Warning: Graphic Words and Images
Graphic novels have taken off in the world of publishing, as the line between books and cartoons with their heroes and their anti-heroes has begun disappearing in popular culture. They are no longer just comic books: they have something more obvious to say. Of course, not all of them are profound, any more than books are. Some books are now put together from popular blog posts as well, complete with pictures or drawings. The blog too is bleeding into the novel or autobiography. Perhaps the most famous example of a classic graphic novel taken seriously is the series Maus: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus: A Survivor’s Tale 2: And Here My Troubles Began, drawn and written by Art Speigelman.
Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus, a graphic novel that coolly delineated his own story and that of his father and mother, who were survivals of the Holocaust. It received some criticism when Spiegelman drew all the Jewish characters in his family as mice, while the Poles were pigs and the Nazis were spiky-whiskered cats in uniforms and jackboots. Some felt it was too cozy a depiction of the Holocaust. I completely disagree, in that I think it made the Holocaust an approachable subject for an audience that might never have picked up a graphic novel before. The novel is by no means sentimental, however. It downplayed none of the ferocity the Nazis inflicted on Spiegelman’s family, although he occasionally displays black humor to leaven the situation.
Maus and Maus II are now taught in some high schools. One can sometimes get closer to understanding horror if it is depicted in a subtle fashion or with small details, without numbing and overwhelming readers by slamming horrific images and stories in their faces. Art Spiegelman did this brilliantly, even revealing his survivor’s guilt and somewhat unpleasant personality, while establishing the graphic novel as an art form for the cognoscenti. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts with Maus.
One type of the new graphic novel is Hyperbole and a Half, a recently published compendium of cartoons by Allie Brosh, who has written a blog by the same name for several years now. Her hilarious, twisted stories of her stubborn childhood, her rescue dogs and their problems, and other aspects of her life keep one thoroughly amused. I would never miss her blog posts. Recently she published a very insightful comic about her strong depression, describing it in both pictures and words. Her words echoed the feelings of many of her readers. They make ardent responses to her post, saying that she had helped them feel less alone. That entry, along with the funny ones, is included in this slightly crazy, very fun group of stories. For those with rescue dogs, you would be better off spitting your coffee all over your book instead of your computer when you start laughing uncontrollably. So purchase it and read it at home.
Recently I read two compendiums by David Thorne, a graphic designer from Adelaide, Australia, who moved to Harrisburg, VA when he married an American woman. His first book, The Internet Is a Playground, contains mostly a batch of his wildly imaginative blogs interacting with people in a ridiculous fashion at his former advertising agency, many of whom disagree with his opinions and make him laugh. He engages in a series of back-and-forth endless e-mails with outside agencies such as the electric company, making up stories about himself, running his smart-aleck mouth, creating weird logos, and seeing how far he can go before he makes them leave him alone and go off in disgust.
For fans of the movie Office Space and author David Sedaris, Thorne is a more sarcastic, darker, but extremely funny alternative, particularly when commenting on office dynamics. His books include illustrations and drawings, so they are somewhat in-between a book and a graphic novel. He is best known for a spider meme, in which he tried to pay a utilities bill online with his drawing of a seven-legged spider. It was hysterical and forwarded widely throughout the Internet, thereby drawing attention to him and his web site 27bslash6.com for the first time. His second compendium, I’ll Go Home Then; It’s Warm and Has Chairs: The Unpublished Emails, is not as cohesive as the first. Yet it is still worth reading, with its helping helpings of his sarcasm, immature mischief, and odd drawings.
So enjoy some lightness in the dreary dark of January and try a graphic novel for an alternative, palatable, and often humorous take on the concerns of the day.
Written by: Miriam R. Kramer