Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My take on the graphic novels

When I was growing up, my parents always warned me never to read comics. One of the most popular comics during my childhood years was Funny Komiks, and I recall one time my mother raised hell because she found one in the house. I didn't know who was reading it though; for all I know it was the neighbor's. Apparently, this negative attitude toward comics is common in Filipino middle-income households. Most parents believe that, if their kids read comics, then they would grow up to be idiots. Letting kids read comics is likened to getting them lobotomized. It would take a few years before I'd be comfortable reading the newspaper's comics section.

But let's qualify these comics, shall we? When I used to work for a local book publishing house, I learned that one of our authors, a Palanca winner and judge, used to write a serial for Liwayway. For those not in the know (or for those who pretend not to know), Liwayway is a comic book sold in street corners that feature romantic storylines. I wondered if the stories in these comic books have actual literary merit in them. I decided to find out for myself.

The Funny Komiks incident happened when I was 8. Little did I know that I will be 30 years old when I would be holding another comic book, which are now called graphic novels. I'm not counting the Gospel Comics that we were forced to read in grade school and high school. These were treated as "reference materials." Also, most of the stories in Gospel Comics are so unimaginative and prosaic. We didn't complain though, since the comic books spared us from an hour's lecture of Catholic dogma.

Anyway, a special someone would take it upon himself to give me a copy of Fables and Reflections, a graphic novel that's part of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. When I got home to read it, I found myself unlearning some of my reading habits. As a speed reader, I've been accustomed to reading words in chunks. Reading the graphic novel, however, I had to consciously pause after reading the text on each page and admire the artworks. I must admit that some of the stories in that particular comic book are quite witty and brilliant, but I've always wondered if they'd have the same impact without the artworks.

Aside from my parents' views about comics, one of the reasons I wasn't too keen on picking up graphic novels before is that I somehow didn't trust the narrative skill of the authors. If they were good storytellers, then why do they need pictures? Now, after reading quite a few comic books, I realize that the artworks make the experience of reading graphic novels more meaningful. A good graphic novel makes the transition from reading the text to viewing the artworks seem effortless. I didn't really mind if the artworks are rendered in full color or just in plain line illustrations. In fact, one of the best books I read last year was a graphic novel by a French artist which had all the illustrations done in just simple lines without color.

When I read a Liwayway magazine two years ago, I felt sad that the magazine isn't that popular anymore. I guess people now prefer watching telenovelas every day to reading the wonderful stories in the magazine and waiting for next week's installment. I'm also feeling a bit on the losing end that I don't have fond memories of reading Funny Komiks as people my own age have.