A Tourist in the Land of Graphic Novels
Until recently, I’ve only read a handful of graphic novels, a couple of adult ones (Sandman series, Watchmen) and some for kids (like the Lunch Lady and Baby Mouse series, plus quasi graphic stories like Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid). So I decided to dip my toes into the land of graphic novels to see what the fuss is about, staying away (for now) from manga and superhero stories. One thing I learned is that this seems to be a good medium for dark and disturbing stories, or maybe people who can both write and draw are dark and disturbing. Here are brief reviews of an eclectic mix that I enjoyed:
For adults and teens
Mercury, by Hope Larson (Athenium Books, 2010). A moody YA book that mixes history, romance, family secrets, and magical realism, Mercury tells the parallel stories of two teenage girls in Nova Scotia, one in the 1850s and one in the present. Josey Fraser, the girl in the past, falls in love with a mysterious stranger who has found gold on her dad’s property, but her premonitions of tragedy soon come true. Tara Fraser, one of Josey’s descendants, is a runner who finds a mysterious locket and unravels her family’s history, while also falling for a boy at school. The story is starkly drawn in black and white, and I loved the near-wordless climax that involves a man-faced crow and a contracting spiral pit with hundreds of snakes.
Robot Dreams, by Sara Varon (First Second, 2007) This is a wordless graphic novel for kids that I read with my girls (9 and 6), with equal parts pleasure and dread, because I didn’t know while I was reading it whether it would have a happy ending. A dog mail orders and builds a robot friend and together they embark on adventures. They are separated by bad luck (even my kids knew that robots shouldn’t swim in the ocean or they would rust) and time, and most of the book consists of the bittersweet efforts of the two trying to resurrect their friendship -- the robot in his rust-encrusted dreams and the dog in his efforts to find replacement friends. The ending is not happy, and not sad, but thoughtful, hopeful, and melancholic. I enjoyed the super simple graphics, the expressive characters, and the exploration of what friendship means, but my kids did not get the simple happy ending they craved.
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