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Graphic Novels - A Primer Please?

First off:  thanks to people who posted bits of 70's slang.  LJ was broken yesterday, and it was hard for me to see your posts and comment for thanks, but thanks :-)

New question/topic, starting with confession time:  I have never read a graphic novel.  (Well, at least not since reading Tin-tin as a kid.)  I have seen them, of course, in almost every bookstore that I haunt, and I've glanced at the covers and even turned a few pages.  I've peered over the shoulder of people reading them next to me on planes.  I read the comments of people talking about them, all the time.  I haunt the blogs of certain graphic novelist authors (well one, at least - Mr. Gaiman...)  But I've never read one.

Question time:  How *do* you read one?  Do people look at the pictures first, then read the text?  Do they read the text first, then the pictures?  Do they go back and forth - a word, a glance, a word, a glance?

I suspect that there's no easy answer.  I further suspect that graphic novels just aren't "for me" - I know that when I go to art museums, I have a truly annoying-to-me tendency to read the little write-ups on the wall before looking at the giant, reason-I'm-there, graphic material of paintings or drawings or photographs.

So?  Is there any hope for me?  Am I doomed?

Mindy, thankful for any insights people can share



( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 7th, 2008 11:55 am (UTC)
I personally read the words and only take in the graphics as background thing, but I am an intensely not-visual person. I almost always go back and re-read and pay more attention to the pictures, but for me, reading intially, it's about the words. Once in a while people do whole comics with no or very very very little words at all, and I ... well, the first time I almost never get the story, because I look at the pictures too fast and am waiting for words to tell me what's happening. I don't care for those very much. :)

And I'm *writing* a comic book. (Actually, if you want to talk about *that* more, email me at cemurphyauthor@gmail.com and I will be glad to chatter your ear off! Or fingers, or something. :))

My husband pays equal attention to the images and the words, he says.

tendency to read the little write-ups on the wall before looking at the giant, reason-I'm-there, graphic material of paintings or drawings or photographs.

I do that too, actually. Glance at the picture, maybe, but read any info there is about it before taking a good look at it. Almost every time. So I think there is in fact hope for you, if you *want* to read graphic novels. :)

Edited at 2008-03-07 11:56 am (UTC)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:46 am (UTC)
Thanks for the information - o brave new world, and all that :-)

So, what can you tell me, publicly, about this comic book that you're writing? I'm always fascinated by authors making career shifts/changes!
Mar. 7th, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)

I am with you absolutely on this -- I cannot for the life of me get into the graphic novel reading mode. I did try several months ago -- I adore Buffy so I had to get Season 8 which is in graphic novel form only, and pretty much dealing with it was very, very difficult for me. I never quite got used to it, even though I finished the whole thing, for the sake of a favorite character and story. But, what torture! :-)

I tend to first read the captions, then look at the picture they illustrate -- otherwise I go absolutely insane.

I have no idea how people can maintain this kind of reading/picture viewing experience interruptus for extended periods of time.

Now, if this had been no words, only pictures, I'd enjoy that kind of experience very much, I love looking at neat pictures.

But both -- my brain HURTS! *grin*
Mar. 7th, 2008 12:00 pm (UTC)
Just to add, I do the same thing in art museums -- drive myself bonkers reading the little captions on pictures FIRST before focusing on the image itself. And I am an artist! Have no idea why I have to compartmentalize my reading and viewing experiences. They just don't blend in my mental world.

Edited at 2008-03-07 12:01 pm (UTC)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:47 am (UTC)
I find my sign-reading habit annoying in art museums, but even when I tell myself not to do it, to pay attention to the art first, my attention drifts in very short order. So, instead, I've tried to learn to embrace my word-tie-ed-ness :-)
Mar. 7th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
Well, honestly, graphic novels involve me taking the whole thing in at once. I guess I look at the panel to get the context, read, and then continue to look. A lot of people breeze right through comics and graphic novels, but it takes me forever.
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:48 am (UTC)
I think that's part of the barrier for me - they take me a *long* time to read. (Probably not as long as it takes me to read a printed page, but I feel like it should take much less time...) Sigh - why do I always feel such a need to make progress?!?
Mar. 7th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
the text and the pictures are one holographic entity for me - like watching a movie and hearing the dialogue at the same time as seeing the visuals.

But then I never read _anything_ "line by line, word by word" - I take in text at one gulp, a paragraph at a time.

I should say that this is when the panel is "text and graphics together" - when it's "graphic panel, with text in box below" I glance at the image, read the text, then go back to detailed study of the image.

Edited at 2008-03-07 04:31 pm (UTC)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:50 am (UTC)
Wow - you really scan meaning by a paragraph of text at a time?!? I can skim effectively, and I read at a medium speed, but I still recognize words, not the "images" of text. I did become fascinated with the notion of sight words when I was teaching adult literacy, but I've never known a "sight paragraph" reader!
(no subject) - wolfette - Mar. 10th, 2008 12:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - unpissenlit - Mar. 11th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
This one's a hard one to answer for me, because I've been reading comic books (and by extension graphic novels) for about thirty-five years now, but I'll give it a try.

The real trick with reading a graphic novel, at least for me, comes from the page's composition. Do be aware that the specifics here are going to apply to Western graphic novels not Manga due to different page layout conventions arising from their right to left reading order.

The trick is to work panel by panel. Look at the top left corner, that's your first panel. Then for image vs. text you treat the panel as almost a sub-page. Look at the panel left to right, top to bottom. If the text (caption or speech) is in the upper left, it precedes the picture, if lower right it follows the picture. There can be variations, but that's the basics and you'll quickly internalize it with practice.
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:51 am (UTC)
Huh. Other people made similar comments below, but until your wrote this, I had *no idea* that panels were composed in a meaningful way.

I feel like I somehow skipped a vital part of education - you know, like the day in art class where you learn who the Impressionists were? Sigh - think of all those poor kids without any art class at all....

Mar. 7th, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
I once had a friend who was incapable of reading comic books as an adult because he'd never read comics as a kid. He didn't understand in what order the panels should be read, or how to interpret what happened between panels, or any of the other narrative rules that are never quite spelled out. I've often wondering whether ingesting the rules of comics is similar in a way to learning a new language, in that they're both best done young.

If you're trying to figure out how all of this is meant to work, I recommend tracking down Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics.
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:52 am (UTC)
Aha! A reference book! You know the way to this librarian's heart! :-)

I'll check it out...

(And yes, I think that there is a "new language" component here.)
(no subject) - oracne - Mar. 11th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
I'm not good with them either. I tend to glance at the picture, read the words, then look more at the picture.

Based on the description in one of the Sandman publications (in which Neil explains the process and gives his "script" for one part), I miss a lot.
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
I think that "missing a lot" is part of what has kept me from engaging in the past - I feel like it's not worth my time, if I don't really get what's going on. But with some of the hints in this thread, I'm going to try again...
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:54 am (UTC)
Thanks for the specific title suggestions... I can see that I'm going to get busy, trying this art form, to see if I can make it work for me!
Mar. 7th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
I'm with you. I fear they are not for me. However, I can't wait to attempt Diary of a Wimpy Kid with my Little Man. :)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:55 am (UTC)
I don't know the Diary - but it sounds like fun! I read Sherman Alexie's YA book a few months back, and it has illustrations, but it's clearly a textual book...
Mar. 7th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)
The answer depends in part on the ratio of text to illustration, and the quality of words versus art. Sometimes (e.g., when Neil Gaiman collaborates with Dave McKean, or when Frank Miller works with Bill Sienkiewicz) it's a synergistic delight to pay close attention to everything.

Gaiman's Sandman (which for me overall has a higher text value than art quality - except for the McKean covers) is as good a place as any for you to start. You might want to read his World Fantasy award winning issue, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," as a first foray.
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)
At one point, I was planning a KING LEAR novel, and everyone pointed me toward MIDSUMMER when I asked for examples of how Shakespeare had been treated in speculative fiction. I never followed up - either on the LEAR or MIDSUMMER - but maybe it's time to change that!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:57 am (UTC)
What?!? You're saying this old dog can be retrained ?!? (Thanks for the vote of confidence - this thread has inspired me to try :-) )
Mar. 7th, 2008 07:03 pm (UTC)
I've been reading The Sandman, actually... between that and Nausicaa, I've figured out the way I read graphic novels.

Miyazaki's Nausicaa, Whedon's Fray, and The Sandman are as much writing as pictures - and that's the focus of it for me. I occasionally ogle the images to see how the illustrator set them together, but primarily I just read and absorb the pictures. :D

That's different from action comics or pure image without a narration. I watch enough animated fighting that I can't see the appeal in that at all. :)
Mar. 10th, 2008 10:59 am (UTC)
Interesting... I spend a lot of time in art museums, and I very much enjoy reading painting... One of my favorite periods of painting is Northern European Medieval, precisely because of the stories that are embedded in the images. Guess I'll have to exercise those skills!
Mar. 7th, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC)
If you want to meet at Starbucks sometime, I can lend you some of my comics. I'll have to think a bit about what's most appropriate for a first-time reader.
Mar. 10th, 2008 11:00 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for the offer!

I'm heading out of town, off and on, for the next three weeks on business, but maybe we can meet after that?

Hey - was that you in the front row at BARBARA yesterday? (We were in the middle of the balcony.)
(no subject) - stevendj - Mar. 10th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mindyklasky - Mar. 11th, 2008 10:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stevendj - May. 18th, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mindyklasky - May. 19th, 2008 12:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2008 10:02 pm (UTC)
I read the text first because I consider myself a reader. For this reason I have no biases against quality of art. But then, I also read a lot of webcomics.

If you wanted "practice" I recommend a great comic that is already self-published as graphic novels (but you can go online for free): The Gods of Arr-Kelaan. I could recommend tons more but this one has a special place in my heart (and the rest fall in the comic-strip spectrum, mostly).
Mar. 10th, 2008 11:01 am (UTC)
Thanks for the recommendation! I have a lot of friends who track a lot of online comics...

Obviously, I just have to carve out an extra hour or three each day :-)
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