Graphic Novels Are Limitless In Their Subject Matter
Stories can come in all shapes and sizes: they can be lengthy like a novel, or short and serialised like a comic strip. Whatever art form is chosen, specific choice are made about style, tone, and how much it leans into its conventions and stereotypes. A storytelling method that combines the depth of a novel with the accessibility of a comic is the graphic novel. In today’s blog, we’ll talk about what this book type is and what sort of subject matter it chooses to address.
What are Graphic Novels?
Graphic novels are named because they are made of comics content with the length and arc of a novel. “Comics” is a medium that uses images combined with text to express ideas and further the story along. The difference between a comic and a graphic novel is that the former is usually periodical. This means that a new issue is released on a set schedule. Whereas, a graphic novel is sent into the world in its entirety.
The term was first coined in 1964, but it’s thought that the first graphic novels appeared in the 1920s. Some authors are against the term because of its connotational intellectual gate-keeping. However, it is still very much a marketing label used to this day.
A Range of Subject Matter
Because it’s only restraints are:
- that it needs to use the comics medium
- that it covers more or less the full story in its entirety
— graphic novels aren’t restricted when it comes to what their story is about.
We present to you a range of impactful illustrated stories and their subject matter. Maybe one of them will catch your eye?
Created by Art Spiegelman in 1991, Maus is a multi-volume story. In it are depictions of interviews with Spiegelman’s father about his experience as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The novel uses postmodernist art techniques as well as the representation of different animals as different groups of people. It is the only graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Alison Bechdel’s 2006 memoir chronicles her childhood — more specifically the relationship with her father. It addresses topics of sexual orientation, gender roles, trauma, and the role of literature in creating one’s identity. Bechdel illustrated her book by photographing herself in poses for each human figure and then drawing from these photographs. In 2013, Fun Home was adapted into a musical of the same name which won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Watchmen is an example of a multi-person collaboration with writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colourist John Higgins. Originally a proposal for a DC comic, Watchmen is an alternate history where the presence of superheroes wins the United States the Vietnam War. It is a story the explores anxiety while deconstructing the concept of superheroes. What’s more, it uses a strict grid layout and symbolism to navigate its nonlinear narrative.
Originally penned in French by Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is another memoir of childhood and early adulthood in the wake of the Islamic Revolution. Due to its graphic language and images, it is one of the more controversial books on school reading lists. However, it gives an honest look into the loss of innocence and identity, and how we navigate a world we feel we have no control over.
Another coming-of-age autobiography (something about the graphic novel makes it the perfect place for it), Craig Thompson tells of his childhood in an Evangelical Christian family. It is a story of love, conflict, and spirituality. Thompson parallels his adult experiences with his childhood experiences. It is a milestone for American graphic novels because of its length and visual techniques.
American Born Chinese
A graphic novel containing three tales, Gene Luen Lang penned this book in 2006. The first story tells a Chinese folk tale. The second is about first-generation children of immigrants. And the third, and last, is about a white American boy encountering Chinese stereotypes. These tales, seemingly separate at first, begin to interweave to create a narrative about identity and race.