From Alison Bechdel's Fun Home to Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis to David Smalls' Stitches, graphic novels tell tales of embodiment, transition, family, culture, challenge and change in ways that purely written texts simply cannot.
Similarly, internal processes are conveyed without a host of descriptors that, inevitably, create more rather than less distance between the reader and the experience. In one frame, Smalls illustrates his protagonist - who has both literally and figuratively lost the ability to speak up in his own life - huddled down inside his own mouth.
Having just finished Gene Luen Yang's Printz award winning American Born Chinese, I was amazed by not only Yang's colorful, vibrant drawing style and imaginative narrative, but his ability to pull me into his protagonist Jin Wang's very psyche without me realizing he was doing it. The three parallel story lines - of Chinese American immigrant son Jin Wang, of All-American Danny and his larger-than life Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, and of the mythical Monkey King, serve to enfold the reader in a story about complicated issues - schoolyard racism, internalized racism, emerging sexuality, family politics, and the dangers of becoming what you are not.
A written novel uses words to describe certain emotional states or images to get the reader to a particular emotional state. Yet, usually, the mediation provided by words and language make the reader aware of the experience. In Yang's graphic novel, the reader transported to a feeling of discomfort, disquiet and, yes, anger, while almost unaware of the process.
Racism should make us not only uncomfortable, but angry. Yet, it's rarely any good for a novel about race and racism to shout "be angry, this is wrong, be angry!" Instead, through the twists and turns of Yang's three narratives, through the over-the-top racist portrayal of Chin-Kee, I unconsciously slipped into his narrative when I wasn't even looking.
Graphic novels continue to delight, surprise and inspire me. What are some of your favorites?