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Comic books and graphic novels - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Comic books and graphic novels
Question: Am I the only person on the planet who finds graphic novels and comic books harder to read than other books?

We're encouraged to get them for "reluctant readers"--which must be just thrilling for the many avid readers who love comic books and graphic novels--but I find it takes me forever to figure them out. Does this text go with that picture? Wait a minute--this text doesn't relate to the text before it! Did I miss a picture somewhere?

I dunno. I just find my eyes jumping all over the page, and I don't take in the information on it nearly as easily. Which is a failing on my part; I should be able to. I was just thinking it's really odd that this fairly complex reading skill (at least compared to non-graphic novels) is thought of as something that'll be really good for people who don't even like simple reading!
32 comments or Leave a comment
lessthanpie From: lessthanpie Date: November 13th, 2004 11:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a hard time reading them, too. I just don't seem to be able to handle too many pretty pictures and read at the same time. I get so confused about which panel comes next.
kat_denton From: kat_denton Date: November 13th, 2004 11:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I get so confused about which panel comes next.

OMG YES, especially with manga style comix - inside out, upside down and BACKWARD *G*

I prefer to read straight text (straight as in format, not content *WEG*)

leeflower From: leeflower Date: November 13th, 2004 11:41 am (UTC) (Link)
They can be very confusing, yes.

I have the same problem.

I think that people who don't really read, though, might find comic books and graphic novels less intimidating, because there are fewer words.

Manga, though, has so much going on per page that it's damn near impossible to follow. And While I don't have a problem with the 'backwards' formate to them, I do have a problem with the fact that you practically need a diagram to figure out which panel's next.

American comic books that don't have the japanese influence to them tend to be much more uniform in their panel size and order.

(not to say that manga sucks, just in case anyone gets that impression and decides to hate me. Manga can be cool, it's just harder to read).
chickadilly From: chickadilly Date: November 13th, 2004 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I actually don't like graphic novels much at all for this very reason.
tea_and_snark From: tea_and_snark Date: November 13th, 2004 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you have a good point there. When I read graphic novels, I don't feel a lot of confusion, but it does take me a little more effort than simply reading a novel. It takes longer, too, because for each page I like to soak in the art and pick up on the little clues in the pictures that move the plot as well as the text on every page. In the first volume of Sandman, Preludes and Nocturnes, pages 68-69 took me forever to figure out because it was meant to be read left-to-right across the top of both facing pages, and then likewise across both pages on the bottom, instead of one page at a time. The picture seperations in Sandman are also unusual, so sometimes it's hard to figure out which order to read them in. Not to mention mangas--most of them have to be read "backwards," and often they incorporate loose seperations and visual "asides" so it can be very tricky to figure out what's going on.

I don't think either straight-forward prose or graphic novels should be recommended as the best choice for reluctant or challenged readers; it's very possible to find a simple, easy prose novel and a complex, challenging graphic novel. Why do these things have to be categorized only as the "easy one" and the "hard one"?
strangemuses From: strangemuses Date: November 13th, 2004 12:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
We are not meant to read graphic novels/comic books like a prose story. That may be part of the problem that you're having with them. The text only tells a fraction of the tale. The art itself tells a good portion of the "story" and in a really well-done comic, the size and spacing of the pictures on the page also tells part of the story. The top-notch graphic artists use the same techniques as film directors do when selecting close ups of people or things, medium shots, far shots, etc. This is one of my only gripes with so many manga and mang-style comics: they use a very static layout that deprives the story of much of its impact. At any rate, comics aren't 'easy' to decipher at all, but once you learn to see the interplay between the text, the pictures, the layout, and the pacing, they can be quite wonderful.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 13th, 2004 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure they can, but I've spent enough time as a movie buff that I look at them like storyboards and kind of keep waiting for it to start moving and get cast and so on. ;)

