Essex County by Jeff Lemire
By Chahat Awasthi
Sophisticated black-and-white graphic novel’ set, the trilogy of Essex County is close to what is called a story prose. The intertwining collection of stories empathetically traces members’ life at various points in an isolated community. Set in a rural Canadian county, the novels have a striking characterization and will blow your mind in terms of clear-sightedness – a covetable rarity in the graphic novel space. I read the collection at a time when I was moving from a small town in my country to a big metropolitan city (the capital) for higher education. Different in culture as far as emotional proximity and empathy are concerned, the place made me a ball of nerves, craving for meaningful contact. The lack thereof was soothed by this reading, which spills in the melancholy of the world in honest tones of solid blacks, use of symbolism, and play of light and shadows. Those who have read it will make no bones about the fact that the diction and the narration is what steals the show. While the second story will easily move you to tears, the third one is anything but masterful. The way the topics are covered will send down chills and make you take breaks to soak in the complete impact. The visuals are striking and the stark landscape, where characters often reflect on their journey, leave a mark on you even as you close the book to keep it back on your shelf. The journeys stay with you way longer. For those who wonder if graphics novels are mere comics, the book will show what Literature with a capital L is all about.
Much to explore through the stories, much to learn! Read it for all it can offer and, thank me, later!
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
By Alice Clifford
When I started my second-year module ‘Girls’ I was buzzing as I read through the reading list that included literary classics such as Mean Girls and Bridget Jones’ Diary. Shamelessly I can’t deny that I skimmed past the book Persepolis with lazy indifference. As someone who had never read a graphic novel before, the task seemed somewhat daunting and unexciting, as it wasn’t a type of book I had ever thought I would enjoy. However, after reading the first page I was completely hooked and went on to finish the book within a few hours.
Persepolis is written by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian author who uses the graphic novel to tell the
story of her childhood and adolescence in a pre-and post-revolutionary Iran during the 70s and 80s. A key theme of the book is the intersection of religion and modernity, which is shown through Marjane’s journey towards adulthood during the revolution. We see how Marjane struggles with balancing the culture and tradition of her ancestry and the rapid emergence of modern culture, from the conflict between modern clothing and the traditional veil to the emergence of illegal tapes of contemporary punk rock music.
While depicting her personal struggles, the book also shows the harrowing brutality going on in Iran at the time. As her family led a liberal life, they faced endless tragedies such as arrests, executions and in the end the need to send their only daughter to Vienna for her own safety. Through Satrapi’s extremely captivating narrative, the reader experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, but it is through the illustrations that we can really see each emotion, whether it be heartbreak, fear, happiness or childlike innocence. These images bring Marjane’s childhood to life and highlight the restrictions and problems she had to face day to day in a profound and moving way.
The deeply emotive, hilarious, and educational text became the highlight of my second year, as it completely exceeded my expectations of how much I would love a graphic novel. In the words of Gretchen Wieners, graphic novels are so fetch.
Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley
By Maya Deane
A great graphic novel to jump straight into is Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley. If the name is ringing a bell for you, you may already know him best for writing the graphic novels that the cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs The World originated from (so you already know Seconds is gonna be good!)
The novel introduces us to Katie, head chef at the popular restaurant named Seconds (you probably saw that one coming). Katie’s dream is to open a new restaurant on the other side of town, but keeps running into problem after problem, and doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Struggling to achieve her dreams, Katie also has to deal with her handsome ex rocking back up unexpectedly into her life, leaving her tongue tied and distracted, eventually leading to a workplace disaster that rocks Katie to her core.
Then the magic happens. In a crazy turn of events, Katie gains the ability to change her past due to a household spirit stepping in to help get her life back on track. In true groundhog day fashion, Katie gets caught up in a loop of redoing significant events in her life to try and achieve her dream faster and fix her mistakes, but it’s much harder than she imagined.
This novel is a fantastic way to get into graphic novels – it will probably only take around two hours for someone to tear through, as it’s impossible to put down! The art style is adorable and homely, yet the plot is gripping and will have you questioning morality and whether getting a second change is necessarily a good thing.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
By Catarina Vicente
If you’re a fan of graphic novels, you’ve probably heard of Nimona, the 2015 fantasy novel about a young girl named Nimona who wants to be a sidekick to the kingdom’s villain, Sir Ballister Blackheart. The comic’s release was well known, as it was written by Noelle Stevenson – a popular digital artist back then, now creator of comic book Lumberjanes and cartoon series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. A quick read, but fun nonetheless, I’d recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy stories with eccentric characters.
The book follows Nimona and Blackheart’s gimmicks: the former is a shapeshifting rogue who becomes the latter’s sidekick, partnering to spread mischief across the kingdom. Set to defeat them is Blackheart’s nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin (I did say this was a light-hearted comic), who shares a past with the villain. What’s interesting about the comic is the tone; although it starts off quirky and light- hearted, it delves into questions of morality and presents us with an unreliable and complex protagonist who we still root for. The ending leaves much to question, but it’s fitting for a story that always keeps you asking questions.
As the story unfolds, we learn more about the mystery of Nimona’s backstory – how she came to be a shapeshifter, what made her want to be a sidekick – alongside Blackheart’s, and about the tyrannical kingdom that made them both villains. (And we all love a story of lovable protagonist villains).
If you’re a fan of Adventure Time or She-Ra – either because of the art style or general vibe – then I highly recommend Nimona.
Beauty by Hubert and Kerascoët
By Louise Marmié
Once upon a time, Coddie, an exceptionally ugly young peasant girl, suffered on a daily basis from being the scapegoat of her village. One day, she is granted a wish by the evil fairy Mab. From being repulsively ugly, Coddie becomes Beauty. But it is not her appearance that changes, but the way others look at her: whoever looks at her sees the very embodiment of beauty. We then revel in the series of adventures that follow throughout all three volumes, filled with falsely naïve and flamboyant graphics, in orange, black and ochre tones.
Beauty is undoubtedly a macabre fairy tale, never cheesy and filled with dark humour. The main character is undoubtedly anti-heroine: capricious, vain, and incredibly unlucky. We itch to know what will happen to her next. But through this cruel little tale, the story that Beauty delivers is undoubtedly a moral one ; it questions the concepts of beauty and ugliness; their social, fantasized, constructed aspects. As soon as her wish is granted, Coddie gets intoxicated by her own beauty and by the privileges it brings her: but can we really blame her, she who has been taught that she is only valuable if she is beautiful, and worthless if she is ugly? Imprisoned by male gaze whether she is beautiful or ugly, Coddie ultimately only wants what is best for herself after a whole life of misfortune.
But Beauty is neither moralizing nor Manichean, and all the characters are thought out with finesse and nuance. With its flowing narration and round drawings, Beauty is to be devoured in one sitting, and is a very good introduction for a beginner graphic novel reader.