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Getting Graphic
sonja holmberg 11 staff writer
April 22, 2010

Most books are words, words, words, with, perhaps, an occasional illustration. When was the last time you looked at a book in which the illustrations were equally important as the words?

Graphic novels differ from comic books in their literary merit and seriousness of purpose. For example, graphic novels such as Maus, Persepolis, and Ghost World grapple with serious political, social, and psychological struggles.

Yale University Press recently released the graphic novel, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. Topics range from sobering accounts of sexual abuse to masterfully-crafted reflections on the subtle nuances of everyday life. The variety of perspectives and styles is eclectic and inspirational.

In Jessica Abel’s short story, “Jack London,” a reference to the author of Call of the Wild and To Build a Fire, the protagonist reflects on the beauty of a Chicago snowstorm. Every illustration captures her emotions, while the pen-and-ink snow scenes resemble Georges Seurat’s pointillist paintings. The prose in “Jack London” is lyrical and fluid. For example, the protagonist meditates, “…I feel like Jack London. We are a city full of arctic pioneers, bonded by the harsh conditions.”

Adrian Tomine, in “Optic Nerve,” communicates psychological soupçons through his realistic facial expressions and gestures. The familiarity with characters in “Hazel Eyes” is intimate and intriguing. The intensity of Tomine’s characters is at once striking and relatable, undoubtedly due to the effective combination of prose and images.

This anthology showcases the best feature of graphic novels: the creation of an alternate reality through the synthesis of written and visual components. The characters have depth and intricacies that are intrinsically human. With graphic novels, the pictures are as important as the words.