Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Spot of Understanding

I just couldn't bring myself to sit down at the computer yesterday. My Bookman has the entire weekend off (unusual) and the weather was gorgeous so we were out running around as well as spending time in the yard pulling winter mulch off the flower beds to discover all the green things poking up beneath. One of our out about events was stopping by Minnesota Center for Books Arts at Open Book. It was opening night for a new exhibit, Spot On: The Art of Zines and Graphic Novels. Someone I used to work with works at the Center for Book Arts now and she told me about the event after I mentioned my lack of understanding on the graphic novel front and my desire to learn a bit more about them. Unbeknownst to us there was also a Twins game last night and we didn't realize the Metrodome is a block away from Open Book. The book gods favored us however, and we found a parking spot, the very last one, across the street from where we wanted to go. The baseball game was already in progress and we had to make our way through the inebriated tailgaters. The exhibition was wonderful. The focus was clearly on the art and the art was fascinating. The zines on display were amazing and I left with a new found respect for those who manage to regularly create and publish them. The exhibition explained that a graphic novel is "a work where narrative is related through a combination of text and art." Graphic novels really are comics but they are not called comics or cartoons in order to differentiate them from comic books for kids. The subject matter is also extremely different--instead of Goofy and Mickey Mouse getting into trouble, graphic novels are about grown up subjects. Graphic novels also tend to be much longer than comic books. I learned that Neil Gaiman's Sandman was the first graphic novel to ever win a literary award. The exhibition also included Manga and provided a little historical background on it development. There were perhaps a dozen different Manga books there for people to look through and explanations along with each one about the intended audience--young girls who like boy bands, teenage girls, young boys, adult men, etc, and what elements in the book were meant to appeal to that audience. I left the exhibit feeling that I understood the idea of graphic novels. There is nothing mysterious about them after all, there is nothing to "get." They are another way to tell a story, picture books for grown ups. Sometimes it is just about the phenomenal art, sometimes it's about the text, and sometimes the art and text combine to create a magical story experience. I am no longer worried about trying to read a graphic novel. After last night I will certainly give them a try. The hard part now is deciding which one will be first.