I have been a regular reader of graphic novels for many years, but I still never cease to be amazed by the variety within the genre.
The Urbana Free Library has a wide and varied collection of graphic novels and comics, and I relish seeing all the new arrivals and reading about the upcoming titles that are coming out. From love stories, graphic retelling of classics, even nonfiction, the graphic format has permeated many literary genres.
My recent favorites range from the first installment of an epic science-fiction adventure, a memoir of mental illness and an experimental work about the inhabitants of a Chicago apartment complex.
— "Saga: Volume One" encompasses the first six issues of a sci-fi adventure written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. This epic tale of romance, family and space warfare centers on Marko and Alana, two soldiers from opposite sides of an intergalactic war who have fallen in love.
In the opening scene, Alana is giving birth to their child in a scene that is surprisingly frank. Soon their small family is on the run, pursued by armies on both sides of the war as well as more than one bounty hunter. There are many fantastic elements to the story, from the bounty hunter with his giant lie-detecting cat to the sardonic teen baby sitter who happens to be a ghost, and even a spaceship forest, all brought to life by the gorgeous illustrations.
But the heart of the story — and what sets it apart from similar adventure comics — is the fiercely devoted yet realistic relationship between Marko and Alana. The next installment of the story comes out this summer, and I can't wait to find out what happens.
— Ellen Forney's "Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me" is a touching memoir, illustrated with bold black and white drawings, of the author's diagnosis of bipolar disorder just before her 30th birthday.
Forney, a comic book creator and the illustrator of Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," struggles to come to terms with her diagnosis and how it changes her idea of herself and her relationship to her art. For many years, she resists treatment because she believes that her illness is a vital part of creativity and that medication would hamper her artistic expression.
However, the depressive episodes are so crushing that she is forced to relent and spends years going through various combinations of medications. Eventually, she is able to see that there is a value in balance and that her illness, while always a part of her identity as a woman and an artist, is not the sole source of her creativity.
— "Building Stories" is a remarkable graphic novel by Chris Ware that is much more than a graphic novel. In fact, it is a box containing 14 elements: eight small booklets, five leaflets of various sizes and one folded board.
This was such a new format for us at the library that we were unsure at first how to shelve it, but we eventually made the decision to treat is as part of our circulating board game collection (which can be found at the second-floor reference desk).
Ware revels in the creative use of the physical book format, and you could not read this one on your digital device. The story Ware constructs out of this unique format is touching and melancholy, involving ordinary people living their everyday lives in a Chicago apartment building over a period of several years.
The many parts of the story have no clear beginning or end, leaving them open to the manipulations of the reader. Ware captures beauty and heartbreak that exist in the smallest moments in the lives of his characters and builds a rich story around them and their building.
These are just a few examples of the rich variety available in graphic novel format, which offers authors and artists endless ways to tell their stories. Whatever your reading interests may be, there is probably something available that will spark your imagination.
If you need suggestions, ask your local librarian or spend some time exploring the collection at your library.
Kasia Hopkins is an adult services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.