I was oblivious to the graphic novel genre for three decades, even as my friends in the ’80s were discovering comics and ‘zines, I was like, Who wants to listen to Rio on repeat on my huge awesome sub woofer tape player? I completely missed Maus.
Then, in my 40s, I “discovered” graphic novels. We were in a basement comics store in Harvard Square a few years ago. It smelled deliciously of paper mold. My son, 9, simultaneously discovered Jeff Smith’s series Bone. My daughter, 9, went for My L’Il Pony comics like they were the true horn of the unicorn. “Rainbow Dash” and “Fluttershy” entered my daily vocabulary.
The graphic novel was like the Lichtenstein print, “Sweet Dreams Baby.” “Pow.” Right in the kisser. Read. Look. Read. Does it get better than this?
It was like being a child again, transfixed by Maurice Sendak— Illustrations! Great stories! But the material was adult. It wrestled with parenting. Aging. Sometimes with very funny pictures like The New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? in which she inks the tragicomedy of her caretaking of her parents in their last years, in deep, pickle-brine Brooklyn, with their “museum” of old-style Bic shavers and her hair sticking hysterically up while she talks to end-of-life-lawyers.
I was even inspired to pick up pen and paper and draw a comic of my own: Suburban Mom. In every frame I was in a car yelling, “Don’t forget your cleats!” or “I don’t care what Daddy says about frozen custard!” “Once more unto the breach of 695 at rush hour, offspring!” And, “Buckle up for safety!”
So dear readers, you who are more steeped like well-steeped tea in the graphic novel genre than I, would you help me make a list of the top ten graphic novels I should read? I started with Alison Bechdel’s memoir, Fun Home. The art and the words went right to my heart. My dad, in his 70s, says he felt this way about Little Lulu and Scrooge McDuck. As the French say, “Each to his own taste.” N’est-ce-pas?
The graphic novels I’ve been reading have been narrative non-fiction memoirs, but I’m open to dragons. I’m open to elves and epics. The only thing I can’t do is horror. My son watched Star Wars with his father (the frame in Suburban Mother showed me ::face palm:: yelling, “These are not the droids you’re looking for!”) and my son couldn’t sleep for three nights. The apple does not fall far from the tree.