by Cindy McGuire, Programming and Marketing Coordinator
Recently, my granddaughter was telling me about the books she was reading. Two of them were typical for an 8-year old: a story about kids on an adventure, another with animals as the main characters. Then she showed me a type of book which I had not encountered before. She asked me, “What type of book do you think this is…a chapter book, a comic book, a picture book, a regular story?” I didn’t know the difference between a chapter book and a regular story, but this book was neither of these anyway. Based on the cover art, I told her I thought it was a comic book. When she opened it, there were several drawings on each page with a few short sentences thrown in. She told me it was a chapter book with lots of pictures. My son, who loves to make snide remarks, said, “It is a graphic novel. It’s really a picture book for kids who can’t or don’t want to read.”
I was very puzzled by this creation. After examining the book further, I agreed with my son. It was a book for elementary school kids who are not readers. Neither of us liked this book, especially since my granddaughter is actually a good reader. I understand the appeal of comic books for entertainment purposes. I don’t understand graphic novels at all. Since I had never actually looked at one before, and since the library’s graphic novel collection is just outside my office, I decided to educate myself.
According to graphicnovel.org, “graphic novels can be fiction, non-fiction, history, fantasy, or anything in-between.” Instead of using sentences and paragraphs to tell the story, they use sequential art, similar to a comic book. Like traditional novels, they involve complete stories with involved plots. I grabbed a couple of books off the shelf to see exactly what all this meant.
I think even teens would agree these are not literary works. There are no paragraphs with detailed descriptions. The sentences are really just short phrases, sometimes clever, sometimes confusing. Not all drawings on each page seem connected, either. Being several decades removed from young adulthood, the storylines are above my level of comprehension.
I did find the drawings fascinating, however. The artwork ranges from simple to stunning. The simple ones have plain pen and ink drawings. The books with more detailed drawings really are extraordinary works of art. After leafing through my third selection, I finally understood the point of graphic novels: telling a story through the art of drawing. The pictures leave a lot of room for interpretation, forcing readers to use their imagination.
I am still not a fan of graphic novels, but I understand why they are popular. Some people are just not readers. While graphic novels may seem to be glorified picture books, a closer look reveals that their artwork is indeed powerful. Good or bad, these pictures convey ideas and spark emotions just as effectively as words do.