Monday, August 13, 2007

Reading Graphic Novels

In LA, the topic of graphic novels being hard for some people to read came up. With these conversations in mind, I stopped to look at the graphic novel section in the bookstore this weekend.

Disclaimer #1: I'm a long time comic strip reader but I'm new to graphic novels so I'm just going on observations here. Feel free to try and convince me that I might need to look at this in a new way.

The thing that I noticed was that some graphic novels ARE hard to read. They are not as accessible because of the way the art looks or because of small or stylized lettering that makes the text hard to read. (If you wouldn't print a whole regular novel in all italics because it's hard to read, then why would you put all the text in a graphic novel into italics or flowery script that's hard to read?)

Sometimes, in a prose or verse novel, the writing gets in the way of the story. It's too pretty or descriptive, or just plain bad, and you notice the writing while you are reading. Sometimes a character or more will have a thick accent that will take a while to get used to and make the book hard to read in the beginning, but once you get used to it the story comes through.

I'm sure that this applies to graphic novel art as well. Sometimes you need to get used to the look of the images and to figure out the visual accent, but once you do, the story comes through. There are also cases where the art doesn't work well to tell a story. Maybe there isn't enough contrast so you can't really make out the figures or the action, or maybe there's a distracting shading technique or poorly drawn figures.

Just like in a regular novel, a graphic novel should think about the reader and focus on creating a story that the reader will be able to be drawn into. That story focus should include how the images look.

Disclaimer #2: Personal preference plays a part. What doesn't work visually for me, might work really well for someone else.

Some graphic novels are inviting to almost everyone; the story is easy to decipher in both the pictures and the text. These are my favorites, especially if they also have a great story and wonderful characters.

After my trip to the bookstore this weekend, I can see how it might be hard for some people to read graphic novels. Maybe they just haven't found the right one for them yet.