Have you finished all your Christmas shopping, or do you still have 10 gifts to find? If, like me, you like to give books as gifts, it can be a challenge to strike the right balance between a book you know someone will enjoy and a book that will give them a new experience. Graphic novels have been my new experience this year.
I am emphatically not a graphic novel reader–I have nothing against the format, but it’s just not something that I tend to pick up on my own. My 5-year-old son, however, loves comic books and my elementary school librarian mother, who also grew up loving comic books, has been helping him out by recommending graphic novels for kids his age. Since I seem to be destined, for at least the next 12 years, to be around a graphic novel reader, I’ve been trying to dip into the format a little further. As I’ve done so, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for helping graphic novel lovers lure us non-GN readers into the format.
- Choose a story to match your reader, just as you would for a regular novel. I’m not a huge fan of superheroes, which are what first come to my mind when I think of graphic novels. So a graphic novel about Superman is probably not the best bet when recommending for me. But a graphic novel version of Romeo and Juliet, adapted by Gareth Hinds (nominee for the 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list)? Or a historical graphic novel set about the Boxer Rebellion in China (Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang, 2013 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature)? Yes, please! While it may be a no-brainer, this is definitely the most important tip I can offer–just like you have to find the right story for the right reader with regular format books, you must do the same with graphic novels. Those of us who aren’t familiar with the format may not realize there’s a graphic novel with a story for us, so prove us wrong!
- If possible, start with a familiar orientation. I can now say that I’ve successfully read my first graphic novel in right-to-left format (Emma, Vol. 1, by Kaoru Mori, 2008 Great Graphic Novel for Teens). But before that, I put down several because I was intimidated by it. By all means, get us to love graphic novels enough that we don’t care which way they read (Emma, a British maid who falls in love with a rich gentleman, was right up my alley), but for the first few times, stick to a reading direction that will be familiar. Bonus points if the first right-to-left book you give us has one of those cheat sheets at the Western-front to help us on our way (yep, that’s how I got going on Emma).
- Along the same lines, learn to read the pictures. It may be hard to believe, but some of us may have forgotten our picture-reading skills from long ago. I can zip through the text part of a graphic novel, but I really have to study some of those action scenes to figure out what’s going on! I ended up loving Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, by Tony Cliff (2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens nominee, 2014 Popular Paperbooks for Young Adults nominee), but it took me several false starts before I got caught up in the story–the action scenes kept bogging me down (crazy, I know). Romeo and Juliet worked for me largely because I already knew the story, so I didn’t have to figure out who was slashing at whom. Similarly, it helped that Boxers had wide variations in color–drabs and grays for regular activity, but bright colors for the god-inspired fights. A totally different book, Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, by G. Neri (2011 Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2011 ALA Notable Book, 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, 2011 Great Graphic Novel for Teens) helped me read the pictures by taking an almost documentary style…displaying Yummy’s wanted sign, newscasters discussing events, etc.
- Go for broke on beautiful pictures. I might not have kept going with Delilah Dirk, but the pictures were just so pretty! Since the pictures are a huge part of what makes this genre appealing, find the most gorgeous ones you can. Even we thick-novel-loving readers like a nice picture…capitalize on that!
- Tease us with the huge stack of books you’ve finished this week. I am a slow reader, something of a crutch for a librarian and a mother of young children. Once I got into the graphic novels I selected, I was amazed by how quickly I finished them. Sometimes I just want a book I can finish quickly, and graphic novels fit that bill.
So if you’re trying to convert the non-graphic novel reader in your life, see if these tips help a little. In the meantime, help me explore further! What are some graphic novels you think will further entice me (and other non-GN fans) to read more of them?
-Libby Gorman, currently rereading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott