Old Dogs and New Tricks

Graphic novels have always been a tough sell for me. It’s not that I think the format is less worthy than novels; it’s just the simple fact that my aging brain has trouble figuring out what’s going on. I find myself puzzling over which panel I’m supposed to look at next, which seriously breaks the spell of the narrative. Luckily though, I have found a genre of graphic novel that works for me: the memoir. It is probably the linear storytelling, plus the fact that they are often text heavy, that makes it easier for me to digest and understand. I’ve recently read two excellent examples that I would highly recommend. Both for those who are, like me, Graphic Novel ‘challenged’ as well as the aficionado.

On the surface, Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld is about the author’s recollections of her summer visits with relatives in Australia during her childhood. Lurking underneath, however, is Wyld’s obsession with sharks; a trait she first developed in Australia and brought back to her family home in England. Her unending fascination with their power, ruthlessness and seeming indifference, blend with her first realizations concerning family relationships and her place in the world. The illustrator, Joe Sumner, effectively conveys the shark’s influence on the author’s feelings with his illustrations. The humans are drawn in a simple and straightforward way. The sharks, however, are drawn in an almost photorealistic style that makes them jump off the page, conveying their importance and danger. Wyld is an excellent novelist, All the Birds Singing is superb, and her hypnotic and disturbing use of language is on display here with every panel.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug is also a memoir about understanding your past, but in this case, it concerns family history and national identity. Far removed from the wartime generation of her grandparents, Krug grew up in 1970s West Germany. While developing a love for her country and a fond sense of Germanness, she always felt there was a piece of the puzzle missing. Mainly, her family’s wartime past. After moving to New York and marrying a man of Jewish heritage, this need to know becomes a burning issue and she begins to investigate. In addition to writing the story, Krug also illustrates this work. The result looks very much like a family scrapbook, complete with photos and relevant documents. While this graphic memoir definitely deals with some heavy issues, Krug also peppers it throughout with interesting and entertaining digressions on what she misses from the land of her birth. Surprising examples include mushroom picking, hot water bottles and bandages.

So unlike an old dog, it seems I have learned a new trick: an appreciation for graphic novels.

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