A flurry of positive buzz at the end of 2012 made Building Stories by Chris Ware one of the most talked about books of the year (at least, on the geeky book review blogs we librarians read). Certainly the most ambitious and successful graphic novel I’ve ever read, Building Stories is very much a novel: a story told in a visual medium that takes several hours of cooperation between your brain and your eyes to interpret. There are words – lots of them – in addition to the illustrations, and one could not survive without the other. There are two main characters: an unnamed woman living in Chicago and the three-story building she lives in. Each of the particles of this novel (it’s printed on a collection of 14 different paper products, ranging from hardcover book to cardboard broadsheet to flimsy pamphlet) zooms in on a short period in her life or the lives of the other people in the building, which provides a delicate but firm link between all the characters. There’s no defined order (which is intentional), so you sift through the vignettes of her life in much the same way you sift through your own memories: not sequentially, or always with a logical connection from point A to B, but arbitrarily and unpredictably.
At any moment in your reading, you can see the woman in various states of dissatisfaction, from the crushing loneliness of single life to the dispirited letdown of motherhood in the suburbs. It’s not a happy book, but there are moments of levity – you’ll be charmed by the short interlude of Branford, the Best Bee in the World, whose brief bee life is indeed connected with the human characters. Watch out for the scene where the woman finds a copy of Building Stories itself: a moment of humorous, metafictional, mildly unsettling genius that (like the book entire) asks some very real questions about the physical and emotional nature of books.
Persepolis is an exciting, heartfelt, unique story told in words and pictures; it deals with the Islamic revolution and how exile and oppression affect the individual. If you don’t know anything at all about the history of Iran (like me), you may have to supplement your reading with the occasional jaunt into Wikipedia, but it’s so worth it to put a little effort into this excellent book – it will give you much more in return. The action centers around a free-thinking Iranian family, author Marjane Satrapi and her mother and father, living in Iran during the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic republic. Marjane, the author, illustrator, narrator, and main character, fills in the details of the revolution and ensuing war through her child’s eye, rather than describing events comprehensively. The result is a weirdly, wonderfully satisfying narrative that hinges on the way a child (and later teenager) balances her passions and rebellious spirit against an oppressive government.
The drawings are all in black and white and add to the story in subtle ways. There are few panels that don’t include text, and it’s rare for an illustration to convey a plot point without words to reinforce it – instead, the visuals enhance and deepen your understanding. I think this format along with the uniquely adult, realistic subject matter makes it a perfect starting point for readers who’ve never tried a graphic novel. It’s a moving story as well as a cultural eye-opener that will show you no matter how hard life is at home, life in exile is even tougher.
With a few tweaks to design and format, many classics have found themselves again at the top of recent bestseller lists and looking glamorous in the bookstore window displays. Here are a few of my favorite classic updates that would excellent viewing for recent graduates:
Wuthering Heights is all the rage right now due a certain saga of Vampire novels giving numerous nods in Emily Brontë’s direction. And if that wasn’t enough make this classic fly off the shelves, Penguin Deluxe Classics just reissued a new edition of the book featuring a FANTASTIC cover design by fashion illustrator, Ruben Toledo, where Heathcliff is looking particularly handsome and Edward-ish.
Nothing gets more classic than a Superhero story of Good vs. Evil. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a 3-part musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion was produced by cult hero Joss Whedon and originally released online. Can a classic story get any more updated than that?! It has since been released on DVD with tons of extras and is a MUST SEE for anyone who will be living in a college dorm where spontaneous, amateur performances of the show are not uncommon.
It has been awhile since I read the first book, so I cannot make a judgment call on how faithful the graphic novel is to the original text, but there was one big change that surprised me: I actually liked Bella! Although a big fan of the books, I have always found Bella’s attitude towards other females a bit annoying and unsympathetic (although appreciated as part of her character). However, whether due to less internal monologue or just lovely illustrations, the graphic novel Bella feels like a friend who happens to have really gorgeous hair. Unfortunately, I find Edward less likable when in graphic form; he kind of just looks like a jerk who thinks too highly of himself…but no worries! The chemistry between Graphic Bella and Graphic Edward still made my heart race!
Overall, Kim’s work is fantastic: the variation in line texture, the soft photo-realist backdrops, and the subtle, poignant color changes give the graphic novel incredible feeling. Swoon, can you hear my heart beating?! I can’t wait for Volume 2!
Twilight isn’t the only book to go graphic. Check out these other popular titles that have had an illustrator’s touch:
Do you know a struggling reader? Check out our Learning Center at the Main Library!
We have many new graphic novels packaged along with audio CD’s and/or cassette tapes. Using them together, one can listen to the words while reading, thereby reinforcing the words one sees on the page. Also, since graphic novels are very similar to comic books in format, they are more appealing to teens or adults who don’t like to read. We have many classic titles that are often required reading in high school. We also carry other Hi-Lo (high-interest, low-reading level) materials and literacy aides. Check them out!
Bad Behavior has blocked 422 access attempts in the last 7 days.