Going Graphic: Reading a Graphic Novel for the First Time

Book Lists

I recently picked up a graphic novel for the first time. I had just finished a long historical fiction novel and, while I had enjoyed it, I was ready for something that would be a little quick read. I have been growing increasingly curious about the graphic novel format, and with the recent expansion of the graphic novel collection, I literally had a whole library at my fingertips.

Graphic novels have been steadily gaining popularity in the last few years. These books are not quite comics, not quite novels; they occupy that space between, marrying image and text into an art form that tells rich, in depth stories. They’re not new by any means. Will Eisner’s A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, written in 1978, is often considered the first of the genre. But over the past few years, graphic novels have begun to catch on, no doubt in part due to cinematic adaptions of graphic novels such as The Watchmen, Sin City, and V for Vendetta.

After a short browse through the graphic novel collection at the Wellington Branch Library, I chose two to try out.

Town of evening calm, Country of cherry blossoms
Fumiyo Kouno

This little graphic novel explores the life of a family in Hiroshima, Japan in the years following the war as they live with the aftermath of the nuclear attack. The artwork in this novel was beautiful detailed and simplistic in black and white, and the story was sweet and heartbreaking and powerful.

I picked this one up because it’s an example of a manga style graphic novel. These Japanese works of art often have a very distinct style and are read right to left to follow Japanese reading patterns. That means graphic novels that use this style are read in a way that feels backwards to western readers – starting with the back cover! It took a little to adjust to the style of reading, and I found myself forced to read the first pages a few times, but once I got the hang of it, the story pulled me in and I had no trouble working my way through, pane by pane.

Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie

This graphic novel gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Aya and her friends Adjoua and Bintou in their hometown of Yop City in the Ivory Coast. They’re normal teenagers, sneaking out to go dancing, dreaming about their future, and getting themselves into a bit of trouble along the way.

I choose this book in order to immerse myself in a different culture. While the story felt like it could have been set anywhere with any group of teenagers, the graphic nature of the book transported me to a world that was very different from Prince Edward County in the winter. Abouet also includes a fabulous glossary at the end of the novel, giving her reader more information about some of the African language used in the book.

Sometimes, stepping out of our reading comfort zones can be difficult, especially for something that seems so different from what we’re used to. If you think you might be ready to try something new and add a graphic novel or two to your to-be-read list, come to the library and check out our collection.

Jeanette deBoer is a librarian at the Prince Edward County Public Library and archives. She tries to always have a book in her hands. When she’s not reading, she’s playing around on social media or teaching people how to use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.