Once in awhile it’s nice to get a refresher course on why [insert genre here] is so great. Such was the case when I sped through three graphic novels in a row: El Deafo by Cece Bell, and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters. Aside from the great storytelling and fun artwork, each memoir took advantage of the graphic novel format, doing things that are difficult–if not impossible–to do in text-only novels:
1. The bunnies. El Deafo is Bell’s memoir of growing up as the only deaf kid in her school/community. Her hearing aids made her conspicuous at a time when all she wanted was to be a normal kid with a true best friend. So, what better way to emphasize the importance of hearing than to depict every character as a rabbit? Those long ears sticking out of everyone’s head made it impossible to forget Bell’s fixation on sound. And it made the humor in the book that much goofier.
2. The teeth. In Smile, Telgemeier fixates on her teeth–or rather, the gap where she lost her two front teeth in an unfortunate accident. It takes years of surgery, braces and headgear to fix the gap, and I winced along with every trip to the dentist’s chair. No matter how good a writer you are, I challenge you to produce the same visceral shudder as Telgemeier’s simple drawing of her teenage self returning bleary-eyed from the dentist, pulling bloody gauze from her gaping mouth.
3. The dreams. I generally hate dream sequences in novels. They tend to be overly long, nonsensical, and the reliance on italics makes me squint. In graphic novels, dream sequences are the best. In her daydreams, Bell becomes El Deafo! a cape-clad superhero with a trusty sidekick and super hearing powers. In Smile, a Novocaine-induced dream shows the character’s tooth-obsessed psyche in a way that would’ve felt indulgent in a text-only format. And while written flashbacks can annoy me as much as dreams, in Sisters, the sepia-toned flashback sections blended seamlessly with the larger story.
So, I think the latest round of books is telling me to make more of an effort to find graphic novels (they’re never on library shelves, so I have to request them, and I get lazy…). Next up on my list: the superhero Lunch Lady series, followed by Carnivores (which has an amazing book trailer). Any other suggestions?