There is a quiet corner of the bookshop that is starting to emerge. If it exists, it is a special place, one that is noticed from the corner of the eye and viewed with trepidation or exultation. It is a corner that can hold its own in a shop dedicated to its craft. It is for the geeks, the kids, the boys, the outsiders. Or is it?
I was always against comics. Well, not really against them, but I wasn’t a fan. I just didn’t think they were my thing. I’ve always wanted to be challenged as a reader, wanting to pick up the most complex stories that would push me to my limits. Comics and graphic novels are just a bunch of pictures with some dialogue, right? And I grew out of illustrations a long time ago.
I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong (most of the time), and on this occasion I was very much in the wrong. There is something special about graphic novels.
Far from being a niche movement, graphic novels are emerging as valid forms of literature that explore themes and concepts in as much, if not greater, detail than their standard novel counterparts. With ideas ranging from the traditional superhero saving the city to intergalactic wars involving aliens with TVs for heads, there’s a slice of something for everyone. There are explorations of political turmoil and tragedy, such as the renowned Maus. There are tales of personal identity and memoir – something that seems to be expanding in the graphic novel format. There are some hilarious volumes too. And then there are the really dark tales that take a twist and leave you shivering. The Walking Dead was a graphic novel before it was a hit TV show.
Alongside the blending of visuals and text, graphic novels also do something that publishers are attempting in the digital sphere to varying success: blending the brevity and intensity of cinematic and digital presentation with, you know, actually being a book.
So much of what is explored through the study of digital publishing is the idea that we, with the birth of the internet, are limiting our attention spans. We constantly check our phones and feeds in between those breaks we have from the long, rushed hours of work. Graphic novels, in their structure, are a perfect balance between wanting entertainment, wanting to read, and not having a lot of time. A full volume of work (take Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) can take around an hour to read in one sitting. These volumes are then broken up into their individual issues; usually five or six issues in a volume means a ten-minute reading slot that feels more TV-episodic than book chapter.
The visual nature of the graphic novels also lends itself to easy and entertaining consumption. What I once believed was just a bunch of illustrations, is a compendium of beautifully crafted images that create a story. There are so many talented artists involved in these books that it’s no wonder people are so attracted to them – they are works of art in their own right.
It’s a big tangle of ideas and concepts that form the intrigue with graphic novels and comics in general, and why I think they are becoming more widely read. No longer confined to the famous geek-dens of comic book shops, graphic novels are entering our highstreet bookshops with their own sections that are browsed by a wide range of people.
*Side note: if bookshops could arrange graphic novels the way comic bookshops do rather than whatever it is they have going on right now, that’d be great. Alphabetising them on a standard shelf looks awful and is not helpful.*
I’m definitely falling in love with graphic novels, and will be reviewing them here.
Have you been bitten by the graphic bug? What titles would you recommend?