Graphic Novel Reading Group discussion

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message 1: by Allen (new)

Allen Rubinstein (allenrubinstein) | 76 comments I have spoken with people, who claim they don’t understand comics. When they look at it, they tell me, the page is just a melt of images and they can’t tell which direction their eye is supposed to move. They can’t seem to wrap their mind around the idea of “reading an image”.

For real, or are they just not trying very hard? Can people be educated to absorb a new medium? Are these just not comics' peeps?

message 2: by Dominick (new)

Dominick (dominickgrace) | 167 comments I think that for those of us who have been reading comics forever, this might seem baffling, but I have heard it too. I knew a guy in university, a non-comics guy, who had an assignment in one class: take these four images and put them in the correct order to tell a story--that is, make them into a comic strip. He couldn't figure out the correct order. You have to learn how to read comics, just like you have to learn how to read. There are all kinds of elements that go into a page design, even a simple one, and numerous comics devices that seem perfectly sensible to those familiar with them need to be learned by those who aren't. That said, I think anyone CAN learn to read comics, if they really want to. The question is whether they want to.

message 3: by Dominick (new)

Dominick (dominickgrace) | 167 comments Scott wrote: "I wouldn't think it is much different than reading a picture book...unless of course they never read those, either."

Actually, it's quite a bit different, though there are certainly similarities. Most picture books are constructed so that the relationship between text and image is fairly easy to deduce, for instance (e.g. by having the text on the left side and the picture on the right side, or by having the text below the picture); admittedly, it's not THAT much harder to work that out in comics, usually, but despite having been a comics reader for literally as long as I can remember, I do still occasionally find myself looking at a page that makes me think for a moment about how the text flows, so I can imagine how difficult it might be for someone not familiar with the conventions. I doubt someone who hasn't read a lot of comics would have the first idea of how to go about reading book by Chris Ware.

Picture books also usually feature a single image per page. Reading that picture can still require a fair bit of skill, but I think that, psychologically, there's something that feels easier about reading a single image.

And, of course, I think there's a very great likelihood that adults who are not also parents rarely (if ever) read picture books. I do, to be sure, but then, I'm weird.

message 4: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Izworski | 75 comments Sometimes I tend to focus explicitly on the words (thought bubbles, boxes, balloons, ect.) and only look at the pictures peripherally. I think it's a habit I developed as to not skip ahead to the reveal while missing out on the dialogue. I end up missing some of the details in the art especially if it is a real good story because I am anxious to get to the next pane or page. But I can't imagine not being able to follow the flow, even Manga only took a few seconds to get used to, and that goes backwards.

That is bizarre though, I would think that comics probably aren't their thing and they're just not willing to put any effort into figuring it out. I mean it's not hard (and generally speaking usually designed for kids).

And I don't think one needs to be educated on how to read comics, I've know some pretty dim comic book readers. I don't think it's an intelligence thing; perhaps some, for lack of a better word, brain defect may make it hard for some to decipher [like if you were to put an apple in the left field of view of someone who's had the right half of their brain removed and ask them to name it and they can't] but I'm thinking in your acquaintances case it is probably lack of effort.Do their tastes in say movies, books, TV, games etc. indicate that the comic books they are trying to read would be appealing to them?

message 5: by Allen (last edited Sep 02, 2013 04:32PM) (new)

Allen Rubinstein (allenrubinstein) | 76 comments Well, I liken it a bit to the story when remote tribes were shown photographs and films for the first time. They didn't have the tools to interpret them. Their brains wouldn't process 3-dimensionality represented on a flat surface.

I also find that "civilians" don't know how to even look at a comic (as opposed to reading it). I hand them a book; they'll stare at the cover, look at the title page, turn it to the back, check out the spine, and I'm standing next to them, patiently waiting for them to actually take a peek at the comics themselves. I've had people hand the book back to me with an approving nod, and they've not so much as glanced at the interior art.

