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Are graphic novels for kids? Part 3

- Sometimes graphic novels really are for kids.

- A whole lot of comics are.

- What’s wrong with that?

- Absolutely nothing. Except that there are more and more comics for grown ups that get mistakenly placed with children.

- Example?

- A compilation of vignettes about being a middle school kid.

Stuck in the Middle cover

- But the book gives a middle school perspective.

- Which is uniformly depressing, in a hind-sight, very adult perspective. Adults just out of their teens might like it. Maybe some older teens, too. I doubt middle schoolers would.

J.L. Bell also complains that many adult graphic novels are shelved for kids.

- And he has a point. But I don't agree with the examples he's given.

- Why?

- I think he’s forgotten that pictures do make things easier to read.

- What if the subject matter is difficult?

- Especially when the subject matter is difficult.

- You think so?

- Absolutely. In a graphic novel, you don’t have to wade through words to get an image. An artist provides you with one. And so, a harsh or involved scene can be described in a panel or two. The text can be limited to the absolute necessary to convey the complicated thoughts or emotions. You can in a very small space both show the person being terrified while saying something brave. Or have five different characters reacting differently, all in one panel. Or pause and give the reader time to think something through by providing a series of repeated panels.

- And this makes it more accessible.

- Sure. You don’t need literary skills to read the description. It’s given to you, in the pictures. The emotions aren’t described so much as drawn.

- And so a teen. . .

- Can follow the story more easily. Some of the reader's work is done in the pictures.

- So graphic novels are basically dumbed down novels?

- Not at all. The plots, ideas and emotions can still be very complicated. The subject matter can still be adult in nature.

- I'm confused. Earlier you said that there are graphic novels really just for adults. And now you say that those novels are also accessible to teens.

- Not all graphic novels are attractive to teens. The subject matter can be off-putting -- especially if it portrays kids as uniformly negative. Or  the pacing can turn away a more action-driven teen. But at the same time, many graphic novels with subject matters you would think would only be interesting to adults, become more approachable because they've become graphic novels.

- Like?

- Persepolis.

Persepolis cover


Maus cover


Laika cover

Town of Evening Calm; Country of Cherry Blossoms.

Town of evening calm cover

- And you think the pictures have something to do with making them accessible.

- Absolutely.

- I notice you picked Laika as one of your examples.

- Uh huh.

- I thought you didn’t like dead dog books.

- Despise them.

- Yet Laika. . .

- Still makes my point.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2008 05:19 am (UTC)
The problem that I see isn't that graphic novels written for adults might be shelved with those written for teens or younger readers. It's that they might *only* be shelved there.

That's not a problem in large library systems, which can afford to have multiple copies of a _Maus_, _Flight_, or _Bone_ for the adult, YA, and/or kids' sections.

But bookstores like to assign all their inventory to one place. (Some put all the comics together, avoiding this problem for the nonce.) And some smaller libraries can afford only one copy.

If that inventory or the one copy mistakenly gets put into an area for readers below the real target age, then that makes it harder for adults to find the books, and it reinforces the cultural notion that comics are for kids. In time, that will make it harder for the most sophisticated, adult comics to find an audience, and for the medium to gain wider respect.

More about this on Monday and Tuesday at Oz and Ends.
Nov. 11th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
I look forward to what you will have to say.

My take: part of the problem with the classification of graphic novels comes from the fact that they are their own form of media created for a range of age groups, and not kids' books that sometimes grow up. But more on that tomorrow.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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