Graphic Novels, New Outlet of Expression

After we read Maus and had in depth discussion about whether or not we think that a graphic novel is an appropriate way to express an idea like the Holocaust, I began thinking about what the graphic novel does to an event with the depth of the Holocaust.  AS we discussed in class, the use of many different techniques to create the graphics contributes to the success of the novel.  If the artist would have simply scribbled some lines quickly, sure a graphic novel may not express the severity of something like the Holocaust.  Art Spiegeltman is able to create a mood through the use of line, texture, shading, shadows and many other artistic techniques.  These visual details are extremely effective because the eye and the emotions are closely connected and when the reader reads the text and then goes on to examine the images, much more is gained from the novel.  I began wonderding if these types of novels exist anywhere else in literature and for this blog, i’m going to take a look around to examine graphic novels and their effectiveness..

There was a segment done on NPR about the best graphic novels of 2008 and the comment made about graphic novels was, “No longer only for kids, nerds and baby boomers longing for a second childhood, graphic novels are showing themselves to be a medium of startling breadth and grace” (NPR). First on the list was Skyscrapers Of The Midwest which is about the unknown details of America’s farmlands.  If focuses on boys growing up in the mid west and how religion effects young people before they have found themselves. This book focuses on the lonely and confusing life which forces young men to discover the meaning of their existence. The illustrator, Cotter, uses pictures of kittens, skeletons, and robots which are similar to the depictions in Maus of pigs, dogs, mice, cats, etc.

Also on the list was Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert about an American G.I. who settled in France to live after World War II. NPR states, “What unfolded was a rambling narrative about friendship, romance and an American generation irreversibly changed by its exposure to Europe in the war years.”  When i took a look an excerpt from the novel, i was impressed by the images.  The soldiers are depicted mostly looking alike, and the military vehicles are cartoon-like. However, when the graphics focus on one specific person or soldier, the entire square is devoted to the details in their face, making them appear to be a human. Having wrinkles, a smile, a frown makes them very human and relatable.  Also, the artist uses actual scenic pictures to show images of where the soldiers were. This also makes the novel feel very realistic, it puts value on the fact that this is a TRUE story and that many soldiers lived this way, and many died this way also.  The part I found most interesting about this account was the simple language used.  It was very matter-of-fact and almost naive.  One graphic has a darkened picture of a broken bridge with the following text:

“There were a lot of accidents, especially at night. Many roads and bridges had been destroyed and in wartime, you don’t use your head lights. Some guys died because all of a sudden, in the dark, they’d find themselves at the end of a road and SPLASH, they’d fall in.  This simple language could illustrate two things to me. First, it could represent the sarcasm and the resentment felt during the war, that has continued with this G.I. for the rest of his life.  Or, it could also represent the simple language used during the war by the G.I.s most of them, unless they were like the British poets we read were not writing eloquent literature during the war, but using the most simple jargon familiar to all soldiers to get through their day.  Either way, i found this graphic novel to be incredibly well illustrated and designed for a memoir to the life of a G.I.

The use of a graphic novel to depict the Holocaust was in interesting way of expression used by Art Spiegelmen, similar to how the depiction of World War II was depicted by Emmanuel Guibert.  These accounts draw on the emotions and allow the reader to activate senses that are not involved when reading a novel with only text.  I think this genre of literature and can both very informative and powerful when representing serious events and ideas such as war and death. Click here to check out NPR’s Best Graphic Novels of 2008


3 Responses to “Graphic Novels, New Outlet of Expression”

  1. 1 amicablytom
    April 13, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    After running through MAUS, I too have a new found respect for the graphic novel. What I once thought were only useful in the realm of Manga and Hentai crazed geeks, have turned out to be a rather powerful tool when telling stories that words alone struggle to accomplish. MAUS is probably one of the more affecting literary pieces that I’ve ever read through. The drawings of Art Spiegelman really forced an emotional attachment to the characters and fully depicted the events and happenings of the tale while still allowing for the mind to wander and fill in the gaps. Perhaps the context of MAUS being a bit of history that everyone knows a fair bit about really aided in the telling of the story, but regardless it was wonderfully told and illustrated. I’ve not read any of these other graphic novels that you’ve linked to but maybe I’ll take a peek in the Grand Rapids Public Library for one the next time I visit.

  2. 2 John Smalley
    April 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Call it the inner-nerd in me (ah, who am I kidding…outer nerd) I have always enjoyed the story telling capabilities of “Graphic Novels.” They go one step further, in my opinion, with stories that you just cannot get with text alone. Sure it is possible that you might be losing your own personal imagination along the way, but I feel that’s putting one’s mindset in a too specific mode. In order to tell an incredible story we do not have to rely just on words to convey it. Being a former film major it has allowed me to truly open up to the idea of visually telling a story alongside one’s own narrative, spoken or text.

    With Maus we get the thrilling story of a man and his family’s life through Nazi influenced Europe and his endearing struggle to survive. With the added help of the drawn out images we’re able to see, dare I say, a more dramatic and thought inducing story that is able to stand tall on its own. The fact that it is a graphic novel does not hinder the story in any way.

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