I have always felt that the term “comic” had a mildly dated connotation, nostalgically recalling newspaper funnies and aging collections. What some call “grown-up” comics I have most often heard referred to as graphic novels, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to them in high school by my sister, specifically Art Spieglman’s Maus. I found it on her bookshelf while snooping around her room and was so intrigued, I devoured it in a day. It was so strikingly beautiful and so different than anything I’d ever read. I loved the artistic style combined with writing skill, and the delicate way they lace together to tell the story so powerfully. I’ve always enjoyed analyzing and discussing literature, and this opened up a visual dimension that I found fascinating (I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially anyone who seems unsure of this graphic literary medium. You can get a great deal on amazon.com). For some reason, though, I was never inspired to read more.
A couple of years later, my freshman year at Trinity, I took a course called Literary Methods that applied critical theory to literature and general cultural artistic works (including other forms of media than just books). We could choose any piece to write our final prospectus on, applying critical methods in the form of a research-based paper (my most challenging paper to date, and as a freshman — scary). I decided to step out of my literary box and write on Maus, and I remember the critical discussion as fascinating. Yet for some reason, even after validating both the enjoyment and study of graphic novels, I didn’t seek out any more.
So going into Y: The Last Man, I knew I liked comic books. I was excited, ready to have another momentous experience with this visual literature medium. But I found this work very different than the somber realistic plot and simplified artistry of Maus. Vaughan and Guerra’s book is much more like the typical comics of my imagination, with action-driven plot and characters that depend on pre-existing stereotypes for relevance (both in appearance and personality). The artistry is beautiful, but in a much more “cartoony” way (I mean that as positively as possible) even as it depicts horrifying scenes with powerful realism. I often found myself feeling that the characters lacked development. However, the plot itself was fascinatingly fresh; I couldn’t put the book down. I thought the ideas were unique and the storytelling techniques very effective–I was kept guessing the whole time, and frankly am still guessing. Turns out it’s a long series, guess I won’t ever know why Yorick and his monkey get to live.
Now that I have been forced to acknowledge my own interest in graphic novels for the third time and actually research others that may pique my interest, I am excited to explore the medium further. I found many titles that seem cool. I think I am particularly drawn to more experimental artistry than the idealized realism of Y: The Last Man, even those more realistic in their depictions of human bodies (specifically women, wow). One that I found particularly intriguing is called Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth. The story sounds right up my ally–with a character-driven plot and a focus on generational family relationships, it seems similar in some ways to Maus. The artwork is very different though… more contemporary, stylized, and definitely more colorful. It has a very unique style that seems very worth exploring.