With my Maple Leafs falling faster than a speeding bullet, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the library’s very own homegrown underachievers –graphic novels for grown ups.
Thankfully the days when libraries would debate whether to even add graphic novels to their collections is long gone. With each passing year, awareness from the general public does seem to be growing (there is even a course now at the University of Toronto called The Graphic Novel) but there still to be a lot of work for us to do before the community at large starts borrowing them as often as we’d like.
I certainly can’t claim to know all there is to know about graphic novels, not by a long shot but I do belong to a book club in my free time which reads exclusively this sort of book (the lazy man’s book club!). It has exposed me to lot of great titles which I will shine a light on here. Before I get started though I will mention right off the bat that as much as I like them; the books I’m considering here don’t include much in the way of super hero comics from Marvel or DC such as X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, Spider-Man and Batman etc because they do just fine on their own. Nor am I considering the various Manga series the library collects (such as Naruto, Bleach, Fruits Basket etc) because they too are heavily borrowed and quite frankly I simply do not get their appeal so I’ll leave them for the more ardent defender of that art form.
So if I take away the manga and most super hero graphic novels, what is left?
I just finished reading the 10 part series Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, which was very addictive. With its pacing – cliffhangers, timely plot revelations, cast of international characters and settings I found it reminiscent of the TV show Lost. One day we may see this series on the screen.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is as good a memoir as you can find in any medium. Named Time magazine’s best non fiction book of 2006 and it was nominated for aNational Book Circle award.
Essex County (nominated by Canada Reads as one of the best books of the last decade) by Jeff LeMire is a series of melancholy tales set in southernOntario. It’s beautifully rendered in black in white, and as the book’s publishers put it, it is a “tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation”
Chester Brown’s ground breaking work Louis Riel (2003) was another book my group read. This one set the bar quite high for any graphic novel biographies that followed it. Sometimes mentioned in the same discussion as Brown is his close friend and fellow graphic novelist Seth (The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and Wimbledon Green)
Art Spieglman’s Maus may be the best known of all graphic novels – proving that tragedy, war and genocide are subjects that could be dealt with in comic form. His recounting of his father’s experience inAuschwitz opened a lot of people’s eyes as to what was possible in a graphic novel.
A homework topic that we regularly get asked for help with is the subject of the media and its influences on society (or something to that effect) and a great resource is the non fiction graphic work The Influencing Machine by NPR’s Brooke Gladstone.
Rounding out the titles my group read are the locally set Scott Pilgrim series, the pioneering works Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers and one of my favourites: American Splendor by Harvey Pekar.
Conspicuous by his absence is Alan Moore (author of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Swamp Thing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen etc etc) but hopefully the book club rectifies that soon.
Some other well reviewed graphic novels that I like are:
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth – Chris Ware
Shortcomings – Adrian Tomine
Palestine – Joe Sacco
Whiteout – Greg Rucka
Epileptic – Daniel B.
Walking Dead – Robert Kirkman
And pretty much anything by Daniel Clowes.
I hope this give you some ideas of the variety, depth and scope that our occasionally neglected graphic novel collection has to offer.