Why Do I Love Graphic Novels (When I Was Never Really Into Comics)?

I was never a big comic book reader as a kid.

This was probably due to my mom’s irritation with any form of entertainment that used a woman’s body as a key selling point.

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Yes, I know, #NotAllComics. Photo courtesy of Public Domain

As an adult, I tried to start reading comics but I ran into the same issue I had with weekly released television: I couldn’t binge it. After finishing one issue of a series I would be suddenly and irrationally angry that I couldn’t read what happened next. By the time I finally had access to the next issue, I was so irritated about being forced to wait that I refused to put myself through the process again.

This problem is sometimes solved by bundled comics, but my few experiences with these generally left me unsatisfied. In some cases, it was because even the bundled versions still left me on some sort of cliffhanger (i.e. The Walking Dead), but sometimes it was because the writing was kinda terrible (Marvel’s Superhero Secret Wars). More than likely, I just gave up too soon (I’m hoping Evan will leave me a few suggestions in the comments that will change my mind), but generally speaking, my brush with comic books has left me wanting more. I wanted more characters who I could relate to, or writing that I could find more inspiring, or a more complex style of storytelling and/or illustrating.

Then I became an English major. The first few years of my undergrad shaped me into a bit of a pretentious wiener (when it came to what I considered worth reading), but by my last year, I realized I was getting book burnout. It’s more than a little upsetting to choose your major based on your love of books, only to come out the other end no longer wanting to read. Luckily, I stumbled across graphic novels along the way. Because of the way they incorporate visual storytelling along with the written, graphic novels have allowed me to lose myself in books again, even after feeling worn down by oceans of text.

My first introduction to graphic novels was Michael Yahgulanaas’ Red: A Haida MangaNot only does Yahgulanaas’ book tell an interesting story, but his artwork is mind-boggling. He encourages readers to tear out the pages of the book, since they can actually be arranged to form a large mural.

Red wasn’t the only graphic novel that appealed to my craving for alternative illustrations. I love how Craig Thompson’s Blankets uses small exaggerations in his drawings to capture the irrational beauty of falling in love. Or how Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis represents horrific events through images that read as emotional representations rather than physical ones.

But it wasn’t just the alternative style of illustration that I found so appealing, it was the kind of stories being told that also won me over. Many of the graphic novels I’ve devoured over the last year have been autobiographical, or at least written in an autobiographical style. While I have never in my life intentionally picked up an autobiography, I accidentally found myself pouring over Jennifer Hayden and David Small’s experience with cancer in The Story of My Tits and Stitches, or Alison Bechdel’s exploration of her father’s abuse, sexuality, and suicide in Fun Home, or Roz Chast’s experiences as her parents slowly died in Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?Even graphic novels that aren’t overtly autobiographical have a way of addressing struggles that are deeply personal to the author(s)/illustrator(s), like Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese or Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell’s The Silence of Our Friends

When I try to figure out what it is that sucked me into the world of graphic novels, I’m not sure I could identify one specific thing. Likely, it’s a combination of characteristics: an abstract bend in the artwork, the deeply personal stories, and the refreshing experience of illustrative storytelling after years of studying text.

Mainly, I’m just excited to love reading again.

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