Graphic Novels: New to Me


Reading a graphic novel is something I’ve been intending on doing for a few years, but haven’t until this week in preparation for seeing Craig Thompson at the Skirball Center last night (more on that in another post).  It’s been a bit of a process.
Previous Inclinations
When I first heard about this whole “graphic novel” concept a few years ago (I know they’ve been around longer, they had just never been on my horizon) I initially associated them with comic books, which I’ve never gotten in to (except Archie for like a month  back in like third grade).  Incorrectly, I also believed that they were directed more towards men. I was always concerned with the story, thinking they were basically just "picture books." Once my husband started buying them I figured that I perhaps was wrong, given that he's just as judgmental about books as I am. Around the same time they began entering our home they seemed to start popping into the mainstream, especially after the success of The Watchman. Eventually my negative attitude morphed more into uncertainty and perhaps some sort of literary fear. I don’t naturally pick up on visual intricacies and have always preferred words to pictures. Graphic novels were definitely outside of my comfort zone.

Biting the Bullet
After signing up to attend Thompson’s lecture at the Skirball with my husband, who is a huge fan, I decided that this would be a great time to bite the bullet and read Habibi, which was the focus on the presentation. My initial reaction was that shock- I read the first fifty pages in barely a half an hour. But, on the other hand, I didn’t feel quite comfortable with the process. I frequently felt like I was missing something, given the fact that I was focusing more on the words and less on the pictures, when are equally important.
I will say that I was incredibly impressed with the drawings- this is definitely no Archie and Jughead! I was probably most impressed with the patterns, which he said he created with the help of per-made patterns, computers, and a light boxing technique.
Final Thoughts
I really, truly appreciated the experience of reading a graphic novel, even more so that I had the opportunity to hear the creator talk the same day in which I finished the book. My past assumptions as far as the simplicity, masculinity, and lighthearted nature were absolutely incorrect. Habibi was thematically and symbolically complex, extremely feminine, and quite serious.
Despite my newfound admiration, I do still prefer “regular” novels, though.  I would like to one day read Thompson’s other graphic novel, Blankets, as well as Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home (I hear her new one is great too).  
I do think that graphic novels aren’t simple a fad; they’re appearing on the syllabi of prestigious universities (Go Bruins!) and constantly finding spots on “best of” lists.
And now I can cross something off my New Year's Resolutions list- the 2011 one. Oops. 

4 comments:

  1. I will have to check it out! I read one graphic novel, and I loved it. It is called Persepolis. I felt like I zoomed through it, too.

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  2. I used to think I wouldn't enjoy graphic novels. Then I tried one and now love them. Like you, I still prefer traditional novels though. It seems there are few graphic novels that really interest me. But I like reading them because they are fast and easy to finish, especially if I'm in a reading slump. Makes me feel like a speed-reader! :)

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  3. I am so happy you didn't hate your first graphic novel experience. Speaking as the comic book nerd that I am I must say comic books have evolved A LOT since Archie. There are some great female driven comics that do not always involve fighting crime or having the super power of a radioactive planet or spider.

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  4. Have you read Maus, or is this your only graphic novel ever? Maus is one of the best books I've ever read about the Holocaust and, as a Jewish Studies minor, that's saying something. I tried desperately hard to read Watchmen but I just couldn't get past the brutal violence and the boobaliciousness (yes that's totally a word).

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