Getting graphic

I’ve read a few graphic novels, but I’m by no means an expert. Quite frankly, I’m undereducated in the format, so I signed up for a continuing education class through the University of Wisconsin’s SLIS program. As part of the class, we’re to read 5 graphic novels from a provided list; the overachiever I am, I have decided to tackle more than the 5 required (that’s why I paid for the class, right?).

Since many kind readers have been asking what I’m choosing to read, I thought I’d give quick peeks at my reading and my thoughts. Up first: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Runaways, volume 1 by Brian Vaughan.

Fun Home is a graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel’s life at home. More specifically, it’s a portrayal of her father. Her father was a master of appearances, keeping an immaculate home and facade built for himself and his family. As Alison grew up, though, she began to learn there were many deep secrets hidden in the family that revolved around her father. He’d been involved in a number of homosexual relationships, often with men younger than himself.

What works so well in the novel, though, is that it is also a telling of Alison’s own story of choosing to come out to her family. A handful of days following her decision to come out, her father was killed by a truck while crossing the street. As readers, we see parallels between her life and his, drawn out for us vividly in a way that text alone just would not render as powerfully.

Fun Home is a dense read. The language and the literary and cultural allusions some times went beyond my understanding, and I’m fairly well read. Whoever claims that graphic novels are a gateway to reading or are not deep has clearly not explored the format well. Bechdel’s work is engaging and requires close reading and analyzing. The art worked well for me here. But clearly, not everyone has felt that way. This book wouldn’t have worked any other way, and it’s a shame that it has faced such backlash. Fun Home is memorable in a pained way, much in the way of David Small’s Stitches. I’d consider them read alikes, though certainly for adults, not teens.

Runaways, volume 1 is the first book in a 10 or 11 book series — I say 10 or 11 because the series keeps growing, and it now isn’t primarily written by Vaughan. This is a series I knew a bit about prior to the class since it circulates so well at my library, and I’m regularly asked for the next volumes (which I, of course, purchase).

Runaways introduces a group of teens who find out one night that their parents are not who they think they are; they’re much more evil. They witness their parents kill a woman, and now, they’re out to get to the bottom of the story. Are they superheroes or evildoers?

Vaughan’s story worked well for me, and it was compelling enough to make me want to pick up the next volume to find out what happens. However, I felt the art wasn’t as strong as the text. It felt a little too juvenile for the story, which I found quite mature (and some of the allusions they make are, I think, beyond today’s teens — but clearly that isn’t deterring them from picking this series up). I kind of feel like this series might be targeted at the 20-somethings, but I’d need to read more to figure that out. Likewise, the colors don’t work so well for me, but they’re pretty standard Marvel style.

Vaughan’s book was a quick read, and as I mentioned, had enough to it to make me seek out the following volume, even though the art wasn’t what did it for me. In Fun Home, I was drawn by both the story and the art, but in Runaways, it was 100% the story.

Have you read either of these or another graphic novel that just worked for you? I’m expanding my knowledge, and I’d love any good recommendations you have for me. At Stacked, we’ve reviewed three and discussed the value of them, but I’ve read a handful more and am always open to more.

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  1. Andrea says

    I'm sure it's already been recommended to you, but in case it hasn't, you should read Blankets by Craig Thompson. It was one of the first graphic novels the husband used to draw me into the genre, and remains one of my favorite. And if you want more fodder, feel free to stop by some time and peruse our shelves – we could keep you in comics and graphic novels for months!

  2. TerryD says

    "Black Hole" by Charles Burns is adult; interesting and unlike many other graphic novels. Eric Shanower has written an excellent graphic version of the Iliad, so far in three volumes, the first of witch is "A Thousand Ships." This did more for me than all my struggles with Homer.

    "Bone" by Smith is really good – wide appeal.
    "The Arrival" by Shaun Tan isn't exactly conventional – its wordless – but it is brilliant, and a good example of how the form can do new things.

  3. says

    @Andrea, "Blankets" is on my shelf right now. My class requires reading 5 books in 5 categories. I'm aiming for 20. Of course.

    @TerryD I've read "The Arrival" and liked it. "Bone" is huge at my library, so I should read that one. Like with "Blankets," "A Thousand Ships" is also on my shelf to be read. I haven't heard of "Black Hole," but it'll be on my list!

  4. says

    I loved Fun House! It was the second graphic book I'd ever read. I just read Persepolis I and it was absolutely as good as the hype! I also strongly recommend The Imposter's Daughter.

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