I've always been a little intimidated by graphic novels. Mostly because when I think of graphic novels, I always think along the lines of Batman and Superman comics and the sort of hard core fans that come with them and I don't think I'll ever feel comfortable in those conditions. But graphic novels aren't limited to superheroes. Graphic novels are just as diverse as regular novels and there are some really great ones out there and I'm only just discovering some of them.
Maus by Art Spiegleman - I believe this was the first graphic novel I read. And I read it back in January. It's amazing. I remember people raving about the book when I worked in Books Etc all those years ago and now I'm kicking myself that I waited so long to pick up Maus.
I really loved the illustrations - the Nazi cats and the Jewish rats, I thought that was really clever. At the same time as telling this heartbreaking story of his father's survival during WWII, there's also this complicated relationship between father and his new wife, and father and son and the effects that the war has had on all their lives. I've only read the first part of the story and I'm anxious to read the second part. I'd really like to get back to these characters, especially the sarcastic Vladek.
The Comical Tragedy or Tragical comedy of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean - I've always, always had a bit of a literary crush on Neil Gaiman but I've tried reading the Sandman graphic novels without any success so far. When I saw this book, I thought 'wahey, a stand-alone Neil Gaiman GN!' and did a little dance. My dance was short-lived. Because Mr Punch is one of the darkest, creepiest things I've ever read. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, my god, there is such darkness in your heads for creating this gruesome little story and accompanying it with those frightening illustrations! Gave! Me! Nightmares! I finished this and I swear to you, I had to watch scenes from musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music on youtube to tip the balance of the disturbing occuping my head. I will never again think of Mr Punch in the same way. *shudder*
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - This book was unexpected. I didn't know much about it beforehand, just that several people mentioned it as a starting place for first-time graphic novel readers. So I requested it on my book-swapping website and when it arrived, I thought, 'ooh.' And I read the little synopsis which read that the book is split into three parts, the first a folktale of sorts about a monkey who would like to be revered as a god; a Chinese boy who falls in love with an American girl; and a high school student who is embarassed by his Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. And if you think you know how these three stories go together, you'd be wrong. I promise. Like I said, American Born Chinese turned out to be something entirely different than I expected. It's very weird. And uncomfortable to read in parts, especially in regards to the depiction of Chin-Kee. It brings up issues of racism and stereotypes and is meant to make people feel uncomfortable.
I did like the overall message of being comfortable with who are and highlighting the racism that exists, but the strangeness of some of the storylines probably overshadowed that message for me.
And finally, we have Embroideries by Marjane Sartapi - Earlier in the year, I read Persepolis by the same author and loved it. So I made it my goal to hunt down some of Sartapi's other works to give them a try as well. And first into my house is Embroideries. And what a fun, little graphic novel this was. It relates the stories of Sartapi's (female) family and friends and neighbours. And specifically the stories that concern their love and sex lives. And the sex lives of a bunch of Iranian women is not something I thought I would ever read about, but it's refreshing to see such topics being openly discussed and it brings to light a lot of different issues, such as the importance of virginity and the ways in which women have been treated over different generations. The stories include happy and unhappy marriages, love, and keeping up appearances. It's mostly light and entertaining. I'm glad that I read it, but I wish it were longer and that some of the stories were told more in-depth.
So, there we have it. Four very different graphic novels. Now that I've read these, I'm desperate for more. Have you read any wonderful graphic novels lately? Leave your recommendations in the comments!