Every Picture Tells a Story: Illustrated Reads | The Reader’s Shelf, June 15, 2013

Graphic novels offer many pleasures as they blend image and text. The best examples create an alchemic experience in which the text furthers the image and the image complicates and complements the text. These six examples showcase a range of artistic styles—from the spare and monochromatic to the frenetic and colorful. They also explore different kinds of forms—including memoir, sketchbook, and literary adaptations. Beyond these differences, however, each, in one way or another, features a woman or girl finding her way through her own life story.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel (Farrar. 2012. ISBN 9780374386153. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466832275), based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle and adapted and illustrated by Eisner Award winner Hope Larsen, offers adults a bittersweet return to a beloved childhood classic. Using only a few colors, but an infinite amount of talent, Larsen stays true to the spirit of L’Engle’s tale of time travel and threats of the Dark Thing while also offering readers a brand-new experience of Meg, Charles, Calvin, and those wonderful ladies Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which.

Russ Kick’s three-volume anthology The Graphic Canon provides voracious readers of the classics new versions to savor. The Graphic Canon. Vol. 2: From “Kubla Khan” to the Brontë Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray (Seven Stories. 2012. ISBN 9781609803780. pap. $39.95) focuses on 19th-century literature and includes over 50 graphically adapted works by some of the most talented illustrators and comic artists working today. From the hair-raising illustrations by Sanya Glisic of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter to a gentler treatment of an excerpt of George Eliot’s Middlemarch by Megan Kelso, the variety of stories and styles in this collection is marvelous.

What happens when two famous comics artists marry and have a child? You get Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist (Norton. 2010. ISBN 9780393079968. $27.95). As Sophie is the daughter of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb, it may be hard to tell whether nature or nurture turned her into the artist she is today. Readers can follow Sophie’s artistic development in this memoir/scrapbook featuring a blend of styles and page designs that includes her first drawing at age two of her family, her visual expressions of adolescent angst, and ruminations on starting a family and the pressure of living as an artist in her own right under her legendary parents’ shadow.

With detailed black-and-white images, shifts in style, and a frame arrangement that varies intriguingly over the course of the story, Nicole J. Georges’s riveting Calling Dr. Laura (Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780547615592. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780547834566) is as raw and as honest as previous trailblazing graphic memoirs such as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. The author is 23 when a psychic tells her that she should speak more with her father. Georges, who was told from an early age that her father was dead, initially dismisses the comment but can’t quite forget it. As she juggles a new relationship, five dogs, and her many creative pursuits, Georges peels back the layers of her childhood and struggles with her mother’s reaction to her coming out.

As she was growing up, journalist and artist Laurie Sandell was in awe of her father and his world travels, his groundbreaking inventions, and his powerful connections, but when she was in her twenties she began to suspect her father’s life story. As Sandell sought the truth, she came up against her own demons, including self-destructive behavior and the reverberations from bad relationships. The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir (Back Bay: Little, Brown. 2010. ISBN 9780316033053. pap. $16.99; ebk ISBN 9780316053426), told through vivid, lively, and creative panels, is a colorful look at how some people alter the truth to fit their own perception and the frequently painful path to self-discovery.

Intended as a wedding favor for their guests, Scenes from an Impending Marriage: A Prenuptial Memoir (Drawn & Quarterly. 2011. ISBN 9781770460348. $9.95) is a short, humorous look at the ever-growing to-do list that Adrian Tomine and his fiancée wrestle with as they prepare for their “big day.” Through spacious black-and-white images, Tomine ponders picking out wedding socks, learning how to dance, finding the perfect DJ, designing invitations, and pricing ties. Fans of his signature graphic style and sly wit, found in earlier work such as 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics and the numerous covers he has drawn for The New Yorker, will be charmed by this tiny take on the insanity of wedding planning.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net