Written by: Brandon Barzola
Despite being an English and journalism double major, I’ve always held the belief that I suck at reading. It sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but ever since high school, I’ve had trouble finishing many of the books I’ve been assigned in my English classes. There’s something about sitting down and reading pages upon pages of straight words that just exhausts me. Especially in my busy day-to-day life as a college student, I sadly don’t have the time anymore to dedicate to finishing a lot of the different books that I’m assigned in class.
Still, I knew that I loved storytelling across different mediums. It wasn’t until a year or two ago that I developed a love for graphic novels. Being a photographer and a writer, I liked how graphic novels combined both the visual and written avenues of storytelling.
Some of the first graphic novels I read were American Born Chinese and The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. American Born Chinese particularly struck me because of its three interwoven narratives which succeeded through some of the visual distinctions between settings and characters in each narrative. Graphic novels like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which shows the author interviewing his father on his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, a memoir showing the author’s family’s journey as refugees from Vietnam to new lives in America, do a great job of conveying lived experiences to readers on historical events that may not always have the chance to be explored from such an intimate perspective.
Graphic novels are an example of multimodal learning, as it requires you to not just engage with the written text on a page, but to be able to “read” and decipher the images that coincide with the written story. Furthermore, even the comic form’s use of gutters, or the use of space between panels on a page, is an important part of the reading experience for graphic novels. In a graphic novel, being able to decipher facial expressions, body language, and an artist’s use of color and line weight is just as important as understanding the written dialogue.
In some cases, graphic novels are easier to digest and, if you’re often busy like me, can contain a great story in a much smaller package, making for a quick read. While graphic novels cover an entire story arc in one book, comics are serialized and can thus stretch an overarching story across several issues. This can also be exciting, since it’s like waiting for the next episode of your favorite TV show to release.
While superhero comics have definitely been the mainstream genre, there are many other ongoing series that span all kinds of genres. Take Saga for example. The series, by Brian K. Vaughan, is like a cross between Star Wars and Game of Thrones: an epic space opera/fantasy about a girl born to star-crossed lovers whose races are at war with each other, which leads to the family being hunted across the galaxy. For horror fans, Something Is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV is worth checking out. The series explores a world where children are hunted by monsters that only they can see. Enter protagonist Erica Slaughter, a skilled monster hunter who can see these abominations, whose mission is to save this small town’s kids from a gruesome end. The world-building in this series is steady, but phenomenal, which makes you keep reading until you’re waiting for the next issue. If you’re looking for something in the realm of mystery and noir, The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote is a fantastic series to follow. Set in 1930s San Francisco Chinatown against the backdrop of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese detective Edison Hark is on the trail of a mysterious killer and a missing woman as he navigates everyday racism, family trauma, and hatchet-wielding killers. It’s a fantastic, stylish series that roots itself in the history of its setting.
If you love reading, try reading some graphic novels or comics the next time you’re at the library. There are thousands upon thousands of stories out there and no matter what, there will always be something for everyone.