Thursday, June 12, 2014

New to Graphic Novels? Start with These

My first introduction to the graphic novel was Maus, Art Spiegelman's gripping, visual representation of what his father, a Polish Jew, experienced as a survivor of the Holocaust. Spiegelman's award-winning graphic novel was assigned reading for a college course when I was an undergraduate. After I graduated from college, I really began to sink my teeth into the genre, picking up now-classic titles such as Ghost World by Daniel Clowes and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
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All three of these graphic novels — Maus, Ghost World, and Persepolis — are among the "25 Essential Graphic Novels" as chosen by Brie Hiramine in an article for Flavorwire. Calling Maus "beautifully executed," Hiramine says, "The entire tale is depicted in allegorical form — the Nazis are cats, the Jews are mice — but it never feels like a shtick." About Ghost World, she says, "Perhaps you've seen the Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch movie of the same name, but Clowes' original provides a quieter depth to this wispy tale of disaffected youth, complete with perfectly sparse illustration." I'll be honest in saying it was the movie, which also starred Steve Buscemi, that got me interested in the graphic novel. Ditto for Persepolis, which Hiramine explains "depicts Satrapi's life in Iran from age six to 14, during and after the Iranian Revolution." I read both Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return while commuting, and there were moments when I was so moved that I had to fight to keep myself from crying in front of my fellow riders.

Other graphic novels that Hiramine calls "essential" include Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine, Black Hole by Charles Burns, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez, The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman, Blue Angel by Julie Maroh, and My New York Diary by Julie Doucet. Speaking of Tomine, I've become re-interested in his Optic Nerve series, which began as mini comics that he published himself starting in 1991 (Drawn and Quarterly began publishing them in 1995). I really love his aesthetic and storytelling, and I enjoyed attending personal appearances of his during which he discussed his work. At some point, I'm going to purchase a few of his collected works, including Scrapbook: Uncollected Work 1990-2004.

Reading "essential list" articles such as Hiramine's, it's always interesting to look at the comment section, just to get people's opinions on what works were left off the list. A few commentors felt that Moore's Watchmen should have been included on Hiramine's list of "25 Essential Graphic Novels"; others noted that the works of Harvey Pekar (American Splendor and My Cancer Year, with Joyce Brabner) were blatantly missing as well. Others even questioned if some of the titles on the list could even be considered graphic novels. Indeed, there is a fine line between graphic novels and comic books. According to, "While a comic book will tell a story over many issues, graphic novels more often have their storylines wrapped up in only one or two books." I'm content with that definition; I'm also content with not quibbling over whether or not Hiramine's selections are all truly graphic novels. All I know is that they're good reads.

For all "25 Essential Graphic Novels," see Brie Hiramine's article at THIS LINK.

PS. My most recent graphic novel purchase is the award-winning Drama, by Raina Telgemeier. As soon as I finish the book for my book club, I'm starting it!
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