This makes a certain kind of sense. If someone shows you a prose novel, rifling through the interior doesn't accomplish very much - it's just a blur of words. How would they know that the best way to survey a graphic novel is to flip through and look at the style, the colors, the variety of page compositions, the interweaving and density of prose, and that they should use that information to decide if it's worth reading? This is decidedly new territory for most people.

The other area I've noticed is that I sometimes recommend that people slow down their pace of reading, particularly if it's comics without a lot of text. Some tend to speed through as fast as they can read the sentences, and they don't take the time to let the art tell them a story. I think it's hard to really grow an appreciation for the distinctive art form of comics if you're approaching it with novelistic reading habits.

message 6: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Izworski | 75 comments Allen wrote: "Well, I liken it a bit to the story when remote tribes were shown photographs and films for the first time. They didn't have the tools to interpret them. Their brains wouldn't process 3-dimension..."
Kind of like if a blind person who can easily tell the difference between a sphere and a cube by touch were suddenly given sight would they be able to look at them and tell the difference (I'm 99% sure the answer is no, but don't quote me).

If they're not flipping through it, they probably aren't interested. A lot of people look down on comic books as either juvenile or nerdy. I check out a few Graphic Novels from the campus library and the librarian [an older "turn her nose up type" woman] sighs, shakes her head and says "well, at least your reading". So it may even be that they are "too cool" to understand it.

And as far as speeding through, I do that to. But it doesn't stop me from enjoying and appreciate the book. I've been reading novels for a long time, but moved to Graphic Novels not that long ago. So I do read with novel type habits. The weird thing though, I am not a very fast reader. My wife flies through books at top speed, while I read every word, every line, and pace myself. On the other hand, when I read Graphic Novels I blow through them. I think it's partly because they are very exciting and that puts my at like an anxiety pace. Another reason I think I read GNs faster is because the imagery is there for me. I don't have to contemplate and visualize what is going on as much as in a novel. When I read Arkham Asylum I made a strong effort to slow down though to try to catch a lot of the symbolism. And I've been picking up more an more on little hidden nuances and messages in other books.

message 7: by Leesa (new)

Leesa (leesalogic) I do think sometimes it's hard to tell when a scene changes. Either the writer isn't identifying the characters, or the artist draws everyone alike, or even sometimes there's going back and forth in time, and better care could be taken to make this easier for the reader to "get."

I also think it takes practice understanding a comic. When I first started trying to read comics, I didn't get it. I'm used to paragraphs and paragraphs of words, and coming in media res is very difficult. It just takes practice for those of us that haven't been reading comics since we were kids/teens.

message 8: by Mel (new)

Mel (metermouse) | 50 comments Leesa wrote: "I do think sometimes it's hard to tell when a scene changes. Either the writer isn't identifying the characters, or the artist draws everyone alike, or even sometimes there's going back and forth i..."

I agree with scene changes being difficult to understand sometimes. If the writing doesn't let you know what is happening, then the artwork needs to be clear. If both of them are vague, the story can be hard to follow.

One thing that confuses me sometimes is when time passes in the story. If it isn't implied very well, it can be very confusing. I remember having problems like this with the book "In The Small".

message 9: by Queenie (new)

Queenie Chan (queeniechan) I think that the ability to read comics is on a sliding scale. There's a huge variety of different ways a comic page can be structured, and some are more intuitive to grasp than others. Also, I think that of you're used to reading a particular type of comic, it can SOMETIMES be hard to grasp something different.

For example, I've known people who grew up reading Superhero comics, and they find it hard to adjust to Manga. Conversely, I've known manga readers who take one look at the Vertigo stuff I like (Sandman, Transmet) and refuse to even read a single page because they think the art is weird, or they think there's too many blocks of text. They're both comics, but the conventions are drastically different, IMO. Manga borrows more from cinema, whereas the Vertigo stuff feels more literary (to me).

