Friday, July 2, 2010

Favorites Friday: Graphic Novels - by Louise Tripp

I admit that I have a problem with judging books by their covers and this is doubly true for graphic novels. Manga especially holds no appeal since all their illustrations look the same to me - I find it boring. Instead, when I seek out graphic novels, I tend to lean toward art that's more unusual. I like mostly realistic stories, though occasional fantasy is okay depending on the way it's written. As with any novel, I don't discriminate if a book was written for a teen or younger audience. Here, for your reading pleasure, I've compiled a short list of my favorite graphic novels (and why they happened to have made my personal faves list). There are probably others I should read that would make a later list (for instance, I have seen and loved the movie Persepolis but have yet to sit down and read the book). But this is my "top five" list as it currently stands. Without further ado:

1. French Milk by Lucy Knisley - Knisley’s graphic memoir about her winter trip to Paris kept me hungry - hungry for language, for travel and for food. She and her mother discover the deliciousness of French cheeses, desserts and other dishes that Knisley draws and describes in what is essentially a travel journal and sketchbook combined. Inspirational, it could set in motion a desire in anyone to write (and draw!) a personal story. Imagine your most magical vacation condensed into a beautiful scrapbook complete with recorded cafĂ© conversations and even all the worries about your real life back home that float through your head. That’s French Milk. 

 2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel - Recently I read that when Alison Bechdel was writing Fun Home, she posed for photographs of all the characters so that she could better draw them. I imagine her posing as her father with both glee and sadness. Bechdel, best know for her Dykes To Watch Out For comics and her often used "Bechdel Test" to analysis films with women, wrote this multifaceted memoir that she calls a “tragicomic” about her complicated relationship with her father. Bechdel was just beginning to understand her father when he was hit by a bread truck in what may or may not have been a suicide. That’s only part of the story. Her dad, Bruce had been both a funeral director and a high school English teacher. In common with his daughter he shared several things - some which they could discuss on a superficial level (a mutual love for books) and some which they never discussed (a proclivity toward the same sex). As Bechdel unravels the secrets between them, she uncovers a three-dimensional portrait of who her father was as well as who she is.

3. Ghost World by Dan Clowes -  When you think of Ghost World the movie versus Ghost World the comic, you have to think of them as completely separate entities. While they share several commonalities - two 18 year old girls named Enid and Rebecca are the focus of the story, which follows them while they mock the people and world around them - the comic is a little less linear in its storytelling and some of the characters from the movie never appear in the comic (or appear quite differently, with different levels of importance). Nevertheless, fans of the movie are likely to enjoy the comic for its similarly dark, witty look at the world from the viewpoint of two disenfranchised teenagers. 

4. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight - Sunnydale is no more and the Scoobies are stationed in Scotland (the U.S now views them as terrorists). Admittedly, there were a few moments I could have done without - the reappearance of the ever-annoying Kennedy, for instance - but the important things haven’t changed much. Buffy is still fighting a “Big Bad” and all the snark and wit of the show lives on in the Season Eight comics and their compilations. 

5. Strangers In Paradise by Terry Moore - Surely you know that song by the J. Geils Band, “Love Stinks” that goes: “You love her/but she loves him/and he loves somebody else/you just can’t win.” That’s sort of what Strangers In Paradise is like. It’s maddening the way that the love triangles in this graphic series seem to go on and even multiply into love pentacles and love octagons. And despite how exasperating they are, I simply could not get enough of these characters. Francine and Katchoo were especially compelling and my desperation for the two to finally come together propelled me through the most difficult parts of the books. Strangers In Paradise is addictively realistic and the characters’ confusion about love just makes them all the more so. 

Honorable Mention: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci  - The Plain Janes is the pilot graphic novel for a new imprint launched in 2007 and aimed at young adult girls and it centers around a girl named - you guessed it! - Jane. Jane’s family has moved from the peril of the city to the safety of the suburbs...and Jane hates it. At first, she imagines she won’t make any friends - but then she meets a group of kindred spirits (all with the name “Jane”). Together, they form a gang of renegade artists who commit secret acts of art in an attempt to wake up the world around them. The objective is to take the focus away from fear and channel it into creative acts. It’s a simple story with relatable characters but with a thought-provoking topic. Things go a little awry for the gang, as they are wont to do, but the idea is a fun one. The story works especially well in this format because its lesson is about art and what it can do - and seeing the story drives this message home.


  1. Hmm, very nice, out of all of these you mentioned, only a few speak to me.

    I am dying to pick up French Milk and Fun Home. Ok, maybe I'll just go with French Milk and leave Fun Home alone for now, I don't think I can deal with the possible/uncertain suicide bit.

  2. Oh no, don't let the "possible suicide" aspect keep you from picking up Fun Home. It's a small part of a larger, beautiful story.