Really, I know that there's a lot of good stuff done in the format. I'm struggling through one about the Inklings now. I just find it hard and was kind of wondering why they seem to be passed off as "easy reading" (I'm a librarian; that's the exact reason given for making an effort to stock them).
strangemuses From: strangemuses Date: November 13th, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure that some idiot somewhere had a brainstorm and decided that since comics had fewer words in them, they must be easy to read! (Um, No!) Plus, they all feature testosterone-overloaded men beating each other up, right? With rocket ships and mutant powers? (Um, No!) And therefore boys who don't normally read will automatically love them, right? (Um, No!)

tea_and_snark From: tea_and_snark Date: November 13th, 2004 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm a librarian; that's the exact reason given for making an effort to stock them

Erm--I'm not blaming you, but who is it who gave that reason? Because maybe they haven't read that many graphic novels... Anywhoo, I've always been curious about who chooses the books that are stocked in libraries, whether they actually pay attention to the various banned-books lists that come out of the woodwork on banned book week, etc. Is it an association of donating patrons, or a manager, or a panel of the librarians?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 13th, 2004 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, we absolutely pay attention to banned books lists. They're great shopping guides. ;p

I'm not sure where it comes from; it's just kind of a received wisdom thing. In my YA lit class, the question of graphic novels came up. Why should we stock them? [enthusiastic voice]Because they're great for reluctant readers![/enthusiastic voice] Oh, and they're not bad.

Librarians choose the books for libraries, usually with very little interference from anyone. Citizens might donate books and sometimes there would be an administrative arrangements to buy a series in bulk without having to order every individual entry in it. Ordering is done through a lot of review sources (VOYA, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, etc), which is a problem for graphic novels because there's no reliable place where a lot of them are reviewed or even listed. We have a tool at work that makes it possible to just say, "Okay, what's been released since ________" and check each title individually.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 13th, 2004 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
(I did an entire starter graphic novel collection for one of the branches, about three hundred titles, each one looked up separately at Amazon because our ordering source didn't have a description of those books, let alone a review. We have a better system now, though I'm inclined to check customer reviews at Amazon because there aren't a lot of professional reviews.)
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: November 13th, 2004 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have you ever read Scott McCloud's Understanding comics?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 13th, 2004 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe I should get it before I try to get through the one I'm trying (rather unsuccessfully) to read...
neotoma From: neotoma Date: November 14th, 2004 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I heartily second the recommendation. Scott McCloud spent a lot of time on that book, and really explains things well.

One of the problems you are probably having is that many artists in field today are not up to snuff with layout. You'll love McCloud's explanation of what layout is and how it effects readers' sense of time and space.

You also might want to look at his website for some well done comics, which have lines very helpfully connecting the panels together, since you said you have trouble figuring out what order to read stuff in.
epsilon_delta From: epsilon_delta Date: November 13th, 2004 01:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hehe. I agree. I have that problem when reading comics, too. The only ones I've had good success reading were ones that had same-sized square panels that went from left to right, top to bottom. I think it has a lot to do with how we're accustomed to reading things, and where we expect to see things next. My mom can easily read novels that are written in column format that go from right to left, but I can barely get through a page of that without getting confused.

And comics are definitely not simpler than novels. More often than not, I've found their plots far more complex and more difficult to keep track of. Just listening to a friend try to explain the X-Men universe to me pretty much made my head explode. O.o
furiosity From: furiosity Date: November 13th, 2004 02:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I never read comic books, and I don't think I've ever seen a graphical novel. I have the exact same problem as you -- my eyes keep jumping all over the page, and I'm never sure if I'm reading the right bit of dialogue at any given time. I suppose the fact that it's graphical should make up for the disjointed dialogue, but it really doesn't. The only comic book I own is the Matrix Comics, and that's because I'm a fangirl.

I have my reservations about comic books as reading material, but that's a soapboxy issue, heh.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: November 13th, 2004 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think format has anything to do with reading level (or maturity level!) although reluctant readers often like comic books because they can understand the story without reading the words. I don't have trouble reading them -- probably because I expect to spend several seconds at each doublepage spread looking at it first as an overview, and then finding how the action proceeds throught the pictures and then reading the dialogue. And quite often, having read the dialogue, I spend time on the artwork again.
izhilzha From: izhilzha Date: November 13th, 2004 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Here's the thing...

