Posted by: Mish | May 29, 2010

Getting Graphic

From Weekly Geeks:

Do you read graphic novels or memoirs? Who are your favorite authors? Which books do you recommend? If you haven’t read any, why not?

Some people have the impression that graphic novels are glorified comic books, are unsophisticated or don’t qualify as “serious” literature. What do you think? If you track your book numbers, do you count a graphic novel as a book read?

Maus strip

Click to enlarge

Graphic novels and memoirs are a case-by-case basis with me. The subject and author really have to be of interest. Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II were the first graphic novels I read, back when I was a teenager. The illustrations intensified what was already a heavy story about his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. The last one I read was Alison Bechdel’s Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For last year. I’ve read a few pages here and there of her acclaimed series, but never from cover to cover so a GLBT reading challenge seemed like a good time to do so. A year after posting about them in response to similar questions, I still have yet to read Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V For Vendetta and Neil Gaiman’s the Sandman.

The debate between graphic novels and comics is so nuanced. I think of graphic novels having story lines that go from A to Z. Comics can and do have the same, but there are also a lot out there that tend to be random scene shots and go from A to B. As to not being “serious” literature, the same was (and still is) said about science-fiction and fantasy. If I’m reading a graphic novel/comic book I’m doing so from cover to cover and counting it in my tally of books read for the year.

The short list of memoirs that I have read (and liked) are Meatloaf’s To Hell and Back, Anthony Rapp’s Without You, Betty DeGeneres’s Love, Ellen, and Michael Crawford’s Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied With String. I haven’t read any since then, but in a previous post I said:

In general, I’m not inclined to read about a person’s life from cover to cover. I’ve enough to read without adding fine details and reminiscing to the pile. Much to my annoyance, I’m bombarded with celebrity drama. Personally, I don’t care if someone’s attire is “in fashion” or who they’re bonking. As they’re wont to do, exceptions occasionally arise, and there are a few biographies that caught my interest.

And because Terri said Shaun Tan is a particular favorite, I’ll mention that the author-illustrator of the Arrival and several other picture books has been nominated for a Hugo Award in the best professional artist category. The only reason I recognize the name is because of the nominee list, but with the awards and WorldCon approaching I’m learning more names and titles and adding to the dread pile o’reads. My sci-fi mode has also revved into high gear and probably won’t downshift until autumn.



  1. I had completely forgotten about Maus I and II when I wrote my post. I read those two way back in college (six years before I started my website).

    My full post is here.

  2. GNs are just not my cup of tea Mish. I really wouldn’t count them in my tally of books read for the year. I can see some people would though.

  3. I have read some and would continue to explore more..

    Weekly Geeks: Getting Graphic

  4. I have read only a few graphic novels, but Maus was excellent. And I was very proud of myself for being able to appreciate a genre about which I had previously been sniffy!

    Also enjoyed Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which is brilliantly satirical. V for Vendetta is on the shelf and I am looking forward to it. I think it would make a good companion piece to 1984…

  5. I’m really only sniffy about the books with the bloodsucking teenage baseball players and token werewolf.

    You’ve heard this already, but I need to re-read Maus. (If I keep saying it, it will happen.) I watched V for Vendetta a couple days ago, it had been awhile, and you’re right it would be. Watchmen is also on my list, thanks for the reminder.

  6. I think of graphic novels as being works published as a unified work in one go (or very few goes anyway).

    I think of comics as being published on a weekly or monthly cycle, then collected into trade paperbacks.

    Beyond that, I don’t make much distinction and I read both.

    At the moment I’m following The Walking Dead and Criminal. I have on the shelf yet to read Berlin and Epileptic, among too many others. I read mainstream stuff and arthouse stuff, I don’t read supers but only because they no longer speak to me – I’ve nothing against the genre.

    I’ve posted a couple of graphic novel reviews on my blog as it happens, but I only do so when it’s something people might otherwise miss (which actually makes no sense, the folk who read my blog aren’t generally into comics as best I can tell so I doubt they know the mainstream ones either).

    And I adore Fat Freddy’s Cat.

  7. V for Vendetta is pretty good.

    I actually liked the film, but the comic (perhaps inevitably) is better. It is very rooted in 1980s British politics though, as a lot of our comics back then were. There’s a foreword talks about that a bit, and it’s not vital to know too much about it to be honest it’s just extra nuance if you do.

  8. That’s a good way to differentiate between graphic novels and comics.

    I like V for Vendetta enough that I own it on DVD and watched it last week, actually. I’m not too familiar with British politics, but am always up for learning something new.

    I also have the spin-off graphic novels of Firefly in the queue.

    I’m all for posting about the less known. Thanks for making your presence known.

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