Appeal of Graphic Novels

Ever since seeing the trailer for “Watchmen” before “The Dark Knight,” I’ve been on a crusade of reading every graphic novel I can get my hands on. So far I’ve tackled:

The appeal actually started on more of an intellectual level. Alan Moore’s writing in the Watchmen was extremely elegant. It was quite the adjustment to shift from purely prose to the more disconnected, choppy, dialog with a bit of narration thrown in, style of graphic literature, but after a brief awkwardness the story started to flow quite beautifully. I found myself getting pulled into the medium without much effort on my own part – now I actually have quite the thing for dry, heavy literature – but this was not one of those. Maybe it was the novelty of a new form of literature I had not previously experienced or maybe it was simply the brilliance of Moore’s plot, but I was hooked by the end of chapter one. The opening scene setting up the investigation of the murder of “The Comedian” was captured graphically in a way that I hadn’t seen literature come to life from the page before.

Which leads me to something I’ve discovered about reading graphic novels. The art or word and image are so closely connected and feed so excessively off one another that the reader finds himself pulling off of two separate modes of art at one time in order to follow the story. As cliche as the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is, in graphic works it would be better to say that “a picture [with a caption] is worth a thousand times a thousand words.” The artist and the writer of the graphic medium bring a multifaceted layer of story telling to literature that allows the reader to move beyond simple grasp of language and personal interpretation to literally seeing the action occur before one’s eyes in a stylized surreal manner along with the story told by word.

“Watchmen” does a superb job of capturing its characters and following their humanity and super-humanity through the unfolding drama. While all the novels I’ve read following “Watchmen” have quite reached the pedestal I’ve placed it on, they have all had very appealing merits of their own. Not least of which is the artistic style brought by the graphic artists involved in the unraveling frames. Dave Gibbons’ art in “Watchmen” is a more straight and true comic style that was very visible appealing but not much beyond the norm of what I’ve already seen in brief glimpses at other works. David Mazzucchelli’s illustrating and Richmond Lewis’ coloring in “Batman Year One” is good, but not my favorite of what I’ve seen so far – it’s too simple and muted colors to really bring the story flying off the page (which works for Batman and Gotham, a character and city who linger in perpetual darkness). Chris Sprouse’s work in “Tom Strong” is getting toward the top of my favorite – a bit over the top but still very polished and clean. Millennial City is a super clean and bright metropolis kept that way by the super-human intellectual and tough Tom Strong. My favorite goes to Klaus Janson (illustrator) and Lynn Varley (colorist) in “The Dark Knight Returns.” It started very rough for me but I quickly fell in love with the art. A very rough yet stylized version of Bruce Wayne and Gotham swept through the pages in front of me, colored with very clear bright colors for characters such as Superman, and very dark conflicted tones for the more muddy Batman. Scenes of the Joker still torment my mind, his soundless smoking in front of the visiting windows at Arkham and his final spine-chilling laugh are enough to haunt the recesses of my mind for some time to come.

Each of these works could warrant a full review plot-wise – I’ll probably never do it here, I’m too busy making up for lost years in reading these. One thing I will say is I’m really enthralled by the not-so-clear nature of good and evil in a lot of the characters and stories. Seems like graphic novels have been more on the pulse of humanity and current ethical issues than a lot of the topic specific literature I’ve read.

Also, next on my list is Batman, The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, if anyone has it, I swear, you won’t be parted from it for long.

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~ by veniatregnum on September 5, 2008.

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