I also should point out that even in a heavily comics-oriented culture, there are still people who don't read comics much. In manga-obsessed Japan, 20% of the population still don't read manga. They prefer novelisations of the same stories over their manga counterparts. Why, remains a mystery. They just don't read comics, period.

message 10: by Queenie (new)

Queenie Chan (queeniechan) Scott wrote: "It seems mostly like laziness to me. I had to adjust to manga, especially the ones printed the Japanese way, and sometimes my eyes still go to the wrong places, but never have I thrown down a book..."

It's definitely laziness for some people, while others are stuck in their preferences and don't want to change. However, for a small minority of people I think there's definitely some sort of mental block.

I think there's probably some comic-book version of dyslexia. Can't read words/letters properly? There's probably people out there who can't make sense of pictures in a sequence.

message 11: by Paul (new)

Paul | 286 comments Queenie wrote: "I think there's probably some comic-book version of dyslexia. Can't read words/letters properly? There's probably people out there who can't make sense of pictures in a sequence. "

Funny you should menton dislexia... I have a friend who's son is dislexic and couldn't read books or at the very least didn't get any enjoyment from 'em.
I gave this kid a bunch of comics and he absolutely got into them. Gave myself a well-deserved pat on the back for that one :-)

message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 22 comments Its actually not so hard to learn to both read left to right or right to left. Or in my case when I storyboard up to down.

message 13: by Queenie (new)

Queenie Chan (queeniechan) I don't think it's necessarily a matter of dyslexia either, when people 'can't read books'. Some people have no visualisation skills, which is NOT the same thing as 'having no imagination'.

Many people think in images, but not all - some people find it impossible to imagine a picture in their head. These people would probably find it easy to read comics because the pictures are in front of them, but impossible to read books because they can't visualise things in their head.

Then there's probably the other extreme. People who just grapple with pictures and visuals! I've always thought of prose-reading as a on aural skill, NOT a visual one.

message 14: by Allen (new)

Allen Rubinstein (allenrubinstein) | 76 comments There are a whole variety of forms of intelligence - emotional intelligence, philosophical intelligence, mathematical, etc. A quick Google search tells me that the kind of intelligence needed to read comics is "spatial intelligence". Stands to reason that it's like anything else - some of us have more than others. Some are going to require more effort to "get the hang of it", while others will take to it quite naturally. So if someone is going to need to work harder to inculcate themselves to a new medium, they're going to need to be more motivated to do so. Maybe the conversation is around which comics are the simplest to grasp as a gateway.

message 15: by Corto (new)

Corto Maltese | 78 comments I've been working in a Comicbook-Store in Vienna, when american Comics were really booming around here (Watchmen was still quite fresh, Sandman was in it's third or fourth story arc).
I talked a lot to (adult) people who got infected with this books and there was one recurring theme: All of them read comics, when they were kids.
I also talked to people who can't find their way around a graphic novel and when I asked, I found out they weren't exposed to comics in their youth.
That led me to the theory, that you either educate your brain to what Scott McCloud calls "closure" in your youth, or not at all.
I could be wrong here and there will surely be exeptions, but this is my experience from a lot of talks.

message 16: by Corto (new)

Corto Maltese | 78 comments Scott wrote: "Maybe reading McCloud's first book would help."

Maybe. But understanding something on a intellectual level and developing a skill, are two different things.

message 17: by Sarah (last edited Sep 06, 2013 05:58AM) (new)

Sarah | 22 comments Just to note, some of the graphic novels sold at Archaia press are actually cluttered and unreadable, and this is no fault to the reader. But otherwise I can understand something like Kingdom Come just fine.

There is such a thing as to many panels per page. This one had like 16 panels in no particular order. This is equivalent to having huge paragraphs on a page of prose. 7 panels is plenty to communicate your idea across, and usually you'll need no more than 5.

