Three graphic novel reviews
By Jeanne Doherty, MLIS
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Not all comix are created equal, and wouldn't it be a crying shame if they were. I certainly can't think of a correlative to this superb and almost painfully honest autobiographical graphic novel. Thompson has garnered so much praise for this work, that I almost feel foolish adding my own, but I did want to say one thing. There are other artists out there who can create beauty and humor with pen-and-ink, but 'Blankets' is unusual in my experience of comix and contemporary literature. It is completely raw, lacking in the tone of distancing irony that often plagues "hip" art. The character of Craig is troubled by the petty cruelties of his family, by his feelings for the church and by his growing love for a girl he meets at camp, and he isn't ashamed to show us. It is refreshing to see the inner thoughts of anyone, seemingly unmediated by self-consciousness, but our narrator isn't just anyone. The Craig Thompson of the book is deeply devout, but questioning his faith; he is sensitive to the nuances of his world, but surrounded by those who are not. He is a singular character in his small Wisconsin town. The Craig Thompson who created the book conveys all of this flawlessly and beautifully. For me, who grew up in a big city on the "Left Coast," it was like stepping into a completely different world, with a sympathetic guide to show me the differences and the similarities between my life and his own.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi grew up in Tehran during the Islamic revolution and Iran's war with Iraq, and this graphic novel is a record of her impressions of her country from age 6 until her parents sent her to Vienna at 14. There is something about the charming and funny drawings that mitigates the horror of the events she describes. Yet, there is also something about the child's-eye view and the probing questions that a child is more likely to ask that really points out the irony and wrong-headedness in what is happening. The book is funny, horrifying, sad and inspiring. I was left thinking: if this little girl could foment against injustice, why can't we all?
The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (vol. 1) by Neil Gaiman
This comic book series started when I was in high school, and it is almost impossible to explain the electrifying effect it had on my friends. It was as if the books had been created just for us! Everything we loved was there: complex and intelligent stories, inside references to music and comix and mythology, skillful and varied graphic art and, most important of all, a beautifully cynical gothic sensibility. If you understand what it feels like to listen rapturously to Siouxsie and the Banshees' 'Through the Looking Glass', you will understand what it feels like to be madly in love with the Sandman. My friends and I were madly in love with these comix...we passed them around like candy, we re-read them countless times and eagerly awaited the next one and the next one and the next one.
I still have a set of the graphic novels into which the comic books were collected. I pull them out to re-read from time to time, and I think that they are worth sharing with those of you who didn't grow up reading them. The stories are (as I said) complex, original and often genuinely scary, the characters are mysterious and strange and the graphic art is often wonderful. In fact, I envy those who are experiencing the Sandman books for the first time.