No, you're not the only one who has trouble reading graphic novels--I've tried to get a couple of friends into them and they just can't deal with it.

I think the reason they're often recommended for reluctant readers is not only because there are fewer words (I do have a friend who got into comics partly because he's dyslexic and he found it easier to have the visuals as well as text to rely on), but because the story is visual. The current generation has been raised on TV more than on novels, really, and a lot of young people in particular find visual storytelling easier to grasp. I have a close friend who likes to read but has a hard time sticking with novels because there are so many words and it's just so long. I gave her Craig Thompson's graphic novel Blankets, and she read it in two nights (it's twice as thick as a lot of novels), and asked me for more graphic novel recs.

I was pleased, because I'd pegged her (movie buff that she is) as a visual girl a while before, and this vindicated it.

I'm a book girl, myself, but graphic novels and comics are a really unique art form when they're done well.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 13th, 2004 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Here's the thing...

I have nothing against graphic novels in concept, and I'm the one in my area who does primary ordering of them. Not sure why so many people are assuming I'm hostile to them. I find them difficult to read and so don't personally gravitate toward them, and my question was basically why they would be considered easy reading, not why they should be bought at all. The question of appeal to a visual rather than verbal mind makes some sense, though there are visually oriented people who like traditional verbal approaches just fine, and some reluctant readers who aren't visually oriented (in those cases, I think interactive formats are a good idea, honestly).
treebyleaf From: treebyleaf Date: November 13th, 2004 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Here's the thing...

You may have answered your own question in the last phrase.

The general appeal of the graphic format has to do with the interaction between the linguistic and the visual sections of the brain. For those with the right neurological arrangement, graphics are literally a more engaging experience. For many readers, it may not be that there is left effort required, but that there is a bigger, faster chemical payback.

To illustrate, I once knew a small boy who refused to sit still for books or paper. His caregiver solved the problem by filling their home with anime-- all in the original Japanese. The child learned to read, by reading subtitles-- a task many literate adults find challenging, annoying, and unnatural. Reading subtitles was not an easier format, but it was the most rewarding format for this particular boy.

(And while I'm chatting up an ordering librarian with respect to literature-quality comics that are suitible for younger readers, please check out Jeff Smith's _Bone_. Thank you and good-bye.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 14th, 2004 01:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Here's the thing...

Got 'em. When they're in and on the shelf anyway. (Though I think to the disappointment of hardcore fans, the books that tend to go out more regularly are DragonballZ and the Sana's Stage books.)
skelkins From: skelkins Date: November 13th, 2004 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
No, you're not the only one. I also find them very difficult to read, always have. I'm a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to film and television too, so my suspicion is that I'm just the equivalent of a "slow reader" when it comes to visual story-telling.

It's a learned skill, though, which is to say--you can get better at it. When I first made friends with a group of people who were very deeply into comics and cartooning, I started to learn to read them, and now I find I can follow them much better than I could at first.

I do question, though, the notion that somehow they might serve as a kind of a gateway to stronger reading skills. To my mind, they represent a completely different type of "reading skill," and I don't think it's one that maps all that well onto the skill of reading and understanding written language.
readerravenclaw From: readerravenclaw Date: November 13th, 2004 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it depends on the kind of graphic novel. The Tintin books, for example (have you ever seen/read any of them?) are very easy to read and follow. At least, that's what I find, but that and a few Superman comics when I was much younger are the only sorts of full-length graphic novels I've read, so I don't have much basis for comparison. But yes, I do think a reluctant reader might find the Tintin books easier to read than an ordinary novel - assuming he/she liked the content, of course. Not because it's actually easier (faster, less difficult) to read a graphic novel, but just because the pictures (I would think) would make the book more appealing, less "frightening" or intimidating.
From: roseblue Date: November 13th, 2004 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I tried to read a comic book and couldn't get through it. So you are not the only one. I agree that the pictures help some people since they are not a lot of words. In my junior year in high school, my history teacher assigned to us a reading assignment. We had to read a book and give an in-depth report. The other kids were looking up how many pages each book on the list had and picking the shortest ones. So for some kids, less words is better.
myf From: myf Date: November 13th, 2004 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've tried and failed to read graphic novels, for three reasons:

