Free Comic Book Day and The Growing Legitimacy of Comic Books as Literature

“I just don’t have time for books anymore.”

 
If you’re a working adult, or even just a busy person of indeterminate age, you may have heard this sentiment among your peers. Maybe even you have slipped into that tenebrific bookless existence. I am here to offer a solution you may not have considered before: graphic novels.

This Saturday, May 5th, is Free Comic Book Day, an event created in 2002 in order to celebrate and increase the visibility of independent comic sellers across the United States. Various comic publishers release special 1-issue samples for comic shops to give away on Free Comic Book Day. Series such as The Avengers, Tank Girl, Riverdale and many others are represented on the list of this year’s free comic samples. If you’ve ever been interested in the world of comics, but had no idea where to start, Free Comic Book Day could be an excellent, low-risk opportunity for you to make your entrance. Locally, businesses such as Paradox Comics and Cards and Comic Junction are joining in on the festivities, but for a list of participating businesses in your area, or for more information on the event, you can visit the official Free Comic Book Day website.

Maus, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

There is something of a stigma surrounding comics and graphic novels. Their ample use of images rings in people minds as akin to childish picture-books. Much like cartoons, comics and graphic novels suffer from the assumption that only children can, or should, enjoy them. While children certainly enjoy reading comic books, and an ample supply of the comics on the market are meant for children, there is also a thriving market of comic stories meant to be relevant to adults. When it comes to comic books for adults, the thought is that with fewer words per page, this makes graphic novel reading easier and thus less fulfilling than reading a full prose novel. Additionally, there exists and undesirable stereotype about the kind of adult who reads comic books: that of an obsessive, dysfunctional, child-like adult. Let’s banish all of these misconceptions from our minds. Just as there is traditional literature of every genre for every age, so too, are there impactful comics for everyone of any background.

Hugo-Award Winning Graphic Novel: Saga

Comic books (as well as their Eastern counterpart, called manga/manhwa) have been making strides recently both in widespread popularity and in credibility as a legitimate form of art and storytelling. In 1992, the historical memoir graphic novel Maus, became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. As a result, it is often read alongside other historical literature in classrooms around the country. The first volume of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga series, a provocative space opera with elements of fantasy, won a Hugo Award in 2013.

In 2009, five comic book artists had their artwork displayed at the Louvre in Paris as a part of a special exhibit titled “The Louvre invites the Comics“. Among the participating artists was Hirohiko Araki of Japan, the mangaka (comic book artist) who created the internationally acclaimed manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Illustration by comic artist Hirohiko Araki, whose art has been featured in the Louvre.

As we can see, comics, manga, and graphic novels have continuously proven their legitimacy as a media for art and storytelling. They can offer a fulfilling reading experience for people of any age, often with a smaller time commitment. As a visual medium, graphic novels are distinctly poised to enrich the experience of stories in which world-building or character nuance is key. The novel’s artwork allows the author’s vision to be communicated in the truest way. There exist many comic book adaptations of already existing classic or acclaimed literature. Here is a list of 5 graphic novels based off your favorite stories to help get you break into the world of comics.

 


wrinkle-in-time-coverA Wrinkle In Time

Adapted by Hope Larson / Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time
Grahic Novel – Monochrome / Sci-Fi, Adventure
Published by Margaret Ferguson Books

Many Americans remember A Wrinkle in Time as “that confusing sci-fi book” from their middle school English class days. You may have had the chance to revisit this story with the recently released live action adaptation. If you just can’t get enough, pick up a copy of Hope Larson’s A Wrinkle in Time and see how the medium of the graphic novel has transformed this familiar yet delightfully strange story.


3119150Emma

Adapted by Kaoru Mori (writing & art) / Based on Jane Austin’s Emma
Manga – Black and White / Historical Fiction, Romance
Published by Yen Press

In Japan, comic books are called manga, and have developed their own iconic look and conventions for telling stories.  They are marked by their unique art style (sometimes also referred to as “anime style,” after their animated, and more widely known equivalent) their inventive use of paneling and emotive character expression.

While I have not personally read this adaptation of Emma, I have read Mori’s other work, A Bride’s Story, a collection of stories from the perspective of different women in the historical Middle East and Central Asia. Mori’s artistic attention to detail, especially in clothes and home decor is astounding and her nuance in character development make her perfectly suited to adapting this classic novel.

Note: read from left to right, as per the original layout in the Japanese language.

 


max-ride-coverMaximum Ride

Adapted by Narae Lee (story & art) / Based on James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series
Manga – Black and White / Urban Fantasy, Action
Published by Yen Press

For the thrill junkie, check out Narae Lee’s adaptation of James Patterson’s wildly popular Maximum Ride series. The story centers around a “flock” of children all genetically enhanced with wings and other abilities, as they evade the cruel and shadowy organization that made them that way. I personally think that the fast-paced nature of the story and the fantastic details of the plot lend themselves better to a graphic novel than a traditional book. For that reason, this manga series is, in my opinion, the best way to experience the Maximum Ride saga.

 


lastunicorn_tpb_cvrThe Last Unicorn

Adapted by Peter B. Gillis (story) Renae De Liz (art) & Peter Dillion (art)
Based on Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn
Fantasy
Graphic Novel / Color
Published by Idea & Design Works LLC

You may take on look at that word “unicorn” and conjure up notions of silly, girlish, fantasies swathed in pink. Nevertheless, you will find something a fair bit more nuanced and mature in The Last Unicorn, though no less pretty to look at. This story feels equal parts folk and fairytale, and the art style of the graphic novel adaptation does an excellent job evoking the unnerving yet alluring nature of both. The story revolves around the eponymous last unicorn as she leaves her forest to search for her kin, rumored to be missing by malicious means. She is joined by a clumsy magician and courageous bar maid as they forge into the territory of the ruthless King Haggard in order to discover the truth.

 

 


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Adapted by Andy Seto (story & art)
Based on The Iron-Crane Pentology by Wang Dulu
Historical Fantasy, Wuxia (Martial Arts Action Adventure), Romance
Manhua / Color
Published by Comics One

You may not have known that director Ang Lee’s year-2000 award-winning martial arts epic was based upon a series of novels dubbed the Iron-Crane Pentology. Or that it was further adapted into a gorgeously illustrated manhua (Chinese graphic novel) series. Inspired in combination by the original novel series and the movie, this adaptation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, offers an action-packed, drama-filled saga set in a fantastical interpretation of historical China surrounding the wielders of  the legendary sword, Green Destiny, and those who would seek to steal or destroy it.


Originally posted May 3, 2018
Written by Mikaila Norman

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