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A Literary Snob Reads Graphic Novels

I feel no shame in letting my geek flag fly. I wear my retro t-shirts with pride. I carry my copy of Voyage of the Dawn Treader in my backpack. I dressed up to attend the Harry Potter premier – schoolgirl skirt, cloak, and Gryffindor tie included. After years of trying very hard to conform, I’ve finally come to embrace my nerdiness.

But I’ve got a friend who outdoes me in every spectrum of the geek scale. For every classic I’ve read, she’s read two. For every retro t-shirt I own, she has a whole drawer full. For every bad 80s movie I’ve seen, she’s has the blu-ray/DVD special edition. I can’t win.

This friend of mine is especially nerdy when it comes to comics. Now, I’m an English major – which, by definition, means that I can be a bit of a snob. And I will admit that I had a somewhat snobbish view of comics. In my mind, authors of graphic novels were basically contributing to the modern-day culture of kids who can’t focus long enough to read real books without pictures. But my friend urged me to pick up a few graphic novels for myself – and because I respected her epic nerdiness, I agreed.

Basically, I was an idiot.

Today’s graphic novelists aren’t hacks. They aren’t no-talent cartoonists hoping their cute pictures will make up for a crappy plot. Today’s graphic novelists marry literature and art to create a beautiful new media that, frankly, doesn’t get enough credit.

Certainly graphic novels are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve never tried to read one, I’d definitely recommend that you head to your local library and browse for awhile. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Surrogates by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
The art in this novel is deceptively simple when compared with the intricate world-building and plot. The story is enhanced by the "documents" included after every chapter - articles, advertisements, and even minutes from a courtroom.

Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Both the movie and the book are hilarious. Read the book. Watch the movie.

Marvel Illustrated Classics
For those with sophisticated literary taste, Marvel has a series of "illustrated classics" - The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, etc. In my opinion, this. Is. Brilliant. The graphic novel versions of these works offer a new and beautiful look at classic literature. I'd love to shove these books into the hands of a few reluctant readers, because I guarantee they'd devour Oscar Wilde without even realizing that it was a potential school assignment.

Mouse Guard
Beautiful, beautiful artwork combined with fun, exciting animal adventures. Imagine the Redwall series illustrated and peppered with legends about the animal kingdoms. It's gorgeous and trhilling and totally unique, and you should read it. Like, immediately.

So there you go. A starting point on your journey through the world of graphic novels. Enjoy, and wallow in your newfound nerdiness.
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  1. I'm a huge geek too and proud of it. I haven't read a lot of graphic novels outside of the X-Men and Neil Gaiman's Sandman series though so thanks for suggesting some. The Surrogates sounds good and I'd love to read Scott Pilgrim since I adore the film.

    Thanks for finding me some new reads!

  2. I'm in the boat with Marie Silver (what's up, name sister!). I was a huge comic geek growing up. I bought the plastic sleeves and cardboard backing and threw fits if someone breathed on my comics. A myriad of X-Men titles boosted my vocabulary, incensed my love of forbidden/doomed romances, and generally made me more creative. My opinion, of course.

    Thanks for the suggestions! Love the blog. :)

  3. I always found that comic books were some of the best places to find strong female figures when I was growing up. They weren't just hot ladies with tight suits - the writers fleshed them out and made them flawed, as well.

    I'll second Marie's mention of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. There's some absolutely amazing storytelling, worldbuilding and mythos involved. It's a fantastic read.

  4. I am in awe by comic book writers. They put such deep underlying messages in the story, and it blows my mind.

    I haven't read many. I read Watchmen, The Umbrella Academy, and a little bit of X-Men. (Admittedly, I'm a geek when it comes to X-Men.) I'll have to look into some of those other suggestions. Especially Scott Pilgrim, since I loved the film.

  5. I love graphic novels! Not only for myself but for my elementary students. Some of my favorite adult series include Castle Waiting, Fables, and Sandman. I wonder if the movie Surrogates was based on the graphic novel? I need to read Scott Pilgrim because I loved the movie.

    Thanks for sharing your geekiness! :)

  6. I've been shouting this for a while over on my blog; there's a ton of great content out there in graphic format. It's kind of win/win. You get to look at beautiful art AND read a great story.

    I'd recommend Fables and Blankets (Craig Thompson). For YA aficionados, particularly the latter.

    *Geek flag flapping in the South Texas breeze*

  7. I've not read a lot of graphic novels either, but my best friend is an illustration major and so we are going to try and write one together. To prepare me for this, she gave me Craig Thompson's Blankets (which is fabulous) and everything Marjane Satrapi ever wrote (Persepolis, Persepolis 2, and Chicken With Plums).

  8. Kristen - yes, the Surrogates movie was absolutely based on the graphic novel (although in my opinion the novel is better. But isn't that usually the case? :D)

  9. My husband got me turned on to graphic novels. I guess I was always interested, but there were so many that it was hard to know where to start and which ones were worth my time. But, when we started dating I started working my way through his shelves. Good stuff!

  10. I, too, was an English major, and shared your snobbery when it came to graphic novels right up until I started working with teens in a public library. Then I realized how foolish I was being. I read through the entire Scott Pilgrim series recently, and I'm also completely hooked on Fables. Other must-reads in my opinion include Maus, Bone, and Watchmen. Mouse Guard also sounds great, I'll have to give that a try next!

  11. If you want to keep flying your lit snob flag high, check out Gareth Hinds GORGEOUS new version of The Odyssey. Totally beautiful, worthy of the epic story, and altogether fab. I just checked his version of Beowulf out of the library - book snobs FTW!

  12. Thanks for the recommendations. I was an English major/literary snob too, even as I was selling graphic novels, working in a bookstore with a massive section devoted to them and to comics. I read works like The Sandman on the sly during my lunchbreaks. Now the form has really taken off, and I have such an appreciation for this form of storytelling. My own writing has benefited -- become more economical, visual, and action-oriented -- as a result of dipping into this genre. I also found reading Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics helped me, a non-artist, understand what I was really looking at and the level of thought and detail that goes into creating graphic novels.

  13. I, too, did not appreciate the comic book medium until about three years ago. I now work for a graphic novel publisher called Campfire. Feel free to check us out -

  14. I've always loved comics and graphic novels. Highly recommend Blankets by Craig Thompson. It's pretty much my go-to book when it comes to showing people the capabilities and depth of graphic novels.

  15. Yes! One of us, one of us...
    (sorry 'bout that)

    I did my degree in English Lit and I've always loved comics.

    Like your good self, I was a touch snobbish about admitting I read them even though I loved them.

    To me they were a bit of a guilty pleasure back when I was studying 'the classics', but over time, I forgot to care about it and now that inner geekiness has emerged to form a full and crispy outer geek shell.

    I suppose a testament to comic books and graphic novels is the trend for Hollywood to make so many movies of them.

    Must admit that in December I blogged about comparing comics to children's books (in a good way of course).


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