Look guys, I’m not saying I’m a graphic novels expert, per se. And that would be because I’m not. But I have been reading more than you might expect over the past months, and I thought I’d bring them all together into one post – not least because it’s graphic novels week over at Vulpes Libris, and today I’ve taken up a lot to talk about Panther by Brecht Evens
Evens is certainly my first and firmest love in the world of graphic novels (even given my reservations about Panther), and you can see my thoughts on a couple other Evens books – The Making Of and The Wrong Place under my Evens tag. Discovering him made me realise that graphic novels weren’t all superhero cartoon style – which doesn’t attract me at all – and his use of watercolours really drew me in.
But it’s slim pickings, I’ve found, in looking for artists that I really like. I went through the graphic novel section of Oxford’s library and came away with only one that looked me-friendly (Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel, which was enjoyable if infuriating at times, and non-fiction rather than a novel); I went through almost every book in the graphic novel shop Gosh! and found nothing at all that appealed to me. But I did find the lovely Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs in a little shop in Ludlow, and wrote about it here.
I seem to have better luck with graphic non-fiction, actually. I recently bought and very much enjoyed Agatha: the real life of Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau, and Alexandre Franc (and, incidentally, have borrowed a few graphic novelisations of Christie’s books from my friend Fiona, so we’ll see how I get on with those). This one is also actually in translation, from French, and translated by Edward Gauvin.
I was a bit cautious at first, because it starts off with Agatha Christie’s ‘disappearance’ – a part of her life that is so often returned to that I am completely sick of the whole thing. I was worried that the whole book would take place during those eleven days – but thankfully it does not, and there is even a fun twist at that point: Poirot turns up as her confidante. If that sounds hopelessly twee, don’t worry – it’s done in a fun and irreverent way.
The rest of the book is very episodic, and often jumps back and forth. It’s more a series of snapshots of Agatha’s life, from childhood to death, including various trips around the world. My favourite bit is when, on the Orient Express, she has the idea to set a murder there – and is immediately besieged by Poirot, Miss Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence, all of whom are keen to be the lead. Poirot’s jealousy of Marple in the book is an especial joy.
Obviously this is not the best place to learn all about every facet of Christie’s life, but there is still plenty here – and I liked the slightly stark line drawings and interesting use of colour. Lots of jewel tones. The scenes of a sunset in Egypt make the book worth it all by themselves. Do hunt it out.
What else have I read? Ages ago I got a review copy of The Bind by William Goldsmith from Jonathan Cape, and even read it, but didn’t get around to writing about it here.
I was tempted in by the fact that it’s set in a book binding shop. It’s a ghost story, no less, and a battle between rival brothers. The story was good fun – and it was more about the plot than any of the other graphic books I’ve read so far. I also really enjoyed Goldsmith’s subtle palette. It’s quite a contrast to Evens or the Agatha book, both of which I also like for the way they used colour; Goldsmith did everything in shades of umber and grey. It fits the tone of the book beautifully.
It seems that I am chiefly drawn to graphic books because of the colours and artistic style – even if those can vary quite substantively from book to book. I don’t only like bold colours, or natural colours, or sharp lines, or watercolours – but (in those age-old words) I know what I like and what I don’t like. And the look of a graphic novel takes precedent for me over the story. Which surprises me, rather, given my love of good writing. (Graphic book fans – where do you fall down on this scale?)
But I have my limits, it seems. I tried White Cube by Brecht Vandenbroucke, which is about pink twins (?) who have a destructive interest in art. It’s a series of individual pieces, rather than an ongoing narrative, and in it they basically approve or disapprove of artworks – and, when they disapprove, are likely to destroy. The humour in it is quite dark and violent – and often a bit obvious, though there are moments of wit that I did enjoy. Overall, it had something of the psychotic about it that was doubtless the intention, but left me rather cold.
So, there’s my history of graphic books to date. I can’t think of any others that I’ve read, actually, so I’m certainly not the most experienced at this medium – but it’s something I’d like to explore more, and had hoped to stumble across a new favourite when I visited Gosh! – but it was not to be, that time at least.
Are you enamoured with the world of graphic novels and graphic books, or have you steered clear? And what would you recommend?