Till about a year ago, my reference point for graphic novels was limited to the world of Tintin and Asterix at one end, and Marvel comics on the other. By the time I was 15, I had exhausted the Tintin and Asterix series, and TBH, I never got interested in the superhero comic universe.
For the next 15 years, I continued fuelling my appetite for fiction and non-fiction novels, with an occasional autobiography thrown in every once in a while. Back then, I didn’t own and hadn’t read a single graphic novel.
Sometime last year my husband recommended I read Maus. And that’s when my delusional self opened the world of mature graphic novels. Today, I proudly flaunt them on my book shelf.
With Habibi, Thompson has weaved a beautiful and an emotional tale of an Arab girl and a black slave she adopts as an infant. It is a love story unlike any other. Set against the backdrop of the magical Middle East, Habibi takes the reader on a journey of hardship, forbidden love and the inherent longing to survive. The story in itself is powerful, add in Thompson’s artistic element and you have a masterpiece.
Delisle has a few graphic travelogues under his belt. He writes from personal experiences, thereby lending a touch of relatability and honesty in his narration. Infused with raw human emotions which are at times hilarious and other times complicated, Burma Chronicles is a great read to understand how life was in the southeast Asian country. Delisle moved to Burma with his infant son and his wife who worked for Doctors Without Borders. This novel documents his interactions with the locals in Burma.
If I had to recommend just one graphic novel, it would be Maus – said to be the greatest graphic novel ever written. It depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father who was a holocaust survivor. His experiences with his father are as much a part of the book as the stories he is trying to document. As the father begins to tell his account of horror and atrocities faced many years ago, the son struggles to come to terms with it in the present. Together, they make the journey into the past.
Thompson creates art in his books! While Blankets is not as flamboyant as Habibi, nevertheless it still celebrates Thompson as an artist. Blankets explores sibling rivalry and the budding romance between two coming-of-age lovers, set against the landscape of wintery Wisconsin. This book is an autobiographical account of Thompson’s coming to terms with his faith and reconciling it with his sexuality.
As a young girl growing up in Iran, Satrapi has cleverly used the genre of graphic novel to present a memoir filled with heartbreak and humour. The devastating effect the war has on her childhood as well as the history of her country is powerfully showcased in the bold black and white comic strip images. Persepolis is a story of resilience, the futility of war and the dreams and desires of a young girl.
I never particularly enjoyed V for Vendetta, even though this book is ranked pretty high on the list of top graphic novels. More than a few times I found it hard to read the text. The art too was nothing great. V for Vendetta was the first graphic novel I picked up. In a way I am glad, because if I had started this after reading Thompson and Delisle, I would never have had the motivation to finish it.
Another one which I feel obligated to mention is American Gods: Shadows by Neil Gaiman. I loved the paperback, but the graphic novel not so much. The glossy pages put me off (perhaps reminding me of the comic book genre) Having said that, my husband loved it so I guess it’s just me and not the book.
I am always looking for suggestions and recommendations. Have a favourite graphic novel? Please let me know!