The Writers, the Gamers, & Me: Graphic Novels for Everyone!

I’m going bookish for the folks on my gift list this year. Except for the nieces, who, as intelligent and thankful as I tend to brag that they are, still have a bit of trouble concealing their disappointment when indulgent, fun Tia presents them with gorgeously wrapped, “really cool!” books (even if they’re video related!) instead of games. Popular Seattle resident and graphic artist extraordinaire Ellen Forney is “a big believer in comics and what they have to offer as a storytelling medium. The visual quality of the artwork/drawings gives much more of a mood than other written storytelling forms.” And I take her words to heart. Cuz when your best friend jumps up on a Friday night to dance along to the pixels in this Minecraft gem, and your brother buys a professional grade Yoshi costume to wear to parties outside the month of October, you know these are people who’ll appreciate the art of the graphic novel.

Marbles, by Ellen Forney

For the sister-in-law who writes on the side: Marbles, by Ellen Forney

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, an invigorating, totally original cartoon/memoir mashup falling under the genre of graphic memoir, shows and tells, in often excruciating detail, the tribulations of a bi-polar artist coming to terms with her condition. The devil’s in the details: like using regular comic-strip style to create a sense of stability when writing about sessions with her psychiatrist, and then beating you down with depression drawings lifted from the pages of Forney’s journal; dark, moody images where brush strokes become stark and pages are given over to one image at a time, driving home each point page by page. All hemmed in by an easy-breezy blue and rainbow cover that belies the energy and emotions coursing through the book. Just don’t call her an illustrator.  “I think all cartoonists have been called illustrators or the art is referred to as illustration, but illustrations are secondary to text, and they [the art in her work] are not illustrations, they’re part of the storytelling,” Forney says, noting that as long as she’s got her work out there, what she’s referred to is beside the point. In trying to understand bipolar disorder, Forney turned to her own favorite artists – Michelangelo, Sylvia Plath, Georgia O’Keefe, Vincent Van Gogh – people who created from the depths of their own despair, who could provide comfort and company to this 21st century artist. So when you’re reading Marbles and start to feel like you’re experiencing mood swings right along with Forney,  wondering if you too might be bipolar, or depressed, or all of the above, you’re not alone. Which is the point.

Incognegro, by Mat JohnsonFor the brother who needs a little more American history than Hyrule Historia: Incognegro

With Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery, Mat Johnson takes a slightly different approach to the graphic novel, focusing on historical fiction – racial relations, murder mystery, women passing as men and black men passing as white, lynchings in the deep south – as opposed to the lighter fare of bipolar disorder and crippling depression. This is not for the faint of heart. The book is actually labeled with a warning: “for mature readers”, as not only do you get to imagine the horrifying effects of mob justice and “strange fruit”, but Johnson, through artist Warren Pleece, shows you what he’s talking about in exquisite, sepia-toned detail. The book reads like a true crime-slash-old-timey-newspaper, with mythic journalist “Incognegro” risking everything to report on what’s really going on outside the sanctuary of the Northern states.  The book might be slim, but don’t let that fool you. Incognegro is deep as living color, a history lesson with pictures that will haunt you.

Bottom of the Ninth, by Ryan WoodwardFor the nephew who will not look away from the screen: Bottom of the Ninth, by Ryan Woodward

This is kind of cheating, but it will still get my eleven year old to read something, even if it’s on screen and amped up with moving pictures, a soundtrack, and the occasional out-loud narration. Ryan Woodward’s Bottom of the Ninth is a superb hybrid: an animated graphic novel for your tablet. (Or, barring that, now available on your regular old computer.) Set in futuristic, vaguely steampunky Tao City, where New Baseball, an artificial gravity take on the original, is all the rage and local team the Pilots aren’t doing so well. Then there’s hint of some chick “who can throw like a guy-BETTER than a guy!” and the action takes off from there. Don’t tell the kids, but if your eyes need a seventh inning stretch you can click the narration bubbles to hear the novel read aloud, and to listen to the announcer-narrator. And some portions are enhanced by animation, on top of the graphics, just to make things that much more interesting. Pretty much every page is a delight for the reading senses, allowing you to take in everything all at once, then look around for the easter-egg details on the second read. With the tagline: “they couldn’t handle her curves!” it’s, dare I say it, a home run.

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