What’s Write about Comics/Graphic Novels?

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This past fall, I attended a writer’s retreat and it was suggested I study a comic book to learn how to represent the brooding teen. The suggestion was made by an editor, and I took it to heart. I don’t know if I would have ever stepped foot in a comic book store if this didn’t happen and that would have been a mistake. Now I have an obsession for comics, but I have also learned that comic writers do so much so very right. As a writer, I suggest other writers step into a comic store, because we can learn a lot about plot, characters, dialogue and voice. But we will also have a lot of fun doing so.

For one thing, some comics are written and illustrated by the same person, but many are written by a team. Therefore, the writer has to leave room for the illustrator to bring that character to life. These books are not wordy with long descriptions of setting or gestures. The dialogue has to be spot on, the character’s need to stand on their own, and the voice has to shine.

The first graphic novel I picked up was “Morning Glories” by Nick Spencer and art by Joe Eisma. In the first volume (sort of like a chapter), they introduce not 1, but 6 main characters to follow. They aren’t flat; they are vivid, and have their own language and interests. Each character is introduced concisely and effectively on a two page spread. That was pretty awesome to me. I realized a lot of heavy lifting was done via dialogue. I think I have been able to improve this in my own writing.

From there I asked my friendly neighborhood comic store for recommendations and fell in love with “Saga,” by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples. Both the characters and emotion are awesome, and as a reader you connect to them immediately. It opens with lovers, of a forbidden kind (they are of two different intergalactic races), being hunted, as they give birth to their child. Their love is strong and the reader feels it. You will laugh out loud and it’s a real page turner. Brian K. Vaughn does great characters, check out “Y The Last Man,” too.

I was told before that my own voice wasn’t unique enough; not new enough. So I researched voice. I found a lot about how it’s hard to teach, but it develops the more one reads and writes. I found a lot of bits and pieces go into it, including tone, imagery, and dialogue (word choice, syntax, rhythm). Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of wonderful writers have distinct voices, but some of the strongest that I have heard in my head are from Graphic Novels.

Two nonfiction graphic novels come to mind when I think of voice: “Maus 1&2” by Art Spiegelman and “Persepolis 1 & 2” by Marjane Satrapy. Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and Persepolis the author’s memoir of growing up female in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

Spiegelman’s voice has strong family dynamic between Vladek and Art himself such as when Vladek says to his son, “No! You don’t know pills. I’ll do it after… I’m an expert for this. Vladek’s voice is also filled with sadness, strength, and terror as in, “And the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone could burn better.”

Marjane Satrapy’s voice is very wise and humorous, “In life you’ll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance…Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.”

The last two fiction titles are greats as far as Graphic Novels go. Strong plots, characters, you name it, both “The Sandman,” and “Watchmen,” rock! The imagery and tone to these voices are incredible. In Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” the voice is often Morpheus’ thoughts, they are dark, mystical, and dreamy. “It is time for me to walk the abyss. Time to reclaim my own. I must talk to the Morningstar. I do not have high hopes for this meeting.”

I love Alan Moore’s imagery through the eyes of Rorschach in “Watchmen.” Rorschach’s character is clear to me when he thinks, “American love like coke in green glass bottles…they don’t make it anymore.” And, “In the cemetery, all the white crosses stood in rows, neat chalk marks on a giant scorecard.” There is so much that is great with this graphic novel, that I am not doing it any justice and will have to write another blog post just on “Watchmen,” alone.

Please check out these recommendations and many others. Remember, Art Spiegelman said it best, “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.” Read up!

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One Response to “What’s Write about Comics/Graphic Novels?”

  1. I need to read Saga and Sandman ASAP! I need to see if my library has them! Have you read Runaways?

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