I’ve noticed a trend in young adult literature that has been growing over the past year or so- a lot of popular YA books are getting the graphic novel treatment. I first noticed this with Twilight a few years ago, but recently I’ve seen more and more popular YA fiction titles are being reimagined as graphic novels. The reasons for this escaped me for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I like comics. I have nothing but love for Batman and Batgirl. But when books that were successful and popular without pictures suddenly started showing up in my library in a completely new picture-filled format the first thing I asked myself was why?
The cynical side of me realizes it’s a whole new way to make money off of a story. We all know that books that get made into movies tend to sell better, so putting them out in graphic form is another way to extend their moneymaking. Or perhaps by changing the format of the books publishers can get people who already own the originals to buy them again. These are certainly valid reasons, and it’s likely there’s truth there. The non-cynical side of me sees other reasons for this trend.
Graphic novels reach a whole different audience. I like comics, yes, but I tend to read traditional prose (a.k.a. chapter books) and don’t usually gravitate to graphic novels. But there are those who much prefer the marriage of words and art to tell a story, and maybe they would never have picked up The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan if it hadn’t been adapted into a graphic novel by Robert Venditti. Reaching new audiences is good, not just because it sells more books but because it introduces stories to readers who may have otherwise missed hearing that story. Reading the graphic novel may lead someone to reading the original, or may lead them to an interest in an author’s other work. It’s a win-win.
Reading a graphic novel is also a different experience from reading a traditional prose book. While you can let your imagination create a world unique to you when reading traditional prose, a graphic novel introduces you someone else’s stylized vision of a story, much as a movie does. Some might argue that this can limit imagination and get an image stuck in your head (those who read The Hunger Games before the movies probably didn’t see Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, but those who read it after seeing the film probably did.) That may be true, but illustrations can also be shared visual cues that readers can discuss and interpret and argue over just as much as readers discuss, interpret and argue over passages in books. Having illustrations can also make a story more accessible to more visually minded readers or help a reader figure out what an unfamiliar place or thing looks like. The difference between a cutlass and a rapier may be obvious to some of us, but for others a picture can explain it faster than looking it up on the internet!
I think another reason that many popular YA titles are getting graphic is that variety really is the spice of life. While at ALA Annual in Las Vegas last year I picked up a new copy of Pride and Prejudice…the Manga Classics version. Now, Pride and Prejudice is my all-time favorite Jane Austen novel. I’ve read it several times and have seen every movie adaptation I‘ve been able to get my hands on. But a manga version of it? If I could enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when I don’t like zombies, I was pretty sure I could enjoy a manga version of Mr. Darcy, and I did. Very much, in fact. While I can re-read the original classic over and over sometimes I appreciate the familiarity of the story told in a different way. It’s a chance to relive the story but with a fresh take, which really keeps the story alive.
Not every YA book would make a great graphic novel. There are just some stories that really lend themselves to getting graphic, and they are very visual, or action oriented, or take place in a fantastical world that inspires imagination. Take The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, for example. Gaiman is well known for his work in the comic book world, so naturally his award winning prose translates well as a graphic novel, too, as adapted by P. Craig Russell. And the books in Erin Hunter’s Warriors series are also great as graphic novels. The world and characters created in those books are very visual, so adapting them into a graphic novel makes a lot of sense.
Are there any YA titles you’d like to see get graphic?
-Carla Land, currently reading The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Prince by Casandra Clare, art by Hyekyung Beak