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These Graphic Novels Are Like Gateway Drugs

John's back with a beginner's guide to graphic novels!

These Graphic Novels Are Like Gateway Drugs

Ed. note: John M., a grown-up dude braving the world of YA, is back -- this time to tell us about some totally awesome graphic novels/comics/books with pictures!

I absolutely love comics, and why not? Who wouldn't want to read a Neil Gaiman novel with illustrations on EVERY PAGE?! And one thing I do with things I love is I try to get other people to love them too. The problem with recommending comics to people is I tend to hit a couple of stumbling blocks mainly due to some preconceived notions. The major one is that all comics are about superheroes. Saying all comic books are about superheroes is like saying all YA books are about angst-ridden, emotionally abusive vampires.

I am not going to argue that a majority of comics released are filled with spandex-wearing, steroid-sculpted vigilantes who feel obligated to force their moral outlook on those around them, but there are several gems out there if you are willing to look. Comics can be about anything and everything. Art Spiegleman won the Pulitzer Prize for his graphic novel Maus, which told the story of his father, a Polish Jew, during WWII and how he managed to survive Auschwitz. So I have put together a short list of wonderful YA friendly graphic novels in order to, hopefully, get you as hooked on comics as I am.

The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

What it's about:
Published by MINX Comics, The P.L.A.I.N. Janes tells the story of Jane, a teenage girl forced to move out of the big city after she is nearly killed in a terrorist attack. Upon moving to the sleepy suburbs, Jane snubs the advances of the popular girls for the company of three other girls named Jane, Polly Jane and Jayne. Together they form P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods), a guerilla art club, as a way of bringing people's attention the simple beauty of everyday objects. These demonstrations have an unintended consequence, however, when neighborhood parents view them as terrorist acts of vandalism. The Janes must figure out a way to keep themselves out of trouble and get people to understand their art.

Why you will love it:
P.L.A.I.N. Janes is a great introduction to comics because the simple artwork does a great job of supporting the writing without being a distraction. It is almost like reading something out of the funny pages in the newspaper, there aren't any confusing or convoluted word bubbles or overly busy back grounds.

Teenagers from Mars by Rick Spears and Rob G

What it's about:
Teenagers from Mars, published by Gigantic Graphic Novels, tells the story of Macon, a budding comic book writer/artist in the sleepy town of Mars. After Macon is fired from Malmart for refusing to pull all of the comics from the shelves because of one angry customer, he runs into Madison at a party. After the party Madison, another person with a grudge against Malmart after getting kicked out for assaulting another customer for looking up her skirt, and Macon take out their anger on the now empty store and Macon spray paints the words "COMIC BOOK LIBERATION ARMY" on the wall. Without meaning to, Macon's words start a backlash against comics in the town of Mars not seen since the 50's when children were encouraged to burn comic books in public demonstrations.

Why you will love it:
Teenagers from Mars has a slightly more elaborate art style, but again, it is not a major distraction from the story. It also does a great job of working background conversations into the artwork, much like a Robert Altman film. Bonus points for throwing in a Pixies reference in the party scene.

Demo by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

What it's about:
Demo, published by AiT/Planet Lar, is a collection of 12 short stories about young people at a cross road in their life. In the beginning, each character has a super power, but as the series progresses, the power aspect is deemphasized and it focuses more on the people themselves and their relationships with others.

Why you will love it:
Demo actually allows the artwork to do most of the story telling for some of the chapters, and gets you used to actually looking at the artwork in order figure out what is going on. The art in comics is just as important as the dialogue. If you focus entirely on one and ignore the other, you don't get the full effect.

 

All three of these graphic novels embody the mediums ability to tackle difficult issues and make them more accessible to everyone. Not only that, but they tell great stories of everyday people doing powerful things without the aid of superpowers. Well, for the most part.