I can read comics and prose equally well.

message 18: by Queenie (new)

Queenie Chan (queeniechan) If a comic is badly-paced, then no amount of comic-reading experience is going to help people reading it. There tonnes of well-paced comics out there, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out which are well-told. I must say that after speaking to teacher-librarians, the students often know better than the teachers what's a good comic and what isn't. Again, this may come down to exposure as children.

If there's a problem, is that I've encountered people who got turned off graphic novels just because they 'read' a bad one. It's hard to get them to give another one a go, when that happens. :(

message 19: by Allen (new)

Allen Rubinstein (allenrubinstein) | 76 comments I hear that, Queenie. Sometimes I get push back when they've only read Watchmen because that's THE graphic novel they're supposed to read. As superior as Watchmen is, if one's interest in superheroes amounts to a shrug of the shoulders, the reaction to Watchmen could be the same or worse. I think it's unfortunate that that one book (and Maus) has gotten so much of the focus for flippin' decades. Like most of the medium of comics in America, it's lopsided toward the wrong things.

message 20: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 22 comments This is why I often recommend the manga I-ve read. Stories are fairly good, and the pacing is pretty good. Fairies Landing is simple enough.

message 21: by Queenie (new)

Queenie Chan (queeniechan) I hear what you said about Watchmen. I think it's a brilliant work, but it took me at least several tries to get into said brilliant work. I couldn't get what the heck it was about at first. I was thinking - isn't this a superhero story? What's with this owl guy, and why is there a young one and an old one? Why does a nuclear-powered God like Dr Manhatten need a girlfriend? These things took me completely out of the story and I just didn't get it.

I ONLY managed to get into Watchmen when I realised that these people were VIGILANTES, not superheroes. That's the ONLY way the story made any sense to me. In a way, it's still true.

I agree that Maus is only ONE type of comic... And that people can benefit seeing the sort of thing that appeals to them. Maus isn't genre, nor is it 'entertainment'. Even with manga, the trouble is demographics. I've had people turned off manga because they ended up reading something written for a young or teen audience, and it didn't appeal to them.

These days I just recommend anything by Naoki Urusawa to a grown-up asking for 'comics'. Cinematic story-telling, nothing overtly sexual, straight-forward serialised story-telling ala TV shows... The John Grisham of comics or something. Easy to understand for laymen, I guess.

message 22: by Eden (new)

Eden Got any advice on how to read graphic novels? This is an element that I'm exploring in an interview on a blogradio program tomorrow and I'd love your input. Call in at 7-8pm Eastern Time if you have something to add or just listen in:

message 23: by Meran (new)

Meran | 115 comments Look up disgraphia (I think that's how it's spelled...)

I know someone who says he has it, but he has no problems reading comics. We trade lists all the time :)

I've always read comics AND books, from a very young age (less than 2). Maybe I taught myself, early; mom says I was always able to read. (I don't say that to brag!)

I've only had a couple of problems with a comic, simply because the artist (or writer) want very good at conveying the idea. We've all seen badly written books, or those where the writer and artist weren't a good team. Sometimes whole scenes were left out in the switching of story lines or arcs!

When I introduce someone to a comic or graphic novel, in order to overcome the prejudice, I'll pick something very beautiful or very unusual (according to their tastes) to get them interested enough that they look past the storytelling mechanism (comic vs book).

I've used "Chew" a lot for that, even "Strangers in Paradise" ;)

message 24: by Meran (new)

Meran | 115 comments I just searched goodreads for Urusawa. Couldn't find anything. Is it spelled right, please?

I'm always curious about graphic novels ;)

message 25: by Mike (new)

Mike | 289 comments Naoki Urasawa. I've read Monster and Pluto and loved both.

message 26: by Queenie (new)

Queenie Chan (queeniechan) I second Monster and Pluto, but especially Pluto.
Some of my older friends also love 20th Century Boys - they say it captured the 'zeitgeist of an era', which I'm clueless about since I never lived through said era.

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