Armchair BEA

When I was in high school, I wrote a scathing essay about the introduction of graphic novels into school curriculum, with the not-so-subtle title of “The Blight of the Graphic Novel” or something similarly maudlin.

Needless to say, we all do stupid things in high school.

Earlier this spring, during Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon, I read a number of comics, including the award-winning Saga. Before that, I blazed through and enjoyed Rat Queens, Vol 1.  It’s taken until this year for me to really enjoy comic books, but I have to say—they are awesome.

It’s been a journey.

Superman Superman Christopher Reeves flying
There’s only so many times you can watch Christopher Reeves turn back time before you yearn for new storylines.

In college, I was completely obsessed with Superman and was trying to explore the character in any way I knew how. I watched every movie (including universally-panned Superman IV and the disappointing Superman Returns) and I watched every TV show (1950s Superman is kick-ass).

Later on, I even starting reading non-fiction, like the awesome Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero.

The only thing I didn’t do was read any of the comics.

Why? Because ‘reading’ images is simply hard for me.

It’s not that I didn’t want to read the Superman comics. I love superheroes! It’s also a big blow to geek cred to admit that you have trouble reading comics.

Not only did I struggle through Watchmen, my friend didn't worn me that it was a total downer.
Not only did I struggle through Watchmen, my friend didn’t warn me that it was a total downer.

When a friend lent me Watchmen in college, it took me all night to read. It was the same length as a pulp novel that I could read through in 3 hours or less, but it took me three times as long to complete.

I kept missing important information that was conveyed through the picture and I’d have to turn back a few pages to figure out what was happening.

As a voracious reader, I’d regularly miss chapter headings, illustrations, or anything else inserted into a book.

As it turns out, like everything else, it just takes practice.

Comics aren’t the only place where illustrations enhance books.

Abarat Book Cover

I love the fantasy novel Abarat by Clive Barker because of the visuals.

It’s filled with beautiful full-color illustrations of the fantastical archipelego of Abarat and the strange characters that live there, all done by the author. The story wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without them.

I’m also starting to see more books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which mixed graphic novel elements with traditional written narrative.

Hugo Cabret inside illustration
One of the full page spreads in The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik.


The illustration portions make a huge difference to the story. I’d love to see more of these hybrid-type novels.

If you don’t read comics, graphic novels, or illustrated novels now, or even disparage them, I’d suggest giving them a try. It took me more than one time reading a comic book to enjoy it, but now I can’t wait to get the next in a comic book series!

Oh, and along with other comics and graphic novels, I did finally read some Superman comics, even reviewing Superman: Earth One for GeekyLibrary.

This post was inspired by the Armchair BEA daily topic. Armchair BEA is a virtual conference for book bloggers that runs during Book Expo America (BEA).