Thursday, July 7, 2016

Choose Your Own Graphic Novel

I've always been intrigued by graphic novels, and so for the Book Babes book club, picked the theme of Choose Your Own. We met down at BPYC at the end of a hot, muggy day and the lake was mercifully cooling. There were six of us, and I complemented the evening with sushi, saki and Japanese beer. 

Everyone brought one or two books along to talk about, and the table was strewn with hardcovers and paperbacks.

Book club titles:
  • The Complete Don Quixote
  • Ghost World, Daniel Clowes
  • Suzanna Moodie Roughing it in the Bush, Carol Shields, Patrick Cross, illustrated by Selena Goulding
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engles
  • Gargamel and the Smurfs, by Peyo
  • Bird in a Cage, Rebecca Roher
  • Mom Body, Rebecca Roher
  • Fun Home, a Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel
  • Are You my Mother, Alison Bechdel

To prepare for the meeting, I binged on several more:
  • Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant, by Roz Chast
  • Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future, by Lauren Redniss 
  • Cecil and Jordan in New York Stories, by Gabrielle Bell
  • Logicomix, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou
  • Happy Marriage Series (Manga), by Maki Enjoji
  • Sex Criminals (Volume One), by Fraction and Zdarsky
  • Burning Building Comix, by Jeff Zwirek
  • Sloth, by Gilbert Hernandez 
  • Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer, by Sylvie Rancourt 

Happy Marriage, translated from the Japanese, demanded pages be turned right to left, with thought balloons and sound effects reversed from the usual pattern. Burning Building Comix provided the choice of exploring apartments and characters twelve panels down, or across. Thunder and Lightning was one of those beautiful books that could be opened to any page.

Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future
Many of the books had linear stories and plot lines, but even then, the page needed to approached in a different way. I usually found my eye taking in the pictures and then the text, but most often there was a ricochet, back and forth and back and forth.

Such a mix of styles and themes: fantasy, memoir, history, philosophy, geography, science, suspense.

In the Happy Marriage manga I read, the heroine tried to figure out if her husband desired her enough to consummate their arranged marriage. There are ten volumes in the series/soap opera, with kidnappings and crazy family members and corporate intrigue. Fun and silly, but I stopped after one.

Logicomix recounted the life and philosophy of Bertrand Russell. Others were sheer fantasy, like Sex Criminals, where the hero and heroine gained the superpower of invisibility after they orgasm (they used the power for good though, to steal money from a bank to keep their local library open).

More poignant was Roz Chast's memoir of taking care of her aged parents, and how honest she was as she confronted her emotional struggles with her parents as an adult and child. 

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?
The form is perfect for playing with time, moving back and forth between future and past. It also worked when playing a scene and getting inside someone's head - how people might say one thing and be thinking another simultaneously.

Use of colour sometimes seemed a budgetary constraint, with pages left in black and white or shades of grey when vivid colour could have brought things to life. As a medium the graphic novel allows the author a level of expression and independence that might not be so accessible in film.

Exploring graphic novels was a nice break from the usual texts I read, and I'll keep browsing library shelves for more possibilities.

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