DRAW Your Own Conclusions

Last week featured the annual Free Comic Book Day (sorry not to mention it earlier; I forgot about it myself!). Essentially, Free Comic Book day is exactly what it sounds like: a chance to go into a bookstore and select a comic book for free.

For many reluctant readers, comic books are a gateway drug into reading other books. For many hardcore readers, comic books are something to sneer at. And while I appreciate the fact that comics can lead to more avid readers, I definitely don't think we should dismiss comics as something lesser. In fact, I'd argue that comics often hold some of the most important stories in literature today.

For me, I cut my teeth on graphic novels. My favorite ones were Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi and, later, InuYasha. And while bringing up Japanese shojo manga on a blog about dystopian worlds may not seem to make much sense, I beg to differ.

Graphic novels taught me pacing, and in a dystopian novel, pacing is essential. I'm not talking about the pacing of a plot in this case--I'm talking about the pace of a page. All graphic novels and comics do this, but the one I happened to learn from was Sailor Moon. For example, take a look at the page of Sailor Moon I've got on the left here. The top image is huge, taking up over half the page, but it is also detailed. Your eyes linger on the moment. But beneath that is a series of three smaller images--your eyes dart from one to the next, absorbing quickly what's going on.

This is something that I've tried to emulate in my own writing. Fight scene? Short, choppy sentences. Something heart-breaking and nuanced? Long, lyrical sentences. And white space. Never underestimate white space.

Graphic novels taught me to show, not tell. This seems like an obvious thing--of course a genre that relies on illustrations will show, not tell, but it's more than that. Take, for example, this image of Suzaku on the right (from Fushigi Yuugi). You can just look at her face and know that she's mad, and determined, and won't back down. And you can bet that there's no dialog or exposition explaining that she's mad and determined--you can see it in her face. When we write, it's so much better to show through detail what a character feels rather than to just say it.

Graphic novels taught me that what we really want is a hero that gets knocked down...and then gets back up. So many comics and graphic novels deal with superheroes. But the real attraction to, say, Superman, isn't that he's faster than a speeding bullet or can leap tall buildings in a single bound. It's that when he does meet his match--when the Kryptonite has been thrown at him, when he falls from the sky like a stone, when he's weak before his enemy...he still gets back up.

Really, ultimately, that's the point of dystopian novels, too. It's that when the world is crumbling, when it seems like there's no hope any more...someone stands up to fight. And maybe they fail, or maybe they don't, or maybe they just die trying...but the point in that they tried.

When I was at ComicCon NY last year, the panel moderator asked me why I think dystopian literature is so popular right now. Isn't it, she said, essentially very depressing? I said no. No, it's not. Because at it's heart, dystopian lit is about hope. It turns regular people into superheroes. It's not about the end of the world: it's about fighting back and rising up despite that.

You tell me: What have you learned from comic books and graphic novels? And if you don't read them...go out and try one! Leave your faves in the comments so that other people can know good places to start reading them!

In other news, today I've got a post up on my own blog about charities and zombies, with prizes and less world suck all around. I'd appreciate it if you gave it a look and spread the word about the charities.


Chris Phillips said...

I totally missed it.


Kate Evangelista said...

Oh, a Sailor Moon reference! I heart you.

Angie Smibert said...

Great post, Beth. I have to chime in because, well, Memento Nora is about an underground comic.

I actually didn't care for comics or graphic novels as a kid. Frankly, the choices for a girl in a small Southern town in the 70's weren't that exciting: the Archies. And the Archies.

So I didn't discover graphic novels until adulthood. My faves (and the ones that most influenced Memento Nora):

Maus I&II by Art Spiegelman
Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi
The Modern Life by Tom Tomorrow
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
American Splendor by Harvey Pekar

More on the first two at http://www.mementonora.com/inspirations/micahs-gallery

Jenny said...

Yay! I love Sailor Moon!