Graphic Novels: My New Way to Read

miloHey Pal:

Thank-you for your thoughtful ramblings on artists’ intent and whether the various media we use to experience their art is up to the task. For the record, tape cassettes may suck, but there is a 16-year-old boy deep in the recesses of my mind who still air guitars to Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” on his ghetto blaster. And you have hurt that boy’s feelings.


 Speaking of artists’ preferred medium, here’s an art form you and I haven’t discussed – the graphic novel. I’ve been reading a lot of them lately.

“You mean comic books?” I hear you say.

“NO! I mean graphic novels!” I snap back. “Graphic! Novels! And there’s a difference you know!”

OK, I got a little defensive there in our imaginary conversation. Sorry about that.

But I’d just like to say this form of literature – yes, literature – can be every bit as enlightening, wise and provocative as the stuff in the grown-up section of Chapters.

Graphic novels (ok, fine, comic books) can tackle big themes, tell multi-layered stories, open your eyes to parts of the world you never knew about, and give you a surprising new perspective on your own life – just like good literature is supposed to do. And when done well, the interplay of visuals and text can be fascinating, with the images not just complementing the written words, but enhancing and playing off them. In other words — Yay, pictures!

I can’t tell you that what follows are the greatest graphic novels ever, because there are still so many I need to read, but these are some real beauties that I have discovered and would recommend to anyone.

Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

watchman cover

Often hailed as the king of graphic novels (Alan Moore is a legend), this tells the story of a band of sort-of superheroes. It’s the first graphic novel I read and right from the opening zoom shot (can you even use that phrase in reference to a book?) of a smiley face in a pool of blood, I knew I was in for something intricate and profound. I was forever rotating the book to get a better handle on the pictures and their meaning. I’d found a new way to read.


What are you so happy about?

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

persepolis cover

If Watchmen is the king, this is the queen. This is a memoir about growing up as a girl in revolutionary Iran. The black and white drawings are stark and beautiful, full of feeling, and it’s a real eye-opener about a time and a place that might as well be on a different planet from those of us who grew up privileged and safe in countries where speaking your mind is not a life-threatening endeavour. This should be required reading in every high school in the Western world.


You will be assimilated.

Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John – Chester Brown

paying for it - cover

The title says it all. There is a fine line between brave and crazy, and Brown walks it by having the balls to make the “relationship” choices he makes, and then telling the whole world about it in a book. His views on love, relationships and the sex trade are unconventional, to say the least, but he presents them so persuasively, with such charmingly simple drawings and sweet dialogue, it’ll get you thinking. On top of all that, the book is cool for being in our City of Toronto, and for references to NOW Magazine and the greatest advice columnist of all time, Dan Savage.

paying for it 3

A problem as old as time.

Preacher – Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon


Pal, you know about my sad addiction to disturbing movies. Well, this is the graphic novel equivalent. A vulgar, deranged preacher poisoned with hate and a hunger for revenge uses his divine powers to unleash “justice” on a sick world. You see things you can’t unsee. It’s horrid. It’s also brilliant and stunning in its own wicked way. It comes in six books, of which I have read just one. I don’t want to read any more. But I will. “God” help me, I will.


Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Black Hole – Charles Burns

black hole cover

A story about high school and all the fun and weirdness it involves: friendships, fights, hooking up, falling in love, getting high, dealing with parents, finding your place…But, oh yeah, with a bit of a twist. There’s an STD going around and it turns you into a mutant. On the one hand, it’s every bit as unsettling as it sounds. On the other hand, it’s got a big heart and feels real and true.


I really dig this girl, Mom. She’s not like all the rest.

From Hell – Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

from hell cover2

Another gift to the world from Watchman creator Alan Moore, this tome is about as dense, complex and literary as they come. It comes with 42 pages of endnotes to help you understand it and, if you want to go deeper, you can also buy a separate companion book.  On its surface, From Hell is a police procedural that puts forward a radical theory about the unsolved mystery behind Jack the Ripper. Beneath that, it’s a study of life and politics in late 19th century England, the architecture of London, and the nature of evil and madness. It’s incredibly thoroughly researched and it’s a mind-bender. Read it slowly. Savour it.

What are we doing? Oh, nothing. Just out for a ride.

Well, there you have it. Graphic novel. Comic book. Call it what you like. I call it my new favourite section at the book store.

Later, Pal.


One response to “Graphic Novels: My New Way to Read

  1. Persepolis was my first graphic novel and I have to say, it was amazing. I was not eager to read this format of book but this one changed my perception of graphic novels. I won’t go reading them all of he time but I do think that there is a definite place for them. I saw a graphic novel version of a Wrinkle in Time and think that this would be an excellent way of reading this classic story.

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