setting.  The climax, between a group of heroes and Otto Von Doom, culminates with the introduction of one final character and downfall of a regime.

The Invisibles is a series of graphic novels based around the development of psychic communities and their battling against people trying to destroy them.  The characters include a cross dressing man and a voodoo rap star.  This story is one that has to be experienced and can’t be explained.

Fables Vol. 1 also captured my attention.  This compendium collects the first two graphic novels into one collection.  Fables Vol. 1 tells the story of beloved fairy tales relocated from their stories into a magical apartment building in Uptown New York City.  After being kicked from their stories the ones that can pass for human are allowed to live among the humans of New York, but the animals from the stories have to move upstate to a farm.  There is a revolt by the fables because they feel the humans are not fighting to get their land back as they should.  The story is very interesting, and the personalities attributed to each of the fairy tales are believable and very entertaining.

I am glad I was exposed to the world of graphic novels and have even started my own small collection.  I encourage everyone I meet to go out and pick up a graphic novel.  These days there is one to interest anyone in any genre.  Classics such as The Jungle, fantasy such as The Legend of Drizzt, and humorous fiction like an all new story by Janet Evanovich are just some of the many graphic novels on the market right now, and every day more are being published.  For lovers of comics, I encourage you to continue reading and supporting the comic and graphic novel industry; and for those of you new to the world of graphic novels don’t be afraid, they aren’t as daunting or foreign as they seem from the outside.

Author’s Note: Neil Gaiman guest starred on Arthur this past week, and on it they discuss comic books and graphic novels among other things.  Follow this link to check it out and let one of the masters of graphic novels share his wisdom.

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