Graphic Novels

Friday Jan 30 2009
by Michael

I didn't start as a mystery reader.  I had read the occasional one here and there, but it wasn't until we took over the store that mysteries became part of my regular reading repertoire.  The more I have read the more one thing has struck me.  The themes and story-lines which exist in mysteries come forward in several other kinds of fiction.  The one I wish to write about now is one which many people who come to our store would not consider at first glance - Graphic Novels -  which, for those of you who aren't familiar with the term can be viewed another way, as Comic Books 

It doesn't seem like something that most of our customers would be interested in and in the broadest sense that is true.  Men of steel or scientists who can stretch their bodies like elastic don't really fit into typical mysteries.  On the other hand you do have to remember that one of the largest comic book companies is called Detective Comics.  The long popularity of Dick Tracy shows that the connection between mysteries and comics runs deep. 

In the last few years, some of the more literary of these offerings have been turned into films.  The pulp noir of Frank Miller's 'Sin City', and the upcoming 'Watchmen', by Alan Moore, an alternate history story which begins with the murder of a superhero and progresses from there.  These are probably the two most prominent examples of the mystery genre in comics, but there is an element of mystery in almost all the material that these writers produce, as well as in many others.   

Nor is it just the dark and gritty aspects of mysteries which appear in the comics, Bill Willingham for example writes a series called 'Fables' in which fairy tale figures live in a modern setting, exiled from their homes, in 'Fabletown'.  There, Bigby Wolf, pardoned, as are the others of their pre-exile crimes is the chief constable and investigates the crimes involving his fellow fables.  Full of humorous snippets of fairy tale characters in an unfamiliar setting, these books read almost like a cosy, albeit a modern one. 

None of the authors I mentioned write comics because they are not good enough to write plain fiction.  In fact, Neil Gaiman, who writes mysteries like 'American Gods' (a fantasy crossover), started out in comic books.  Also many mystery writers, Jim Butcher, Laurell K Hamilton, even Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie have had original work or previously published stories converted into graphic novels.  The format allows a story teller to still follow the mystery format, but to also use the drawings and colour choices to further their points and their stories.   

One of my favourite things about reading mysteries which are also graphic novels is that the scene is drawn for you.  Unlike a good whodunit which has to have almost as many red herrings in its descriptions as it does true clues, with the scene drawn in front of you can look upon it for yourself and see what may or may not be important. By allowing you to experience the story in a different way, graphic novels can reinvigorate even the most played out storylines in new ways and give a character shape which it may not every before had.

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