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May 16, 2008

Going Graphic

Posted by carol
The lunchtime book club at Cynthia Baxter's workplace in Gig Harbor, Washington, grew from occasional conversations about book-to-movie adaptations into a full-fledged book club. Their reading roster has included titles like Life of Pi and Middlesex, and they've also explored another type of book: graphic novels. Cynthia shares some of her favorites and the title she recommends for groups that would like to read a graphic novel.

Are your book selections starting to run dry? Looking for a way to shake it up with your reading group and try something new? The Meta Book Club in Gig Harbor, Washington, was in such a spot ourselves; we were looking for something beyond the usual award winners and classics and eventually added graphic novels to our list. The graphic novel is an underdog domain in literature that usually is found under "Other." It is a refreshing diversion from the usual "General Fiction" or "Women's Interests" or "Historical Fiction" domains.

Our group is small but eclectic, and the age range is wide. Since we are all co-workers, we had IT guys sitting down with medical writers and biostasticians, human resources staff, and product development and data managers. Finding a common ground could be a bit daunting for this group if it were not for the love of reading. Some of the younger members were already familiar with graphic novels, and anime or manga. The older members were not and were more familiar with text novels but were all fans of comic books when they were kids. Since I love all formats and media of literature, I suggested the graphic novel as a means to bring both groups together. The reaction overall was one of curiosity. For those who had read graphic novels, my suggestions were new to them, and those who had no experience were amazed at the detail and depth. These are not the comic books of their youth!

Here are the graphic novels my group has read:

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
- Based on the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
- This is a very interesting approach and a MUST SEE

300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
- Based upon the story of the Spartans' struggle for liberty, autonomy and, ultimately, survival
- The movie is based off of this book --- an interesting discussion point if both are reviewed

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
- One of Alan Moore's first independent graphic novels
- Deeply researched approach to the unsolved Jack-the-Ripper case

Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
- Volume 1 is a visual memoir of the author's childhood in Iran
- Volume 2 recounts her high school years abroad and her return to Iran

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley
- Alternate universe utilizing characters, places, items and plots from Victorian-era gothic literature (how well do you know your H. Rider Haggard?)
- Supplementing with reference books by Victorian literature specialist Jess Nevins is highly recommended

For those newly initiated to the format, they reported they felt like they were watching a TV show. Some missed "the words." Some wished that all government reports would have a graphic adaptation (in reference to the 9/11 Report). Others enjoyed the story and went on to share it with their kids. It depended upon which book we were reading. Graphic novels are mostly intended for adults and can be a bit um...graphic at times. Not all graphic novels are best for reading groups, and I recommend the ones on the list above. For 300, it's best to pair it with the movie version.

Graphic novels are a wonderful departure from the more traditional format. In creating your discussion questions, you can utilize the basics but throw in a few new ones that would not be appropriate for a text book. Example: Did the absence or use of color enhance the mood of the story? Is there a bias presentation to the story --- are the stories saying one thing but the pictures saying something different? Also, discuss the level of detail --- some graphic novels are mere scribbles while others are highly detailed.

If you think that your group might be interested in a graphic novel, I suggest Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi as a starting point. This graphic novel is unusual in several ways --- it is autobiographical, and it is entirely in high contrast black and white. There are discussion guides available for both Volume 1 and Volume 2, and the DVD for the animated version will be released in June.


---Cynthia Baxter