Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Graphic Novels: Reviews & Challenge Wrap Up (Literary Feline)

The Graphic Novels Challenge required that I read at least six graphic novels this year, and I had agreed to read eight. I managed to read one book for this challenge earlier in the year. My husband had slipped a copy of Criminal Volume 1: Coward onto my TBR pile a while ago, sure I would like it. He was right. And it was a great way to start off the challenge: a crime fiction graphic novel about a thief, caught in a tight spot.

Next up was Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, both books 1 and 2. Persepolis has gotten quite a bit of attention in recent years, and a movie was even made based on the books. In many ways, Persepolis is Marjane's coming of age story, of her finding her footing at a tumultuous time in her country as she grew from child to womanhood in Iran during the Islamic and Cultural Revolutions. And yet this book is so much more than that. The novel touches on the toll war takes on ordinary people; oppression, specifically that of women; and about the difficulties of being an immigrant, including the loneliness and hardships of starting over. It is also a story of endurance and strength, of hope and dedication.

What stood out for me most in the novel was how Marjane's parents stood up for her and supported her choices, even when they knew she was going to make mistakes. Their love for their daughter came through in the pages, as did her love for them in how she portrayed them.

This is a story that could have been told with just words, but it would have been a much longer book. The author's choice to tell her story through words and art is very effective. It is the combination of words and pictures that draw the reader in. The black and white artwork is bold and stark, fitting for the story told. The characters are well developed, their individual stories and feelings coming to life on the pages. I was moved to tears and laughter as I read the two volumes of Persepolis. This is one I cannot recommend enough.

* * *

I followed that up with Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, an autobiographical graphic novel. Fun Home is another book that is much more than what it appears to be on the surface. The book tells the story of Alison and her father, of their relationship before and after his death. She never quite felt like she understood him when she was growing up and it was only after she came to understand and accept that she was a lesbian that she learned her father had long hidden his own homosexuality, hiding it behind a wife and three children. Alison's story is tragic on many levels, but there is also humor and clearly love for her family etched in just about every frame. It was only after her father's death that she was really able to know the man. The reasons surrounding his death raised their own questions and doubt in her. While her mother chose to stay with her husband all those years, it was quite clear that she too had suffered, and her pain and resentment emanated off the pages.

An aspect that stood out for me throughout the novel was the juxtaposition of Alison and her father. How similar and yet different they were. Alison could not help but compare herself to her father, looking for commonalities and perhaps answers about her own identity. This was brought out in both words and through the artwork in a very natural way.

Alison Bechdel's artwork was very telling. She captured the emotions of those in her book. Much like I found with Persepolis, the author's story could very well have been told solely in words, but it has a much more powerful and meaningful effect told in graphic novel format.

One facet of the book that will attract book lovers is Alison and her father's love of reading. At one point in the book, while describing her parents, the author writes, "I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms." [pg 67] True to her word, Alison Bechdel's entire book is full of literary references and comparisons. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "I didn't understand why we couldn't just read the books without forcing contorted interpretations on them." [pg 200] I am sure many of us can relate to that sentiment.

Both Fun Home and Persepolis deal with heavy topics. In both cases, the authors open themselves up to the readers, sharing their painful stories. These are books well worth taking the time to read, even by those who shy away from reading graphic novels.

* * *

I did make one substitution for the Graphic Novels Challenge. Instead of reading Aleksandar Zograf's Regards From Serbia, which I still plan to read at some time in the future, I picked up the copy of Dave Sim's Judenhass, which my husband sneaked in between the graphic novels I had yet to read.

Judenhass is a different kind of graphic novel. It is more message than story. I am really not sure what to say about this one. It is powerful and moving, and it made me feel angry and ashamed for the world's part and lack of action during one of history's most terrible moments, that being the Shoah, or Holocaust. Judenhass is Dave Sim's remembrance not only to the horrors of the time, but the prejudices and ill will that lead up to it. The author writes that given the views and prejudices about Jews for so many years, centuries even, the Shoah, was, in fact, "inevitable." The images throughout book are haunting; the quotes from respected as well as those not so respected historical figures, including political leaders, authors, and other well known people say it all.

