Literary Challenge #8 Graphic Novels

Hillingdon Libraries staff challenge for August was to read a ‘Graphic Novel’ and give their honest opinion on the experience.


There is much controversy over whether Graphic Novels are Comic Books. Officially the answer is no. While a Comic Book deals with a number of characters, plots and storylines over a multitude of different issues, a Graphic Novel will deal with much deeper and darker subjects (for adults and children) normally over the course of one to two books; but, of course as with everything, there are grey areas.

Here is what our library staff had to say.


1.Watchmen by Alan Moore


When I were a lad I used to read Marvel comics featuring superheroes such as The Avengers. Some characters had psychological issues but mainly it was simply good vs evil, and great fun. Over the years such comics have morphed into graphic novels, attained added seriousness and targeted adults much more. The violence is, so to speak, more graphic, the language riper, the characters’ psychology more complex and ambiguous. Watchmen deals with masked vigilantes not as youthful fantasy figures but as adults – some of them middle-aged to elderly and retired from action. There is a detailed social and historical context, and, as with other Alan Moore works there is also more than a whiff of pretentiousness, perhaps resulting from too great a desire for cartoon narrative to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, Watchmen is compulsively readable, if not as profound as it imagines.

4 out of 5 stars

Mike – Eastcote Library


2. Tank Girl by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin

tank girl

First off, let me say that I do not feel particularly qualified to appreciate these. Call me ‘Old School’, but I was educated in the 60’s & 70’s when we were taught to read and write the monarch’s prose. Cartoons, comics and graphic novels were/still are considered sub-literary forms, perhaps. However, I can make a few prejudiced observations, too, though I will not venture to grade 5/5 or whatever! Tank Girl was recommended to me by staff, so I have flicked through it in an attempt to gain a feel of things. I cannot say that this is ‘reading’, nor that I was very thorough-going with my attention. This says a lot about the genre & its reception by readers, maybe? Wiki tells me that the eponymous Tank Girl lives in a tank, in which she & her various mutant friends have adventures in stylised, post-apocalyptic Australia. The presentation is lurid, colourful & dynamic, with much action narrative, bold speech bubbles & skewed perspectives. This is very different from conventional novelistic prose, of course, and brings to mind the kind of non abstracted mental activity which the nineteenth-century German philosopher Hegel called ‘picture-thinking’ (Vorstellung). At root, this amounts to dislike in the reader/thinker of intellectual abstraction and absorption or symbolic discourse, ie the processing of language rather than imagery. The corollary of this is acceptance of the world ‘as it is’, and perhaps arrested psychological development? I don’t wish to suggest that graphic novels are entirely responsible for such mischief; but it is no coincidence that the traditional novel in its many forms has been the chief conveyer of ideas, ideologies, political, sexual and revolutionary opinions! Again, I cannot be too dismissive of graphic novels as they are obviously very popular with huge, if mainly youngish audiences. However, I will say finally that if a picture paints a thousand words, then why not go to an art gallery for a better narrative read?

Unable to rate

Len – Harefield Library


3. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis-books1and2-coversThe idea of “reading” a graphic novel seemed a bit alien to me. You don’t just look at the pictures and you don’t just read the text, it’s an amalgamation of the two and I don’t think you do actually “read” it. A more accurate description would be that you “observe or absorb” a graphic novel.

Persepolis is a fantastic story, I learnt more about Iranian history in the two days I read this then in a lifetime of watching the BBC or reading newspapers. Beautiful illustrations that were funny and honest voices, that you could relate too and characters that made sense.

It’s basically a biography or memoir of Marjane Satrapi’s life (written in French in 2002), growing up in Iran and how completely “conventional” it is. The Iranian people had no idea that the 1979 revolution against the corrupt Shah would bring about religious fanaticism and hardly any of them were happy about it. Professional and educated people or anyone who opposed the new regime were “dealt with” so that in the end you had to obey the rules or leave the country. Marjane’s family sent her to Austria when she was 14, a situation that I really cannot imagine, and describes coming from a traditionalist Middle-Eastern Country into liberal Western society confusing, liberating and terrifying.

She has a brilliant sense of humour and her narrative runs on beautifully, to be honest I have to say that being able to take this in through a Graphic Novel format was much quicker than reading a traditional novel and held my attention for longer. I am not sure whether this is indicative of an attention deficit of my generation, but it works!

I am inspired to watch the film which was made into an English film in 2008. Everyone should read this to gain a better understanding of the really happened in the Middle East.

5 out of 5 stars

Lara – Harefield Library


4. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata.

