I admit, prior to these two texts, I was a graphic novel virgin. As recently as two years ago, in fact, I recall thumbing my nose at the whole “glorified comic book” thing. I was young, impulsive, stupid. Still, even though, working in a pretty cool book store, I was surrounded by impressive looking graphic novels, I resisted – this time not so much because I was being a snob, but rather because I was a bit intimidated. It felt like I had missed getting in on the ground floor of the whole “graphic novel thing” and thus missed my chance – there was too much backstory, too much foundation. How do you catch up??
I bought Watchmen…and Scott McLeod…but I was still a little tentative about diving in. Enter Shooting War and In the Shadow…
I read Shooting War, about a month ago, for the first time and have to say, after all the buildup in my head, I was disappointed. I had this idea that the “graphic novel” earned said title because it went beyond the comic book genre I so loved as a 7 year old…that somewhere out there was a William Faulkner with a sketchbook waiting to pen and draw the great American graphic novel. What I found in Shooting War (while clever and occasionally very funny..and with a brand of snark near and dear to my heart) was something too reminiscent of the stilted dialogue and flashy cuts of my childhood comics collection. I know I know, I get the satire and the hyperbole…and its fine to do those things, but the writing still has to be great…. the dialogue just felt a bit heavy-handed and it took me out of the text. Bite my tongue, but it felt like a glorified comic book..
I appreciated it mostly on a cinematic level – the angles and framing of the illustrations were innovative, the art itself is dazzling and I found myself spending more time reading the pages without any words on them, than those filled with exposition/dialogue.
Moving on…I opened up In the Shadow and a light shone in my heart! This is what I wanted graphic novels to be! Indeed…Spiegelman was tearing through the boundaries of what art, fiction, journalism, and narrative have set forth. In fact, the way he redefines/subverts/perverts the readers’ assumptions about story and news is just plain jarring and lovely. The multimedia/inter-hyper-textuality is just as baffling and chaotic as the events upon which the novel is based – and it’s an incredible success. I really wanted to love graphic novels. So many of my friends and colleagues speak so highly of them, so many professors are buying them from our bookstore for cultural studies/lit classes, and I wanted them to be a NEW form, not just long comics and/or not just a decent piece of fiction with some sidekick cartoons. Spiegelman gave me exactly what I was hoping graphic novels would be/could be capable of and much more. He exceeded the capabilities of both the traditional novel and the comic form and created something moving and terrifying and frankly more evocative than I think most authors would be capable if limited to a single medium.
Also, thanks to Sara for including his thoughts from AWP – really interesting and spot on.
Now, let’s address that whole “death of snark/irony/sarcasm” I heard so much about in high school….