About a decade ago I had a job in town. Right across the road from the library. That proximity is what made me really start using my library card – no excuses, it was easy. Easy to return books on time, easy to nip out for a quick break – great place to go during lunch (the café was legendary too). It slowed me down from buying books too – which is good. Necessary. I’ve worked in three book shops in my time, and as a reviewer my “pay” was free CDs – this is back 20 years ago or so when they were actually some sort of currency. I’d save CDs and DVDs and trade them in to buy things at Real Groovy. A few records and more CDs and DVDs. But mostly books. I also review books. So the odd free copy turns up at the house.
I could never bring myself to buy graphic novels though. Beautiful though they are, brilliant as they so often are too, I can’t justify dropping $50 for something that I’ll read inside an hour. Sure, you look them over, you loan them to people, they look nice on your shelf, they scratch your collector’s itch, they convince you for the micro-moment when hot with purchase that they’re about to fill some void in your life. But they mount up quickly on the shelves – leaving not enough room for the countless other books you might never get to.
When I was a kid I read comics. Not as much as other kids. But they were part of my world.
I was into Garfield and Footrot Flats and Peanuts. I read a few superhero things but I’ve never been a big Marvel or DC guy; I watch some of the movies now – but only in my role as Parental Guidance. I can’t say I was a bigtime comic-book geek at all. But I never had any problem with the idea of it. I just read other books. Gary Larson pulled me back into the comic world when I was a high school. I became obsessed with his stuff. Isn’t everyone?
But ever since I moved closer to the library, got to know it, and now can’t live without it (even though it’s no longer across the road from me) I have been devouring graphic novels.
I’m careful not to get too involved with series’ – I’ll only rage-up if a volume is missing, not available, forever on loan. So I’m a standalone-volume reader. For the most part. Oh, I’ll hook into a particular writer and/or artist. I’ve read most things by Shaun Tan and Adrian Tomine, Daniel Clowes, Derf Backderf, Lisa Hannawalt (of Tuca & Bertie and Bojack Horseman fame) and dirty ol’ R. Crumb.
Look there are dozens more names I could add – and if you want to check up on me you’ll find an ongoing list of every book I’ve read (or even started) over on Goodreads. But my point wasn’t to boast at all, more the opposite actually, this is to say I’m still very much a fairweather-fan or newbie to the world of graphic novels.
I probably got turned back onto comics – when they became Graphic Novels and not because that sounded lofty and proper, but because I was gob smacked by Shaun Tan’s way with both the word and the image. And because I attended a talk by Joe Sacco. I didn’t need Sacco’s journalism credentials to validate the experience of quickly turning the pages on a book of cartoons, but it was in the back-pocket if anyone ever doubted me that it constituted “real reading”. Take on anything by Sacco or even Harvey Pekar (another favourite) and you’re in for something very wordy too.
At the same time I started reading Peanuts again. I’m floored by the subtle genius of it. The heartbreak and humanity.
And that’s what I get from graphic novels. The power of the word and the image combining – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything as affecting as Home After Dark by David Small. A recent/ish find. It just punched me hard in the heart and stomach. It shook my head. And it was an exhilarating reading experience. I went straight back to check out his Stitches which was powerful too.
One of my friends recommended to me Paying For It by Chester Brown. A book that’s ten years old. It’s subtitled, “a comic-strip memoir about being a john” – and that’s what it is. A confessional about looking for sex rather than love and so paying for it. It’s a beautifully told story and there’s something profound about the way Brown puts it down. I was straight back for more from his back-catalogue (I Never Liked You) and I’ll be out to get more – probably soon after mentioning his name here.
But also that is my favourite form I think: The Graphic Memoir. You get all sorts. And you really get the emotional state of the author/artist. It is so compelling.
Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray is one such example. Genius at work.
Wellington Central Library has a pretty great range I reckon, but I’m a relative newbie, or at least someone that forever feels like they’re catching up.
Are you a graphic novel reader? Any collectors out there? Do you have shelves filled with them? And do you return to the same story often or is it just enough to have them and see them looking all nice there in your room?
And I’d love some recommendations. Favourites? Go-to illustrators and writers? And what’s a series that I really should not ignore?