Not every prose story can make it as a graphic novel. The dialogue has to be particularly strong, the world-building top notch, the pace active enough to keep the art kinetic but not so active as to overwhelm the reader, and then there’s that special…something. I wish I could describe it but trying to do so is like trying to describe what green smells like to someone who doesn’t share my brand of synesthesia; it doesn’t have an analogue, it just smells green. And so too with prose works that will make good graphic novels; yes, they have to meet the above criteria but they also simply have to be prose stories with the indescribable something that marks them as a story that will be enhanced by art.
There are a few novels and stories I’ve delved into recently authors have managed to infuse with that ineffable thing that makes the leap from words to words with art not only possible, but something this reader is clamoring for. I’ve even picked artists I’d love to see do the work:
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
When Korede has to help her sister, Ayoola, dispose of a third boyfriend’s corpse, she quips, “Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.” But it doesn’t really matter. Ayoola is the favorite daughter, the beautiful daughter, and Korede the elder whose job it is to take care of the baby of the family no matter what it is she may have done. When Ayoola sets her sights on a doctor with whom nurse Korede works at the local hospital, and with whom she is in love, dutiful Korede finds herself suddenly unwilling to let Ayoola have her way.
Fast paced with vivid imagery and bursting with sensory description, My Sister, The Serial Killer is a story barely contained by the words used to tell it. Art can only enhance the experience of voyeristic glee that is partaking of Korede and Ayoola’s eternal combat.
Artist: Vashti Harrison
These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling
Being a teenage witch isn’t as easy as Sabrina makes it look, especially when your ex-girlfriend is in your coven. Hannah Walsh wants to start over, but Victoria keeps popping up everywhere.
Then someone in their hometown starts tossing dark magic around. Next, the Hunters arrive to reignite an ages old war. And no matter how over Victoria Hannah is and how much she wants to get to know Morgan, the new girl in town, she can’t let her coven, or her conscience, down by letting Victoria get hurt. Or worse.
It may have been the book’s cover that first made me want to see a graphic novel, or maybe the fact so many of the characters are involved in the arts. Or maybe I’ve just been watching a little too much Riverdale. These Witches Don’t Burn also had a similar sensibility to Teen Titans: Raven and I read them around the same time, so perhaps they got a bit conflated in my brain. Regardless, I think this novel would make an absolutely charming YA graphic novel and kids deserve to have as many of those as possible.
Artist Brooke Allen (Lumberjanes)
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Emoni Santiago got pregnant her freshman year of high school, and since then she’s had to put her dreams on hold and make the best possible life for her daughter and for her abuela. The only time she feels at peace and completely herself is when she’s in the kitchen, where she turns food into art, but she needs to finish high school and work to help support her small family so those opportunities are few and far between.
When her school offers a cooking elective, Emoni hesitates: though she dreams of being a chef, she knows it isn’t possible. She takes the plunge, however, and learns not only about about navigating a kitchen, but navigating life and love.
You eat with your eyes first, as the saying goes, and the whole time I was reading With the Fire on High, I was picturing the dishes Emoni was crafting, the colors of the spices, the textures of the meats and cheeses and produce. I could picture a muted color palette to the majority of the book with splashes of bright, celebratory, full hues when Emoni is cooking or with her daughter, those same colors creeping in from the edges as she spends more time with her new crush.
I can’t even fathom how beautiful this book could be as a graphic novel but I really need it.
I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
Sarah Kuhn’s new YA romance is absolutely adorable. Kimi Nakamura, designer and seamstress extraordinaire, is desperate to go to design school, but her mother is adamant she go to a fine arts academy. A fight ensues and Kimi takes the unexpected opportunity to visit her grandparents in Japan for the summer; grandparents she barely knows due to a serious falling out between them and her mother years before she was born.
Kimi expects to spend the summer touring Japan, looking at art installations, and visiting outdoor markets. She doesn’t expect to fall in love with Akira, an aspiring medical student who moonlights as a Mochi mascot for his uncle’s mochi stand.
Kimi intends to keep it casual and simple.
Kuhn is so fantastic at description and character development that it feels like a graphic novels script is half-written in the prose. I’ve never had the chance to go to Japan, however, and I found myself googling pictures of so many of the landmarks and sculptures and cultural sites Kuhn mentions. What I would really love, is to see the places and people and cultural touchstones as the characters do, to see Kimi and Akira wandering through them, among them, interacting with them. Seeing the words flow and move with their discussions and arguments and revelations.
So, I’m sitting here. Waiting.