For me, the first graphic novel was Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Before then, in my mind, there were comics, and there was literature. But Maus, the story of a father, son, and the holocaust, haunted me. Told in illustrated frames, the characters are humanoid animals: Jews are mice, Nazis cats, and so on. Since Maus was released in 1982 it has earned 11 major awards, including the Pulitzer. More than two million copies have sold worldwide.
If Maus was a game-changer and Spiegelman the grandfather of the modern graphic novel, a great deal of brilliance has followed, and popularity of the literary form continues to rise. Maybe it’s the dual narrative in every frame—text and image—or the ways in which the narrator and characters can overlap.
Maybe it’s just that it’s a guilt-free way to continue reading the way we did when we couldn’t wait for the next edition of Superman, of the Betty and Veronica Double Digest.
Or maybe we’re simply embracing an alternate form of literature, one that can make us laugh, cry, or ponder just like any great book. Graphic novels can be pure entertainment or possessed of inspiring social conscience. They have the ability to go deep.
The Nelson Library has a great collection of graphic novels, from the classics such as Maus , Persepolis, and Watchmen, to timely new releases such as Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora & Barroux, about the journey of a West African migrant; First Year Out: A Transition Story by Sabrina Symington, a thoughtful tale of transgendering; and Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle.
When I asked the Association des francophones des Kootenays Ouest (AFKO) for a wish-list of French language books, a number of suggestions from their members were for graphic novels. Watch for new titles in that section, including Une Sœur by Bastien Vives, Winter Road by Jeff Lemire, and Giant by Mikael Dargaud, as well as the Valerian series by Pierre Christin. Bonus for anglophones : French graphic novels are great practice!
Of course, kids and teens have been with the graphic novel program for a long time. My kids loved Tintin and Asterix, perennial favourites in the children’s section, but the regular books we loved are finding new readers as graphic novels, from The Hobbit to Nancy Drew. Graphic novels are great for reluctant readers—and all readers. Teen titles that are constantly in circulation include Drama by Raina Telgemeir, and Saving the World by James Patterson, and Melodie Rae keeps the collection fresh.
Teens may want to learn more about creating their own graphic novels—and they can, with a free, drop-in workshop with graphic novelist Michael Kluckner on Thursday, June 28 from 4 to 5 pm.
Kluckner— whose graphic novels include Toshiko which is set during wartime British Columbia; 2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery, and most recently Julia, about the unforgettable Julia Henshaw—will also offer an illustrated talk about the making of Julia at the library that same night at 7 pm.
And for adults who really want to get hands on, Selkirk College is offering a workshop with Kluckner on Wednesday, June 27 from 6 to 8:30pm at the KSA Campus on Victoria Street. You can register at Selkirk.ca/courses/arts-culture/writing.
Beloved, brilliant, dark, sometimes controversial and multi-award-winning Canadian graphic novelist Seth (he goes by one name), said: “When I started out in the eighties, the idea of creating serious comics for adults was pretty laughable to most folks.”
Not so laughable now—unless the one you happen to be reading has some great punchlines. Check out a graphic novel from the library and see this phenomenon for yourself.
Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.