1. I too get confused by the ordering.

2. I'm a very verbal person, so the visual aspect doesn't really entice me.

3. I'd rather form my own vision of events, settings and characters.
lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: November 13th, 2004 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've read comics since I was little and I used to read the daily comic strips all of the time; I'm so used to reading them I can't understand why anyone else would have difficulty getting through them. Sometimes the layout and even the art doesn't flow right and it gets a little confusing, but generally, it's second nature to me.
duncatra From: duncatra Date: November 13th, 2004 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I first started reading comics, I had the same issue. But I kept on, and it became second nature quickly. But then, I'm a very visual person and I don't often have the patience to sit and watch movies, so storytelling with pictures and words is a nice middle ground.

I second what someone above said about Understanding Comics - if you're text-oriented that might be a good bridge for you.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: November 13th, 2004 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've found individual comics or pages confusing, but comic books don't give me trouble as a general rule. (Then again, my brother and I had a comic-book-form copy of the Bible when very small, so perhaps I just got used to the idea early. Also, other than that I've mostly read superhero comics, not manga, so perhaps I avoided the really puzzling layouts.)

Presumably, however, "reluctant readers" are comparatively likely to have missed the idea that all-text books can be fun, whereas comic books/graphic novels have their serious, depressing, literary, and/or pretentious representatives but also have the reputation of being easy, just plain fun, and perhaps slightly trashy. Maybe the reluctant readers are less reluctant simply because it's not the kind of thing their teachers make them analyze.

(I used to hate analyzing stories. I like it better now that I don't have to. :P I never, however, was reluctant to read. Well, not in general. Maybe one or two specific things.)
purplerebecca From: purplerebecca Date: November 13th, 2004 10:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think they just take getting used to. When I first started, I had a hard time following them. But I've gradually gotten better and quicker at it.

Then of course there is the problem of the artist not doing a good job making it clear who is saying what. Sometimes, it's not the readers fault. :)

I wish my home library had stocked comics. o.o
cedarlibrarian From: cedarlibrarian Date: November 14th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I did find them harder to read at first, but once I figured out the order the panels went in, it wasn't so bad. It's easier reading Japanese comics, which (at least the ones I've seen) are universally right-to-left, top-to-bottom. Of course, the first graphic novel I ever read...okay, well, it was Maus, but after that it was Sandman: Preludes and Noctures, so I sort of got the crash course. Mostly I just used the context to figure out which panel went where.
scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: November 14th, 2004 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
::raises hand:: My roommate reads quite a lot of manga, and I've never caught on. Granted, manga reads right to left (since it is formatted for Japanese), but that doesn't bother me terribly. The problem, I think, is that it does jump around, and doesn't follow the nice order of regular text. For someone with serious astigmatism (which makes adjusting between different places on a page slower and more difficult), graphic novels annoy me to pieces.

It would seem that graphic novels (manga or otherwise) are formatted to be sort of a still version of TV: lots of changing views and images, if read correctly.
naomichana From: naomichana Date: November 14th, 2004 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Clearly, you're not the only person on the planet. Neither am I. I'm not strongly visual when it comes to narrative -- I enjoy very few TV dramas or movies -- and I was raised reading plain ol' books, which I do frequently and quickly in several languages. Graphic novels and comics slow me down tremendously, and I know I'm missing things, because my instinct is to just read the words and the pictures keep getting in the way.

Understanding Comics is definitely worth picking up, though.
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