Graphic Novels are more than just superhero comics

Before last semester, when I took the seminar course Graphic Women taught by Dr. Karen Bamford, the only experience I had with graphic novels were Big Nate books my brother insisted on reading aloud on long drives.

I knew of others too, of course; Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, and some manga books were on the shelves of my middle school library. I’ve also seen DC and Marvel comic books covered in plastic wrap displayed in a handful of different game stores. I was just never interested in any of them.

I took the course because I wanted to try something new and broaden my horizons, and I am very glad I did. Now, I am an avid supporter of graphic novels. 

Graphic novels combine mediums to tell  stories in a way that differs from the traditional narrative. With less text and more visuals, reading a graphic novel allows a reader to analyze books from a totally different angle.

An image can be emotional in a way that words aren’t, and vice versa. A full page illustration and a change in colour or style are all interesting ways that creators can express meaning that cannot be captured in traditional novels.

If you’ve gotten this far into the article, you’re probably someone who has now been convinced to try out the genre, or a seasoned graphic novel reader.. Either way, I’ll give you my top recommendations. 

If you want something light and fun, try the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman. The themes become darker as the story progresses, but for the most part, the books are sweet and heartwarming. The series revolves around a teen romance set in Britain, featuring the classic nerd meets jock trope. I started reading the series after seeing all the hype around the TV adaptation. I’ve never seen the show, but I definitely recommend the book series. 

If you want something heartbreaking but powerful, read The Waiting by Keum Seuk Gendry-Kim. The story is told from the perspective of a daughter, trying to care for her elderly mother, who escaped the North during the Korean War. The story speaks on the challenges that many Koreans still face while separated from loved ones in the North. It’s a heartbreaking but beautifully-told story about a theme that is still relevant today.

Lastly, if you want to read a classic coming-of-age story, tryAlison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Bechdel’s book focuses on Bechdel’s unique upbringing—which involves working at her family’s funeral home, queer awakenings, and a complicated relationship with her dead father. She takes a challenging topic and writes in a way that is both hopeful and funny, serious and emotional.

If you feel an aversion to graphic novels, don’t! They’re great! There’s so much more out there aside from my recommendations, and there will be something out there that you will fall in love with.

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