Up until this year, I had never read a graphic novel. Not that I hadn’t heard about any. In fact, I seemed to stumble upon the four pictured above quite often in my studies, whether it was teachers recommending ‘Maus’ in history or literature classes, or seeing ‘Persepolis’ at the Academy Awards, or watching reviewers gush about Craig Thompson and his memoir ‘Blankets’ on YouTube. I finally gave in and decided to investigate and see if these graphic novels were worth the hype. I knew they were like comics, which I read every Sunday as a kid (Garfield was my main staple), but there had to be something more to them, right?
Well, of course.
First of all, the novels I selected are all called graphic memoirs and they range on various topic. ‘Maus I’ and ‘Maus II’ were incredibly famous when they debuted and gave Art Spiegelman a huge career boost. The novels focused on his father’s experience as a Jew in Poland during WWII and contrasted it with the way his father was in his own adult life. Spiegelman was not afraid to expose the ugliness of both war and what it’s done to his father, never portraying him as perfect. The metaphor of Jews as mice and Nazis as hideous cats speaks volumes and gives the story it’s power.
‘Persepolis’ swept me off my feet. I loved the story and the narrator. It was told so simply, just using the colors black and white and it included powerful, thoughtful dialogue. It tells Marjane Satrapi’s story of growing up as a young woman with liberal values in Iran during the 1980s. It reminded me a lot of ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran,’ but I loved it’s youthful point of view.
My favorite of these novels was Craig Thompson’s ‘Blankets.’ It’s his coming-of-age memoir that details his first love, school, and the first time he started to question religion and his aspirations in life. It was such a simple story, but so emotional and beautifully told.
What I appreciated the most from these novels was how there wasn’t as much room for dialogue, but the story was still powerful. They could still turn a beautiful phrase even with limited space. I grew to appreciate how the authors evoked setting as well. Because of the visual component, they can do things that straight up novelists can’t, and I felt such a great sense of place with every turn of the page, as if 1980s Iran, 1930s Poland, and a snowy Minnesota landscape were all tangible. I read these four each in one sitting, able to breeze through the pages, but the experience required total emersion. I would resurface from those vivid worlds carrying the emotions and experience with me. Though I don’t see myself trading in the novels I cherish, I find that my appreciation for this art deepened with each passing panel.