Thursday 28 May 2015

Armchair BEA: Visual Expressions (or Why Graphic Novels are Great)

Today's topic for Armchair BEA is Visual expressions which means I get to talk about graphic novels, hooray!

Guys, it's no secret that I love graphic novels but in the history of my reading I was a pretty late convert to them. As a kid I read comics - The Beano, The Dandy etc - but I never progressed from kid comics to comics aimed at older age groups. I was never that into superheroes and thus I became intimidated by the very concept of graphic novels. Also when I was a teenager being a girl in a comic book shop tended to be a difficult experience, much similar to being a (the only) girl in Game. I had to be in the mood for it and often I wasn't.

I could have drifted through life and not realised that great graphic novels were a thing, at least until I started blogging. The reason I didn't is, of course, down to one Mr. Neil Gaiman. I honestly do not remember how I discovered Neil Gaiman originally, only that my ex and I read Neverwhere practically at the same time (from the same copy too) and he then nicked all my Gaiman when we broke up at the end of the first year of Uni. This means that I didn't get my introduction to the wonderful world of Sandman until I was at least seventeen, but eventually get it I did and I loved it. There's something amazing about graphic novels and I'm still not sure what it is except perhaps obviously the combination of written storytelling with graphic - it's like getting a double dose of story. Instead of just being able to see it in your head you can actually see it and for me that makes it last that little bit longer and hit that little bit harder.

Yes a lot of graphic novels are quite graphic - Sandman, Fables, Saga, even the Scott Pilgrim books all have their moments of intense violence and/or graphic (ish) sex - but it never feels gratuitous, in the same way that it wouldn't in a standard novel. When I talk to people about why they don't read graphic novels the reservations seem to be thus:

1. Graphic novels are for people like this guy:

Either you have to be like him to read them or reading them makes you like him, I'm unclear, but either way it's understandably a great deterrent. (p.s look guys! My first gif!)

2. All graphic novels are about superheroes.

3. Graphic novels are a waste of money as they take half an hour to read and are more expensive than other books and less easy to get hold of second hand. 

4. They don't like fantasy/ there are no graphic novels in their preferred genre. 

I have responses to all of these points. Honestly, unless your reason is 'I just don't want to' you should give graphic novels a go because they are awesome. 

So firstly, just no. I don't know where this stereotype has come from unless it was just that in the 90s graphic novel shops were often full of vaguely unwashed teenage boys who couldn't make eye contact with the opposite sex except to glare from somewhere behind their hair/glasses at you for being in their shop, and so my local still is if you go there on a Saturday afternoon. The rest of the time it's totally fine, and honestly even then if you stare back at them for long enough they will retreat. In reality people who read graphic novels look like this:

One of these people is a famous author, the other three are not. Spot the celebrity!

Apologies to Katie for cutting your face out of the photo, I thought Hanna would appreciate my using this one more than the two year old one I have of her slightly frowning in Leeds!

Secondly, also no. Superheroes are publicised because they are superheroes but just because superhero graphic novels are the ones you know about doesn't mean they are the only ones that exist. For a great list of places you can start check out Rolling Stone's list of The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels.

Thirdly, OK I kind of get the reasoning behind this. Some graphic novels are more expensive than standard novels (some however aren't. For example when I bought the first volume of Saga recently that was only £7.50, so a similar price to a full price brand new novel) but they have (often full colour) art in them so of course they're going to be more expensive. I imagine they're more expensive to produce and also have a smaller potential readership. People who know things about figures could probably give figures at this point, but I'm just using what seems like logic to me. I would say that buying graphic novels isn't a waste of money to me pretty much because they're so beautiful. It's like having an art collection but without having to find wall space for it (just bookshelf space). Also because they're so short you're probably more likely to reread them, thus value for money.

And fourthly, also no. Although a lot of popular graphic novels do fall into the fantasy genre there are graphic novels that fit into almost every genre. For example if you're a fan of biography try Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton (you can even buy it off me for 50p plus postage!) or Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. If you'd like to learn more about other cultures I can't recommend Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi highly enough and Palestine by Joe Sacco is also good. For the foodies try Relish by Lucy Knisley. If you like your classics (or slight reworkings of the same) try The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes.

A couple of lists to help with ideas:
AbeBooks 50 Essential Graphic Novels
A Goodreads list of Comics & Graphic Novels by Women
Another Goodreads list of Graphic Novels featuring LGBTQ themes
30 Graphic Novels that will Make you Fall in Love with Graphic Novels

So all of that said I've been so excited to see the exponential growth of graphic novel readers, particularly around the blogosphere but also in general in the past year or so. I love to see people stretching outside of their comfort zones and finding something fantastic! If I've missed any of your favourites here please let me know in the comments, I'm always excited to add stuff to my TBR!

I didn't intend for this to be a 'smash all your reservations about graphic novels' kind of post but I'm quite glad it ended up that way, and I'm super excited to check out everyone else's visual expressions posts today!


  1. I haven't read any graphic novels or comics. I never wanted to branch out into that genre until I started blogging and seeing others post about them. It is something I'm considering though.

    Tina, The Bookworm

  2. Yes! I feel like graphic novels are tainted by the stereotypes! I put manga on my post for today's BEA and I almost didn't want to because then people start thinking "oh, she's one of THOSE types.." you know, the people that wear cat hats and flash piece signs and are just sooo hyper! But I'm not! And there's nothing wrong with people like that but I think some people feel like they won't enjoy manga unless they act like that and it's not true at all!

  3. Oh oh, is it me!? Am I the celebrity!? :)

    I tend to get a lot of my graphic novels from the library, because some of them are quite expensive and there isn't really the cost:time-spent ratio that comes with a novel. I understand and agree with your point that there's artwork so OF COURSE they'll cost more - they take more people to create, after all. But it doesn't exactly help.

    Still some libraries are building up quite impressive collections of graphic novels now!

    1. Totally agree, libraries are getting lots better. I asked my library to buy Saga volume 2 and they just did! Awesome :-p