My First Two Graphic Novels

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A pretty typical panel — all black and white

I’ve only read two graphic novels in my life. The second one was Persepolis, which I finished last week. It’s by Marjane Satrapi, and it’ll be part of my teaching curriculum next year. I wanted to write about it first because Satrapi has an interesting take on graphic novels. There’s some argument, I guess, regarding whether graphic novels are “just” comics, or much more. Satrapi falls on the comic side, without addressing the bigger question of “are graphic novels literature?” Ultimately, my personal take with regards to the first question, is that it doesn’t much matter. Persepolis is a fantastic read, and whatever you call it, you can’t say it isn’t engaging.

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Nikes — not allowed!

I think the pushback against “simply” calling graphic novels collected comics is because traditionally comics haven’t been seen as completely respectable. Persepolis is the story of Satrapi growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. The narrative’s strongest point of the narrative is Satrapi’s nuanced portrayal of Iran. It wasn’t—or probably isn’t—a place where fundamentalism completely rules the day. Many people rebel against the government; they have parties, drink alcohol, wear Western clothing, and aren’t always religious. The work is engaging, fun, and education. I loved it, so in short, if this is a comic, I really like comics.

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The fact that the person who drew this also directed The Voices is pretty crazy

I finished Persepolis in two days, and I’m itching to read the sequel. Persepolis was made into a movie in 2008, which copies the comic’s high-contrast black-and-white style. Also, Satrapi directed the funny (but barely watched) Ryan Reynolds 2014 movie The Voices. Which is a nice segue for talking about the first graphic novel I ever read, which is Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I first heard of this work through the movie adaptation in 2009. I liked it, but apparently the film was polarizing. Watchmen was famously the only graphic novel to make Time’s “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” list in 2005, and this reflects its huge following.

w8
BAM! Color

It would be easy to say Watchmen’s the story of superheroes living in the 1980s, but that’s the same as saying “Game of Thrones” is about knights and villagers. The novel is about relationships—and that sounds hokey—but when I read it last year it was the first novel in a long time that made me feel really happy when romances bloomed and really sad when people fought or characters died. Where Persepolis is really about one character, Watchmen is about six, and it’s fair to say Watchmen’s about six times longer than Persepolis, too. Both novels are, however, deadly serious, and both hit on many of the same themes.

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The six characters in question

Perhaps some of the themes are universal—heartbreak, violence, separation, and even fascism. I do think the novels have more than just a slim connection, however. The social anxiety that permeates Satrapi’s Iran absolutely crawls over Watchmen, and both works wear their blood on their chest, so to speak. Watchmen is violent, but there’s something perhaps more disturbing about Persepolis, because we know the violence actually occurred. That’s a dark note to end on, but I do think some of the best works of literature stir deep emotions. Which begs the question; are graphic novels literature? Well in the case of these two works—yes, absolutely, definitely.

–Jeff and Leah

Watchmen
Say what you want — it’s at least an interesting picture!

5 thoughts on “My First Two Graphic Novels

  1. Jacob Ketcham

    Depending on your level of involvement, you may want to check out ‘Akira’ (it’s also a movie from 1988, but the graphic novels are more extensive and don’t feel like they’re leaving information out). There’s also ‘Saga’ and ‘Bitch Planet’ if you want to try some new western graphic novels. Or, if you want one that’s eastern but has a western movie adaptation, then ‘All You Need is Kill’ (or ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ if you wanna watch the movie) is a mighty fine option.

    Good choices for your first two graphic novels!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Jacob Ketcham

        Gonna go with a strong “No” on that one. I mean, Tom Cruise might share the same average height as a Japanese man, but I think the likeness ends there.

        Liked by 1 person

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