March 26, 2012

In Praise of Paris and the Graphic Novel

While working on the 3rd floor at Central on Sunday, I noticed that some wise librarian had done a display on Graphic Novels.  Huzzah!  Back in early 2000, I was working as a children's librarian at a branch in Byron.  Graphic novels had just started trickling into the library collection, but I largely ignored them.  A cursory glance at the cover (manga - blechhh!) and then a shove onto the new book shelf.  My anti-gn self was convinced that they were like comic books - meant for angst-ridden teen boys and men suffering from Peter Pan syndrome.  I'm not sure what I had against the form; I think I was being narrow-minded like a woman I know in her late 60's, who still refuses to read or watch Harry Potter (she who shall remain nameless ;-).  Yes, nameless one, you are right and the people across the globe who have purchased the 325 million copies in the series are wrong). 

Over a sandwich at Organic Works Bakery (on Wellington), my uber-talented friend, Brenda, introduced me to French Milk - a nonfiction graphic novel set in France.  Written by a twenty-something young lady who travels to Paris with her mother for six weeks, to celebrate Mom's fiftieth, the novel lauds all the things that I love about France - food, drink, fashion, art and shopping.  I inhaled this book like it was a wheel of brie with sweet red pepper jelly - once I started, there was no stopping.  

 My apologies for poor res.   

I am not going to review this book.  I adored it and obviously, I am recommending it (you can put it on hold at LPL) but my point here is that, post- Milk, I definitely wanted to read more of the genre.  I couldn't believe how much I like FM and wondered whether there were other similar gn's out there.  Maybe it's that I started with nonfiction.  In my eyes, the nonfiction aspect lent the genre more cred and therefore I was willing to give it a shot.  Hey, I'm learning something! Must be good for me!

Brenda also recommended Carnet de Voyage by cartoonist Craig Thompson (he also wrote the fictitious Blankets, a gn on the tantalizing subject of first love).  Voyage is a travelogue that Thompson wrote while he traveled to France, Barcelona and Morocco.  Lots of similarities with French Milk and I really enjoyed his sense of humour and self-deprecating wit.

I began a graphic novel odyssey.  I work at the Central Library on Sundays and the reference desk is adjacent to the Graphic Novel shelf.  I selected a title each week and found myself hooked.  A lot of the books that I've read thus far are health-related (yes, I did consider becoming a physician at one point in my life and sometimes I still do.  I was listening to the CBC last week and they were featuring a piece on a 79 year old BC lady who is about to take the LSAT. What a lady! Maybe there's hope for me yet).  But back to gn's - I like that the authors take a difficult subject (cancer, Alzheimer's, alcoholism, surgery, post-traumatic stress etc.) and employ an unexpected form (the graphic novel) to educate others and express themselves.  I think that the gn is very accessible and is excellent for people who could use an education on a painful or disturbing subject (albeit a quick, humorous one).   Who doesn't like that? To use the marvelous Sir Philip Sidney's words, I believe that the gn both "teaches and delights".

Here is a list of some other titles that I devoured, all of which are available at the library:

Tangles by Sarah Leavitt.  Chronicles the author's mother's Alzheimer's.  Whoa.  Too many apostrophes in that sentence.  This book was poignant, funny and riveting.  Leavitt takes difficult subject matter and turns it on its head.

Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies.  What a horrible title for a book! If you can get beyond this, it's worth it, honest.  What all these novelists do well, besides draw, is employ humour.  Cancer is funny!; well, it is in this book.  Here's an excerpt:  "WHAT LUCK! Mom's so chock-full of malignancy, they can tap her like a Vermont Maple and collect buckets of oozing cancer syrup from almost anywhere!" (accompanied by pic of Mom with arms raised like branches and tapped like a Maple tree). Ha!

The Amazing "True" Story of a Teenage Single Mom by Katherine Arnoldi.  My heart ached for this poor girl initially, but I soon found myself awash in admiration for such a strong spirit.  Raising her daughter singlehandedly with little support, she returns to school, improves her circumstances and begins to really live a meaningful life.

Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki.  Can a fifteen year old girl's honours English assignment be her path to enlightenment?  Why, yes it can.

I should mention that there are many more titles in the library collection.  I am about to reread Persepolis (critics have compared Tina's Mouth to it) and another book by the same author, Marjane Satrapi (Chicken with Plums).  One of my neighbours stopped by the reference desk yesterday and I was telling her about this blog and she recommended Plums to me.  So I have placed it on hold.  I am also going to read Stitches.  Imagine a fourteen-year old boy awakening from "routine" vocal cord surgery to find that one of his cords was riddled with cancer, subsequently removed and that he has been basically rendered mute.  I thumbed through this yesterday and it appealed to the doctor in me.

If anyone has a recommendation for a gn that they enjoyed, please comment and let me know.

Thanks for reading.