Thursday, 20 June 2013

Graphic Novels


Graphic novels have carved out a place in libraries in recent years.  With an increasingly wide spread of  genre, theme, and intended audience they are reaching more and more readers, but they do require a different reading technique.

Last year I attended a Book Club session at my local library, attracted by the topic “Graphic Novels”. I’m a keen but uneducated reader of this format and hoped to share some of my favourites and collect some suggestions for future exploration. The members of this group meet during the day in the Sydney suburbs and it’s probably no surprise that most members of the group were women, possibly with adult children of their own. They had not chosen the topic for the group, but each selected an item from the collection with no guidance and took it home to read and report back. The responses were mostly pretty negative. Some had trouble following the sequence of the panels at times. The selections had not been well made and didn’t suit the readers at all. The librarian with the special interest in graphics who was to lead the group wasn’t rostered on for the day of the meeting. Although I think the members didn’t mind stepping out and trying something new, they just put that month down to experience and had a laugh.

Because the pictures take the place of the bulk of the descriptive writing, the reader really does need to take time to consider each panel, and panels in relation to each other.  Pace can be slowed by panels with no text, and repetition of similar images provide links to different scenes. I still find emotions can be fully conveyed to the reader. I cried in Full Metal Alchemist  Volume 2 when the talking dog spoke to Edward and Alphonse, revealing the full horror of its creation just like I did at the end of The Book Thief (a title with some interesting graphic additions).

Graphic novels have taken time to settle in at libraries. There has been a fair bit of back and forth about cataloguing, especially where there can be so many contributors to the finished product.  Shelving can also be a bit polarising, but in most cases libraries seem to have settled on a separate section rather than interfiling. Adult content needs careful evaluation and management. All the styles in this format can be confusing – manga especially. I find it very irritating to discover something like In Odd We Trust has been shelved in with the manga simply because they are both printed in the same size paperback format, but I do appreciate the niceties aren’t obvious to everyone. I also am annoyed that I am unable to easily find everything in, say, Batman, as it isn’t shelved together because the different creative teams cause them all to have different call numbers, some end up with the title, some with the illustrator or whatever.  I’ve seen the volumes from the same series with three different call stickers, one for the illustrator, and one each for the two authors. Here is a link to a paper presented at ALIA 2004 which has lots of good information, still relevant.

At the Hallowed Ground Future of the Book event last year, Australian illustrator Queenie Chan made a point that graphics can sometimes be a hard sell. Creators of both these types of work might spend the same amountof time working on them, but don’t see the same return. People don’t want to pay the same for this format which can be read in an hour as they would for a text work that might be enjoyed over a week.  Reflecting on my own habits, I would say she is right on the money.  I get nearly all my graphic novels from libraries and keenly watch .

The link between graphic novels and comics and film is no news, and neither is a graphic version of a well known novel, but it can be intriguing to compare the different versions. I’m really excited for the film release of Ender’s Game later this year (trailer here). I read the series two or three years ago, and last year read the graphic treatment of the first novel in the series, on which the film is based. It was interesting because it presented the story from the perspective of another character. Maybe something like this could be a starting point for your own reading. Or perhaps an author that works in both media like Neil Gaiman  or Mike Carey? I also really enjoyed Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, a prose novel that began life as a graphic novel. In graphics, I read genres like horror,  in which I wouldn't normally have much interest. I love Locke and Key and wish that the much talked about pilot had been turned into a tv series, and am sad the series is set to end at volume 7.

I’d love to attend a library event for adult readers of graphic novels and manga. Until then, I’m waiting until my son is old enough so I can legitimately attend some of those teen manga workshops.


Lauren Castan

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