Monday, October 13, 2008

An Educational Experience, Though Not A Pleasant One

Nearly a month and a half ago I decided it had been a while since I'd read a book for younger readers, so I picked one up at the library. It just happened to be a graphic novel. I found out later that I'd be one of the judges for the Graphic Novel Division of the Cybils, which made reading the book I'd already picked up a little more interesting.

The book was interesting in a truly dreadful way. It was one of those degrading younger kid books that relies on what passes for wordplay and stupid humor. It was combined here with gimmicky images that appeared to be there to make kids' eyes pop.

I think that in a graphic novel the images should not just be illustrating scenes. The images should actually take the place of narrative. They should show true action, as in movement of plot.

Take The Invention of Hugo Cabret, for instance. Hugo Cabret isn't a graphic novel, but I think it could be said to have graphic elements. Sections of the story are told through pictures. Those pictures don't just illustrate some text the reader reads. They actually show us what is happening without words. Many of the scenes I recall involve movement. Our hero runs through a train station, under a clock, and up some stairs, while being chased by a guard. None of that is written down anywhere. We see it happen in the images and understand what has happened when the story picks up with text again.

I think that's what's supposed to be going on with a graphic novel. The images aren't supposed to be redundant. They aren't supposed to repeat what we read in a panel. They're supposed to replace the narrative that would occur around dialogue.

All the images did in this book I'm taking about was illustrate. They didn't make the story clearer. In fact, they made the story more confusing. I had trouble telling what had happened at one point.

In addition, what minimal plot exists in this book includes a hefty hole because it's the second book in some kind of series. All of a sudden the main character starts talking about someone from the first book and takes off to see him.

Poor plot, images that don't do what they're supposed to, and lack of respect for readers all work together to create a chaotic piece of writing for an age group that has only recently learned to read.

Why am I not mentioning the title? Because I can't balance the negative with positives here, because I can't think of any. So why I am writing about it at all? Because what I think of as this book's problems as a graphic novel have helped me clarify my thinking about graphic novels in general.


Kate said...

Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS really helped me clarify my consideration of graphic novels. He points out, as you did, that the graphic format does not give the creator an excuse for bad writing, no matter how remarkable the art may be.

Gail Gauthier said...

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Thanks for mentioning that, Kate.