Off the Shelf: Graphic Novels 101, for the hesitant or dubious

If you read, then graphic novels are for you. They are the illuminated manuscripts of the present era, artistic works in every detail from the inking to the lettering, an embellished, imaginative space where words come alive in new ways.

The style of the artwork requires reader participation, teaching our brains to interpret information from “the gutter,” (the name for the space between the frames of a comic), and requiring us to use our knowledge of sequence and patterns to piece together parts of the story that aren’t explicitly drawn on the page.

It’s a good workout for our gray matter!

A graphic novel is different from a comic book because it’s longer, not serialized and usually tells a complete story. The term “graphic novel” simply describes a format, not a genre. Graphic novels can be fiction or non-fiction.

In this format drawing is used to tell all the kinds of stories you find in “regular” books. Visual style can run the gamut between “300” by Frank Miller, a gritty retelling of the battle of Thermopylae that is renowned for epic and shocking artwork, and “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh with hilarious Microsoft Paint style drawings.

To explore the world of graphic novels you can start with a subject, like a love of food (“Relish” by Lucy Knisley), caring for aging parents (“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” by Roz Chast) or spooky short stories (“Through the Woods” by Emily Carrol).

Some of my favorites are historical, often auto-biographical, like “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, a fascinating insider’s take on growing up as a young girl during the Islamic revolution in Iran. And “Maus” by Art Spiegelman is a black-and-white master-class in using cartoon artwork with animal characters to soften the blow of tragic atrocities, in this case the Holocaust.

If you want something on the lighter side, try “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson or the “Bad Machinery” series by John Allison.

Eventually you might search out creators like the talented Kelly Sue DeConnick or Brian K. Vaughn (his “Saga” series is gorgeous and riveting) who both churn out gold.

While researching this article I ended up with far too many recommendations, like “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” by Stephen Collins, which surprised me with poetical whimsy.

Fair warning: once you dive in to the world of graphic novels, it’s difficult to stop!

More information

If you’d like more recommendations check out a great article on litreactor.com called “10 Graphic Novels for the Literary Minded,” stop by your local Sequim Library at 630 N. Sequim Ave. or call 360-683-1161.

Liz Duval is a Customer Service Specialist at the Sequim Branch Library.

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