Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recognizing a Literay Art Form: Comics and Graphic Novels

Getting Graphic: Comics and Graphic Novels

When people first hear the word “comics” or “graphic novels” they often think of superheroes and
the comic strips found in newspapers. Superman and company certainly have their place in the history of comics, but there is also a larger universe within this segment of fiction that contains unlikely heroes, emotional storylines, and characters struggling with complex social issues. Graphic novels and comics have “grown up.” It is difficult to trace the exact moment when graphic novels and comics became more adult oriented, and opinions vary depending upon with whom you speak, but Alan Moore’s Watchmen hit the shelves in the mid’ 80s and that is a moment that accelerated a change in the industry.

Timing is everything and for Moore the release of Watchmen in the mid ‘80s was a game changer for the industry. Marvel and DC comics, while popular, had become boring and predictable. With Watchmen the public was introduced to an adult story that was complex and detailed. The story focuses on the concept of “what if” superheroes are real. This alone is a loaded concept because previously people took for granted that superheroes were “real” in comics, but this story takes archetypes we are comfortable with, like a police officer, and gives them superhero “powers.” In addition, Moore places these characters in a turbulent world where the heroes have to go into hiding, thus creating an anti-superhero world that is a result of fear and oppression. The story spans decades and reveals that these characters have been at the center of many major U.S. and world events. If you haven’t read Watchmen, try it—you will not be disappointed.

Since the release of Watchman, the graphic novel industry advanced and the fan base grew. More diverse stories are told in graphic novel format. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, released in the late 1990s, details Satrapi growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. The book transcends cultures. Many of the same angsts and issues adolescents struggle with during their formative years are similar, such as searching for identity and seeking approval/confirmation from parents as an individual. For Satrapi, being forced to wear the veil shows cultural differences, but at the same time shows similarities because despite the veil, Satrapi was a typical child growing up and seeking her identity. Aside from the cultural differences in her upbringing, are the common aspects of adolescence—rock music posters, struggling to understand death, independence, and defiance.

Satrapi’s Persepolis also spent 31 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.  Topping that, The Walking Dead Compendium by Robert Kirkman, et al, spent 135 weeks on the list and Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples spent 72 weeks on the best seller list.

This month we invite you to stop by our display and borrow a graphic novel or comic. You may be surprised in what you find!

Jon Hilbert, Aug. 2014

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