Comics for Bibliophiles & Books for Comic Fans

One of the foundational missions here at the LCL is to break down artificial barriers to reading, and one way we will accomplish this goal is to suggest new and unexpectedly awesome things to put in front of your eyeballs (librarians call that readers advisory).  We will review or suggest a comic that is friendly to readers, from well crafted graphics with enough detail to fill ten pages, to plot lines with nods to book-lovers.  But that’s not all, for the same price (free), you also get a review of a novel that has something to do with comics or some characteristic that will inspire comic readers to brave long paragraphs and complex sentences.  Both formats can offer intellectually stunning stories, mastery of form, and –my personal favorite– stories that taste like mind-numbing candy for your brain. From the War and Peace of comics to the 1950’s Superman of novels, let’s discover where fans of the novel and fans of the comic can get on the same page.

Let’s start someplace easy: the story line:

The Comic:
Unwritten Vol. 1 Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
ISBN: 978-1401225650

Plot: Could the stories we read have a power that transcend our imagination?  Tom Taylor is the son of a writer who used Tom as the basis of his young magician character, the lead in an enormously popular series that reminds the reader of a cross between C.S. Lewis and Harry Potter.  But the genius writer has been missing for years, disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Tom has been eking out a living appearing at conventions, but questions start flying about the true identity of his mother, and strange, violent events keep creeping closer to Tom.  All Tom knows is his father taught him literary geography the way a normal person learns multiplication tables, was it more than the whimsy of a literati?  Just where does Tom Taylor come from?

Art: In color, with an attractive art style, the visuals of this comic are straight forward and serve the purpose of providing the reader with information about the action in the story.

What you might not like about it:  Violence in this title is on the graphic side.  If you are sensitive, this is not the title to start with.

A main character that has moments that make him less than sympathetic.

Interludes telling the story of the novel written by Tom’s father may be disruptive to the story for some readers, but will not bother most.

Why it’s good for book-lovers: References to classic and popular literature abound, making the plot familiar territory for fiction fans.  Panel progression is easy to follow, and the art is mildly attractive,  in color and geared towards telling the story.  Anyone drawn to mystery, suspense and fantasy stories will be easily drawn into the plot.

The Book:
Title: Pandemonium
Author: Daryl Gregory
ISBN: 9780345501165

The Plot: Strange forces, known as demons possess humans.  They take over just long enough to complete a set of tasks, each demon with its own routine performed regardless of the well being of their host.  One such demon, The Little Angel, possesses little girls and takes them to hospitals where they kill the terminally ill with a kiss.  There is no way to convince a demon to stop; the only option is getting out of the way or killing its innocent host. Our main character, Del, is a special case. Everyone thinks he’s just crazy, after all he’s been hearing voices, feeling something inside his head, struggling to get out. But Del knows differently. He was possessed as a child by the demon know as ‘the Hellion’ who he and his family had thought was long gone, but after a traumatic car accident the monster seems not gone, but trapped in his head struggling to get out.

Del crashes an academic conference on the study of the Demons. When the professor he went to find is killed the same night he refuses Del, our main character finds himself not only possessed, but a murder suspect. Del’s goal is to uncover the secrets that will exorcise the the monster in his head, but the more people he meets, the more he begins to suspect that nothing is quite as he, or anyone else had imagined.

The appeal: Del has many colorful companions on his quest, his computer-savvy brother, a friend from the mental ward, and a chain smoking exorcist/nun, who Del finds himself growing attracted to. Del proves to be a dynamic character who takes us along a series of twists, turns, and sudden revelations through a though provoking journey.

Why it’s good for comics fans: The author weaves in some comic book references and nods to science fiction novels.  It also has a plot with the same mix of supernatural action, humor, romance and drama you often find in a comic book series.  The language is accessible and not overly tied into the setting or minute details of the story.

If you try either of these titles out, write in and tell me what you think.

-Megan Willan

Why “Comics”?

Earlier this week, two ladies I work with were discussing The Walking Dead TV show; they know I’m not a horror fan, in general, and were surprised when I was familiar with it. “Well,” I said, “It’s based on a comic book,” because they know about my obsession with the medium. “Based on a graphic novel,” one of them corrected me.

I didn’t push the subject, but it was a perfect illustration of how problematic the very term for the medium is. Since we’re called the League of Comics Librarians, we obviously have taken a stance on our preferred term. I love comics, I love how they work, I love their history, and I want to take back the term, rather than hoping it will go away.

The first problem with “graphic novel” as a term is that, as it’s commonly used, it means nothing. Will Eisner’s amazing Contract With God is the first work commonly referred to as a graphic novel*, mostly to differentiate it from the ongoing serial fiction that he commonly produced and that was dominant at the time. When other works started appearing that were bound as books (rather than pamphlets), had one creator (rather than a team), and had a clear beginning, middle, and end, they used the term, too. Those are important distinctions, and determine what some people want to read, but they’re not clear or definite. The Walking Dead, for example, is a comic book, rather than a graphic novel by all the criteria we’ve brought up so far. It is published each month as a stapled pamphlet (though its publisher also collects it in bound editions), it has two creators, and it’s ongoing since 2003.The only way that the designation as a graphic novel makes sense is if it’s an indicator of quality or maturity. Comics production is a spectrum, ranging from the individual creator published by Harper Collins on one end to Marvel’s endless teams of artists and writers, all pumping out issues every month. We should be able to talk about works from any part of that spectrum as great comics or awful comics, adult comics or kids’ comics. Coming up with two different terms for it is just making the same mistake as libraries have done with “literature” versus “fiction.” Where’s that line?

The second problem with “graphic novel” grows out of the first one: it is an attempt to legitimize something that I think is already perfectly legitimate. When a critic praised Neil Gaiman, writer of The Sandman, saying that he didn’t write comic books, but graphic novels, he answered that the reviewer “meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.” To try to force a different term on the medium is to imply that there is a deficiency in the history and creates the impulse to go back and see what we can salvage, saying “Well, this one is obviously ACTUALLY a graphic novel; we can call it that now.” I don’t want to create that false schism, depriving readers of the whole history of the medium.

Let’s embrace comics for what they are and call them that, so we can have a meaningful discussion about what they are and what they can do, instead of endlessly nitpicking over what belongs in our camp and what’s in theirs. It’s all our camp, and it’s all ripe for the reading.



*This is one of those things that people REALLY enjoy arguing about. Nobody agrees on what the first graphic novel was, who used the term first, or even what one really is, so we’re not getting into it here.

**I frequently refer to comics as a “medium” because it is the lesser of multiple evils. I actually prefer “genre” in the Bakhtinian sense, like the novel or epic is a genre, but people tend to assume I mean it in the “mystery” or “romance” sense, which is an invalid comparison. There are, after all, plenty of mystery or romance comics.