Books or Comics or Both?

While I’ve always been into comic book characters and movies, I’ve never actually been into comics themselves. I’ve seen every X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman movie, but I’ve never read their comics.

I admit that, as someone who considers herself well-read and extremely literate, I’ve never had too high an opinion of comics. Unfortunately and, yes, unfairly, my perception of comic fans has long resembled Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. You know — extremely knowledgable of the material, but socially awkward and so fanatical about keeping the comics in “mint condition” that he doesn’t even read them anymore.

Despite my reluctance to start collecting, I’ve found a happy medium between reading books and skimming comics. I’ve finally discovered the graphic novel.

My introduction graphic novels, I think, couldn’t have been a stronger choice. Of course I started with Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.” I knew Moore as the writer of “V For Vendetta” and as an Englishman who looks like Jesus mixed with Charles Manson. I read “Watchmen” last fall, about five months before the film came out. It, more than anything, took the edge off my comic snobbery. It’s the only graphic novel to make “Time” magazine’s top 100 modern novels, and features characters and moral dilemmas fit for any “serious” novel.

It was almost a year before I picked up another graphic novel. Today, while at Border’s (a dangerous place because I tend to leave with an armful), I picked up Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “Batman: The Long Halloween” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.”

“The Long Halloween” came in at #5 on IGN’s list of the best Batman graphic novels and is actually a very clever serial-killer mystery, with a serious twist at the end and an ambiguous resolution. It also features nearly every major Batman villain in some capacity, giving serious face time to the Joker and Catwoman and explaining the origin of Two-Face. Elements of it are clearly evident in “The Dark Knight.” Rather than being a mindless comic book, it addresses themes of guilt, trust, friendship, insanity, marriage and what justice really means. I was so engrossed with it that I finished it in one sitting. I’m thinking of picking up “The Killing Joke” (one of Moore’s) and “Year One”  (written by Frank “Sin City” Miller) at some point. “The Killing Joke” is also seen somewhat in “The Dark Knight.”

“Maus,” like “Watchmen,” appears to turn a graphic novel into high art. Spiegelman won the Pulitzer in 1992. More a memoir than a novel, it tells the story of Spiegelman’s parents during the Holocaust. The Jews are mice, and the Nazis are cats. I haven’t cracked it open yet, but I envision another great reading experience.

So if you’re hesitant to pick up a graphic novel for whatever reason, give it a try. I’m slowly building up a nice collection.

What I will never get into, I promise, is manga.

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