In the Acknowledgments and Bibliography section, Dave Sim writes:
Unfortunately in this age of diminishing attention spans it seems to me that there is also a need for distillations of the facts that allow even the slowest reader and the most reluctant teacher to comprehend and convey some measure of the enormity of the Shoah and the profound level of enimity against Jews which made it possible. I hope that JUDENHASS--with roughly a 25-minute reading span--will serve that purpose.
It most certainly does.

* * *

I followed the serious reading material up with something lighter. Andi Watson's Slow News Day was the perfect segue. A wannabe TV sitcom writer takes a job as an intern for a small town newspaper in England. The newspaper is struggling and advertising is slowly edging out the actual news stories to try and keep the paper afloat. Katherine Washington is hoping her experience at the paper will provide insight for a project she is working on. She is teamed up with the Wheatstone Mercury's sole newspaper reporter, Owen, who takes his job very seriously. It is no surprise that he resents the young woman's encroachment on his turf, especially someone who is not as dedicated to the job and the outcome as he is. Both comic and touching, Andi Watson's novel is delightful and entertaining.

* * *

Next up was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty. This particular graphic novel picks up where the television series left off. Where once she was the only vampire slayer on earth, she is now one of many, and she has taken it upon herself to help train and organize those like her to fight demons and vampires. In this novel, Buffy and friends are threatened by an old enemy and an army that want Buffy dead. With Joss Whedon at the helm, it was no surprise that the witticisms and humor from the TV show came out in the graphic novel as well. Light, action packed and fun, it was good to visit with Buffy, Willow and Xander again, if only for a short while. Even in the comic world, Willow is the witch no one should dare mess with.

I finished off the graphic novel challenge with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley. Set just before the turn of the 20th century, six extraordinary literary figures are united to fight against an evil that threatens to level England. I had seen the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen years ago and was curious what the graphic novels might be like. This first installment proved to be a rollicking adventure. Mina Murray of Dracula fame held her own amongst the men she fought along side: Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were filled with colorful artwork and stories that were impossible to put down. They were a cap to an enjoyable graphic novel adventure.

* * *

The Graphic Novels Challenge gave me the opportunity to finally read those graphic novels I had been meaning to get to for some time. I wish I was better equipped to discuss the artwork of these novels in a way that they deserve. While words and art both tell the story in these books, the artwork itself is what most stands out and makes these stories what they are. The images on the pages say so much more than words could ever say. I admire the artists and their ability to tell a story through art so effectively.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi (translated by Mattias Ripa & Blake Ferris)
Pantheon, 2003
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 153 pgs

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon, 2004
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 187 pgs

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel
Mariner Books, 2007
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 232 pgs

Judenhass
by Dave Sim
Aardvark-Vanaheim, 2008
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel);
Slow News Day
by Andi Watson
SLG Publishing, 2002
Fiction (Graphic Novel); 160 pgs

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home
by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse Books, 2007
Fantasy (Graphic Novel); 136 pgs

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One
by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, and Bill Oakley
America's Best Comics, 2000
Fantasy (Graphic Novel); 192 pgs

43 comments:

Erik de Graaf Comics said...

I absolutely agree about Persepolis and Fun Home. Didn't read Judenhass yet. (Can't get in Holland yet). Nice blog also. I will come back.
If you like visit my blog please:

http://www.erikdegraafcomics.blogspot.com/

Kate Diamond said...

Ah! I want to teach "Persepolis" in my high school World Literature course. Too bad our funds are so frozen right now I can't even buy whiteboard markers, let alone new books...

always said...

I was reading ur blog posts and found them to be very good.. u write very well..and the graphic novels review was incredible.We have a forum at alwaysindian.com for all the like-minded indians and would definitely like you to join us and share your insights with us.
regards,
alwaysindian

Miss Remmers said...

Having just obtained an interest in graphic novels (due to a class all about GN that I took last semester), I really enjoy find out about what you are reading. One of my goals is to try to find a graphic novel that would be suitable for the high school level - mean limited to no sex etc. But I'm having a hard time finding one that fits that criteria. Do you know of anything?

If you do, I'd like to invite you to be a guest reviewer for my own blog. (It's exciting I promise). Please check it out at the link below. If you are interested please email me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Miss Remmers

http://reagan-review.blogspot.com/2009/06/looking-for-guest-reviewers.html

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