Graphic Novels – More Than Heroes In Tights

By Elizabeth Moreau, Anchorage Librarian

Superman, Batman, X-Men, and other do-gooders in tights and capes are probably what you think of when you think about comic books. And as a point of confession, that is what I thought for years until a literature course required me to read Maus by Art Spiegelman and taught me the term Graphic Novel.

Graphic Novels are not a genre, but rather, a format covering as wide a range of styles as anything else in the library. Maus, which won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, is a haunting recounting of Spiegelman’s parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. It was one of the first and most famous books to use sequential art (a ten dollar term for comics) to portray history in a serious manner and to transform comic books into graphic novels.

In the two-and-a-half decades since the publication of Maus, graphic novels have expanded to include memoirs, true crime, history, science, biographies, literature and much more.

As the graphic novel selector for the Anchorage Public Library, it has been my pleasure to try to convince/lure/trick my friends/family/library patrons into reading graphic novels. That’s hardly an arduous task as our graphic novel collection has some of the highest circulation (checkouts) and quickest turnover in the library. I can usually find one for almost anyone.

Interested in current events? Try A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld for a post-Katrina tale or The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson.

Interested in personal or family drama? Special Exits by Joyce Farmer recounts the author’s struggles during the final years of her parents’ lives. It rang all too true as I watch my mother cope with her aging parents. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is another memoir about a girl struggling with her own sexuality and coming to grips with a father who chose to hide his.

Wait! Aren’t comics supposed to be fun? For lighthearted whimsy you can not go wrong with Copper by Kazu Kibuishi. The imaginative adventures of a young man and his dog are perfect for children or adults, or as a shared experience.

Need a classic? There are graphic novels that use the original text of Shakespeare’s plays. Bill Willingham sets traditional fairytale and folklore characters in our modern world in his award-winning Fables series.

Aren’t comics for kids? Some are – and I can’t recommend Zeus: King of Gods by George O’Connor (first of a series based on Greek mythology) enough – but many are geared toward adults.

Some of your favorite characters from literature have their own graphic novels. Laurel Hamilton’s Anita Blake has crossed the divide, as has Janet Evanovich’s Barnaby, and Hooker and Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood fame. Graphic novels such as The Sandman (series) by Neil Gaiman have long appeared on bestsellers lists.

A number of your favorite television shows and movies began their lives as graphic novels: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (now a show on AMC), Red by Warren Ellis (also a movie with Bruce Willis), 300 by Frank Miller, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and the recent blockbuster The Adventures of Tintin.

Even traditional superhero tales are more complex, compelling and better written than most people assume. For proof look no farther than Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Night (series).

Ultimately, if you have not yet tried reading graphic novels, you have denied yourself an entire world of literature. Now is the perfect time to remedy that.

During the months of February and March, Anchorage Public Library invites you to join us for Anchorage Reads, our annual one-book community read. Together as a city, we’ll be reading The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and exploring the book from a variety of perspectives in numerous programs, including several showings of the film by the same name.

The Complete Persepolis, published originally in multiple volumes in French, is a memoir of growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. For many of our staff members, it was their first experience reading a graphic novel, and they quickly asked for other titles.

Pick up a copy to read. Check out a book club bag with 10 copies and a discussion guide for your book group. Join in any of the activities going on at the Anchorage Public Library. Check our website at for more details.

After you have read Persepolis, come talk to me. I bet we can find you another graphic novel you’ll love.

Librarian Elizabeth Moreau is the manager of the Mountain View Neighborhood Library and the APL selector for the graphic novel collection. Anchorage Reads 2012 events will be listed on the APL website,, and posted on our FaceBook wall.