SNoteThe first graphic novel I read was Maus (Art Spiegelman) and my favourite is From Hell (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell) – both now considered classics of the genre and I count them among some of the best books I’ve read. More recently, I’ve seen how enthusiastic, passionate and devoted my niece has become to several Manga series including Attack on Titan, Black Butler and Full Metal Alchemist – which all tell gripping stories as well as providing stylised Japanese Manga artwork that she likes to draw (as well as anime series that faithfully reproduce the art and plotlines, with irritating theme tunes for good measure). I introduced my niece to Death Note a few years before I read them myself. It’s a 12-part Manga series (which to my mind still qualifies it as Graphic Novel) about a boy, Light Yagami, who discovers a darkly magical book dropped by a Shinigami, a spirit from a supernatural world. The ‘death note’ book comes with a complicated set of instructions which, if followed, sees the person whose name you write in the book die. Light wants to rid the world of criminals and evil doers, so secretly begins using the book to wipe them out. Known as Kira, this mysterious supernatural murderer is being hunted by the authorities, bosses who want the power for themselves, but in particular a child genius known only as L. A cat and mouse game ensues, with both prodigies dangerously outfoxing each other… Death Note possibly goes on a bit too long, is a bit too twisty turny to be truly gripping, but it has a host of amazing characters and ideas and wrestles with the morality of playing god. Those are features you want in any book, graphic or otherwise, and there’s enough gristle to appeal to seasoned readers as well as reluctant ones. The plot is sophisticated and the resolution well-won, so there’s really no sense of a ‘comic book’ like Death Note speaking down to its audience, simply because of its format.

4 out of 5 stars

Darren – Uxbridge Library


5. Tanpopo by Camilla d’Errico

Tanpopo1CoverTanpopo (English translation: Dandelion) starts with undefined white birds flying freely across a wonderfully textured blue sky. It’s fifth page, and there are no words between these pages, shows a young girl (drawn more in the manga tradition) connected to an indescribable machine. Both girl and machine are detailed but colourless. Tanpopo excels at being a constantly surprising visual journey, completely unbound by structure.

Written and drawn by Camilla d’Errico, there is little sense that plot demands or studio intervention impact on the pureness of her artistic intent. A particularly nice touch is the chapter breakdown which describes the inspirations behind each chapter, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and P’u Sung-Ling’s Strange Stories. In the opening chapter rhyme and striking images combine to create meaning: such as the earlier image of the girl tied to the machine surrounded by the words “she slept that we might enjoy ourselves,” or the appearance of a diminutive figure, clad in black except for a deceptively cute white mask who offers such wisdom as “try to mystify the people; to satisfy them is hard.”

There is a plot about a young girl freeing herself from the confines of a machine to explore love and the world around her, but it’s sense of wonder created by the combination of verse and image that dominates proceedings. Tanpopo feels like an attempt to create a romantic graphic novel and the result is extraordinary. Tanpopo can be found on Comics Plus Library Edition. For more please visit and click Online Resources.

5 out of 5 stars

Mark – Uxbridge Library


6. Ouran Highschool Host Club by Bisco Hatori

61gY8vpv46LI am not really a fan of Manga, but have two daughters who really enjoy them. Therefore, I asked my eldest daughter to write the a review of one her favourite Manga books. What would you do if you ended up enrolling in a high school, where you are the only student who is not filthy rich, with an excellent social standing and only ended up in this school thanks to a scholarship? This is the situation that 15-year-old Haruhi Fujioka finds herself in, at the all-famous private school, Ouran Academy. Things just get worse for her after she attempts to find a room to study in, only to stumble upon the music room inhabited by the Ouran Host Club; a group of the ‘handsomest boys with too much time on their hands, who’s function is to entertain young ladies who also have way too much time on their hands’, as described by the Host Club themselves… And Haruhi is forced to join them to compensate for breaking an expensive vase in an attempt to escape. This manga series involved a lot of character development and gave equal care and attention to each individual person in the story, which was extremely entertaining to see. Whilst containing a lot of humour, Ouran High School Host Club also focuses on more serious topics like the gap between the rich and the poor, how to identify yourself and the experiences of Haruhi with the members of the Host Club that, in turn, help her to break out of her shell and becoming more trusting of others. Overall, this manga was light-hearted, fun and extremely enjoyable to read!

4 out of 5 stars

Franka – Hayes End Library


7. Captain America – Truth by  Robert Morales

truth-6-coverThis was my first graphic novel, as I always thought they weren’t my cup of tea. This title was recommended by a colleague, who thought the subject matter was interesting. I thought it might be good to try a classic Marvel type of graphic novel, with a superhero character that everyone has heard of – Captain America.

I did enjoy reading this, although at times I found the pictures a bit confusing, and wasn’t too sure who was who. It did become clearer as I read on however. At the back of the novel are references as to what material Robert Morales read to write this novel. He appears to have read very widely on World War Two, eugenics and race. I didn’t really expect a graphic novel to be so well researched and thought provoking. The treatment of the black soldiers in this novel is appalling and some of the pictures are quite gruesome. At the end of the novel there is an interesting conversation about identity with the original Captain America’s wife who is wearing a burka, which is a very current topic in the media.

After reading this I would consider reading other graphic novels

3 out of 5 stars

Siobhan – Uxbridge Library

What do you think?


What Graphic Novel are you going to read now, or will you avoid them all together?

Thanks for Reading!


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