Graphic novels generally get a pretty bad rap from older audiences. Most of the people who bash them nowadays claim that they are too old for such childish things like men in tights, which is really a shame and an unfortunate stereotype. As Scott McCloud so eloquently puts it in "Understanding Comics"
“When I was a little kid, I knew exactly what comics were. Comics were those bright, colorful magazines filled with bad art, stupid stories and guys in tights.”
Of course, seeing as McCloud has now written several graphic novels himself, it’s safe to say that he’s changed his mind sufficiently, and I really think we should all follow McCloud’s example and appreciate graphic novels for what they are: Two art forms, those being writing and drawing, combined to make an ultimate visual and mental impact on the reader. Sure, some comics are aimed at younger audiences, but on the other hand, there are a number of them that are fully capable of sending strong and important messages about our past, present, and future all while dispensing thoughtful metaphors that can be explored in a pictorial sense just as much as a literal sense. In this course of this short essay, I’d like to convey five graphic novels that I really think you, as a potential reader, should give a shot.
“300” By Frank Miller
Most people consider Sin City to be Frank Miller’s masterpiece, but I disagree. Instead, my top pick from his spectacularly impressive body of work has to go to “300,” which tells the story of the brave King Leonidas, who sets out to destroy an entire Persian army with a meager 300 soldiers at his side. What I loved about this book was just how realistic and visceral the battle scenes appeared, even on paper. They are drawn in such a way that you can almost smell the blood coming off the pages and faintly hear the resolve of the Spartan army as they advance upon the legions upon legions of Xerxes’ men. There is also a strong emphasis on the themes of honor, duty, glory, combat, and victory, and how these ideas, when magnified many times over, can affect a man’s perspective and ideologies of life itself.
“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang
If there was ever a definitive argument for the ultimate tragedy of racism and cultural struggles that are ever-present in American youth, this graphic novel would be it. The book has three basic plots: One involving a Chinese legend of a Monkey King who strives to become a God, one of a high school boy, Jin, who feels increasingly uncomfortable with his Asian heritage, and one of an American boy, Danny, facing off against the ultimate stereotype: His cousin Chin-Kee. All three tales become gradually intertwined as the book wears on, giving way to the decisive conclusion of coming to accept who you really are as a person. It’s clever, well-written, funny, and it spreads a positive message that, in my opinion, should connect with a fair amount of both young and old readers.
“The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore
This is my favorite graphic novel of all time. Yes, technically, I’m going against my own word by including one of the infamous “Men in tights,” examples, but frankly, this graphic novel is so awesome that I just don’t care. Not only was this masterpiece an excellent example of great storytelling in it’s own right, but it also was a huge turning point for the character of the joker. In the 1960s and ‘70’s, the Joker was much more of a playful and fun Batman villain. It wasn’t until then (that is, 1988),that a more sociopathic and evil version of the character was introduced with the brutal shooting of Barbara Gordon and the subsequent mental torture of her father. You can clearly tell that this influenced later artists, such as Brian Azarello (“Joker”), and Scott Snyder (“Death of the Family”). Furthermore, this is also regarded as the definitive origin story for the Joker.
“Maus II” by Art Spiegelman
It was hard choosing between the first and second installments of Maus, since both used one of the most clever metaphors I’ve ever seen to subjectively convey a true tale of a dark past. But I decided that I liked the second one just slightly more for two main reasons. The first of these two entails the horrors of Auschwitz, which, while hard to look at, are morbidly interesting. The second and more prevalent reason is how Art Spiegelman himself expresses how the success of the first Maus book affected him, and the guilt that he feels for building an empire off the deaths of millions. It’s very personal, and made all the more poignant by the fact that this isn’t a fictional work. We’re taking a close look at real a man who, while trying to come to terms with his father’s horrid past, ultimately created more obstacles than he solved.
“Stitches” by David Small
Much like Spiegelman, this novel by David Small was created to confront a dark past. But unlike Spiegelman, Small has a different past to confront: His own. Specifically, his hellish childhood, ruled by a cruel and temperamental mother and an apathetic father and tainted by a cancerous tumor that takes his voice leaves a long black scar upon his neck. The thing that makes this book so special is the tone it is able to generate, which is one of pure bleakness. Reading this book from cover to cover is quite depressing, but, it’s also hopeful, as David pulls gradually himself out of the black hole his mother created and forges his own legacy based on his interests. Brimming with emotion and begging to be analyzed panel by panel, this is an absolute must read for any fan of Graphic novels.
So, with that said, what Graphic novels have you read? Have you read any of these? Are you a fan of Graphic Novels, secretly or otherwise?
Let me know in the comments section, fellow wikians, and until next time, SnakeTongue out.