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ISSUE 118 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/8/2005

Graphic novels graitfy diverse readers

By Lisa Gulya
Variety Editor

Friday, April 8, 2005

Finishing a book in a matter of hours becomes more and more rare as we age. But as adults embrace graphic novels, they can breeze through hefty-looking hardcovers with ease.

These works, however, are often far from trivial visual titillation. Although such novels are presented in illustrated panels (as in comic books), the genre has expanded from its roots of chronicling superhero adventures.

The term “graphic novel” first formally appeared on the cover of Will Eisner’s A contract with God (1978), but was previously in use in the fan press and in other books. The Japanese version of the graphic novel is known as “manga.” Since the 1980s, graphic novels have been addressing weightier material and gaining more mainstream acceptance.

Perhaps the most well-known examples of the literary graphic novel are Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986) and Maus II (1992). The two works chronicle the story of Holocaust survivor Vladek Spiegelman, the author’s father, as well as the relationship between the two men. Maus, although it may appear simplistic in its representations of different nationalities – Jews as mice, Nazis as cats – was respected enough to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Spiegelman’s latest work, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), is about the author’s reaction to the loss of the World Trade Center. It was the top-selling graphic novel of 2004, a year in which graphic novel sales rose. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction ranked No. 8 and numerous manga titles also appeared on the list.

Another literary graphic novelist, Marjane Satrapi, writes memoirs about her youth amid the disarray of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In Persepolis (2003), she gives the reader a brief two-page introductory history lesson about Iran. The novel itself describes the impact the political turmoil has upon Satrapi and the people around her as she grows up in Tehran. Persepolis 2 (2004) begins in Austria, where Satrapi awaits calmer times in which to return to her native country.

Graphic novels have gained enough credibility to make their way into libraries, elementary schools and even college classrooms. Some sources point to challenges in using such works with younger students, citing the tendency toward violence in graphic novels and the problematic portrayal of women.

For positive female representations, readers can turn to Scheherazade: Stories of Love, Treachery, Mothers, and Monsters (2004). This anthology features 23 works of female cartoonists and graphic novelists; its purpose is to celebrate the bountiful talent of today’s young authors and illustrators.

In addition, graphic picture books cater to younger audiences. Jeff Smith’s Bone, 13 years of work recently released in one volume, has gained great popularity and frequent comparison to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Papercutz, a division of graphic novel publisher NBM, created comic adaptations of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books this year.

And of course, there is no shame in enjoying the unabashedly entertaining graphic novel. This year, in conjunction with the movie’s release, fans can enjoy Dark Horse’s relaunch of Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels, complete with new covers by Pantheon Books editor Chip Kidd.

St. Olaf even boasts a graphic novelist alumnus. Tyler Page ‘99 provides the true tale of his own encounter with love on the Hill in his two Stylish Vittles graphic novels: I Met a Girl (2002) and All the Way (2003). The series continues with Fare Thee Well, to be released in May, dealing with familiar subject matter for many students: a loved one going abroad.

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