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Three graphic novels [Mar. 17th, 2016|10:08 pm]

I have just read three "graphic novels" in a row. I didn't select them to prove any sort of point, I just read what was to hand at the time; but if I'd had to pick three texts to demonstrate that comics are not a genre but a medium, I couldn't have made a better choice. Three narratives told in words and pictures and collected between covers: glowing colours and scratchy black and white; the sublime, the ridiculous and the tragic; fact and fantasy; truth and fiction. I'm not (honestly I'm not!) as hung up on definitions and terminology as what follows may suggest. I didn't, as I read these three books, constantly ask myself: does this meet this or that pre-set criterion? But as I write about them now, patterns emerge...

The Sandman: Overture
Neil Gaiman / J.H. Williams III

I don't often buy graphic novels in hardback, but this is the one to make an exception for: whatever else it is, it is a truly gorgeous object. Visually, it does live up to the hype. But "A tale two decades in the making" (as the back jacket claims)? I don't think so. It's entirely readable, better than readable, and I was glad not to be having to wait the lengthy periods between publication of the single issues. But Neil Gaiman has not been perfecting this story through all the twenty years since he completed The Sandman, he has been doing other things. It's not exactly the contract compliance album, but it's not exactly not, either.

It is, as it says, an overture to the Sandman epic, whose action it immediately precedes: why were a bunch of would-be magicians able to capture and imprison one of the Endless? Because Morpheus was returning exhausted from an adventure that had taken all his strength. As a result of his past actions, the universe is in danger, and he must - or at least, he decides to - save it. Part of my problem with this book is a recurring one for me: the greater the scale of what is at stake, the less I can believe in it, and the less I care. I care less about whether the Universe is about to end (quite apart from the fact that I already know it isn't, because this is a prequel and I know what comes next) than I do about whether Rose will find her brother, and what will happen to Wanda, or why Delight became Delirium (there's a teasing glimpse of that process, just to remind us what we are missing).

Silver Surfer: Worlds Apart
Dan Slott / Mike Allred

I brought this home from the Graphic Novels Reading Group, where we had first dibs on a pile of graphic novels recently purchased by the library. It's a "graphic novels" in the sense that it collects five single issues into one square bound volume with slightly heavier covers - which is to say, not at all, it's just several comics in one convenient handful. It doesn't even - and I hadn't realised this until I started to read - start at the beginning: it's the second collection of this iteration of the Silver Surfer.

This is intended less as a grouch than as a disclaimer: it's a perfectly good jumping on point, but I wasn't entirely clear what I had jumped onto. The problem wasn't in following the story: there's a handy one page introdction "Together, The Silver Surfer and Dawn conquered cosmic villainy and saved the day!" Now they surf the cosmos together, like Doctor Who and his companion. This starts out pure fun: he gets irritated by her need for food and rest, he buys her the greatest ice cream in the universe and removes her tonsils. Allred's madcap art reinforces the humour, so I was completely wrong-footed when, without a missed step, or a change of tone, the narrative reminded me just who the Silver Surfer is and how he came to be so, and things got darker and sadder.

Perhaps if I'd read volume one I'd have been expecting that? Is this a change in the overall tone, or was a I misled by a single issue interlude of pure fun in the middle of a serious narrative? Does it matter? Well, I'd like to know - and now I want to read both what came before and what comes after. Which I suppose is a recommendation.

Then I'd also know whether it is ever explained why Dawn addresses the board as 'Toomie'? I'm hoping not - I rather liked having to work it out.

Rosalie Lightning
Tom Hart

Property of the person with whom I make a joint comics order, and sneaked out of his pile awaiting collection. I think this is completely in order: call it administrator's perks. Rosalie Lightning is the odd one out of the sample in being a big, serious book, and in that sense more graphic novel than comics, while being non-fiction and therefore not any kind of novel at all. Paradoxically, as a personal account of an intensely lived experience, it falls neatly into one of the most fruitful branches of the graphic medium, the autobiograpical "graphic novel".

Tom Hart's infant daughter Rosalie Lightning died suddenly, without warning and without apparent cause: I deleted the word 'tragically' because how could this not be tragic? The book is both an account of that devastating period of his life and part of the process by which he survived it: writing and drawing, keeping a diary of events, emotions, memories, is as much a part of his grieving as the events, emotions and memories it describes. It is not artless, but it is very raw, and I feel as if a stranger had walked up to me and poured out all this grief. How do you react to something like that?

Well, not by writing a review.