December 06, 2006

Not-So-Juvenile, Definitely Delinquent

I have accumulated SO many links over the past few weeks that it's unreal. But trust me, I feel such a sense of accomplishment at having finished NaNoWriMo and having made significant progress into a new YA novel that it's worth the amount of time I need to play catch-up. Especially since I was sure I wasn't going to finish my 50,000 words. It's amazing what one can do with proper motivation (and the lucky happenstance of being able to write for six straight hours).

Anyway. I've been meaning to address the whole idea of graphic novels vs. comic books since TadMack brought it up a few posts ago and "ahemmed" me into explaining the difference. Bearing in mind that I am far from being an expert on the industry (so please, no flames from fan-folk--if you feel the need to correct or enlighten me, please do so in a tactful manner, remembering that I'm trying to do good here, not spread misinformation), I'll do my best to elucidate.

A comic book is that flimsy-paper, weekly or monthly booklet that you see laid out on shelves in your local comic store, or stored lovingly in plastic packets by comic collectors, or sitting in a revolving tree in the drugstore (which is where I bought all my Archie comics when I was about ten). They may be more or less flimsy, they may use a larger or smaller page size, but it's your basic serial-story-by-installment. A graphic novel is a book-length work of sequential art. It may be a stand-alone work; it may be part of a series. It may even be a compilation of several comic books that form a complete storyline. And manga, or Japanese comics...I'll let Wikipedia explain that.

So, I hope that helps somewhat. As part of the Cybils Graphic Novels nominating committee, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a good graphic novel, and what criteria ought to be used in judging such a work. In addition, there is the issue of what makes a work appropriate for a YA audience to the extent that it should be considered for a YA award. One of the graphic novels I read for the committee is a real standout, and could be enjoyed by an older (16+) YA audience, but I just don't think it's YA, and I don't think it was intended to be so either. I think the author's intentions factor in here. Also complicating matters is the fact that this book is a memoir--it covers many of the author's teen years, but as I learned in grad school, a book with YA characters doesn't mean it's a YA book. Adult books popular with a YA audience are often referred to as "crossover" titles, and I think that when YA awards are usually judged or booklists compiled, the committees consider books that are specifically written for a young adult audience.

Having said that, graphic novels don't necessarily fit neatly into an age category, as the blog Read Roger nicely discusses. It's fairly apparent when they are written specifically for younger children. But there are so many "all-ages" graphic novels--for instance, when I was a kid I had a graphic-novel version of Macbeth. That could potentially appeal to anyone of any age. Same with a number of the graphic novels I'm reading for the committee--and many of these are not specifically labeled with an age range. One exception is the manga titles, most of which have an age label of some sort. And then I think about comics that I read as a teen, comics like The Sandman or Hellblazer that were fairly mature in content, and I wonder if it would be wrong to exclude titles that aren't specifically teen-oriented, or seem too edgy or sexual or collegiate (i.e., you need a college education to understand it). And I think about all the adult books--mainly fantasy and sci-fi--that I read from about age eleven on up, and the fact that many of them had what could be considered mature content.

So basically, the upshot is that I'm not sure what to do about the books on the nominations list that strike me as being not fundamentally YA. Especially since the two I'm thinking of are particularly good. I think I also worry that graphic novel titles are being nominated here because of a sort of underlying prejudice in our society that comics--along with animation and graphic novels--are not for adults (ironic, eh, considering how these media got started?). Using that logic, any graphic novel regardless of content would have to be YA or younger; and so in order to be considered for any award at all, the graphic novel titles which are more adult would still be considered in this context. However, because there are awards like the Eisner Award, among others, it is clearly not the case that comics for adults are not recognized. There are just not very many literary comic awards, to my knowledge.

Well, my ranting has not enabled me to come to any sort of conclusion about this, so I'll stop now. But rest assured I have so much more to blog about. I've been saving up. Really.


tanita✿davis said...

There is so much in YA lit that is labeled "crossover." I'm continually surprised as I'm doing my Cybils reading how much of what I am reading I'd not specifically state as YA, and would just sort of list as 'general interest,' but especially in the graphic world, there's either a group of readers that isn't actively being marketed to (and I'm sure someone is shocked that they missed that group) or else we're really extending what is considered Young Adult. Either way, I look forward to reading some of your picks.

Colleen said...

I can't help but think that the two non YA gns you're thinking about are Pride of Baghdad Deogratias. (I could be wrong, of course.)

The thing is, a lot of the gn nominations are not teen gns - the Babymouse is a perfect example of this and even the Baby Sitter's Club books are all skewed more for tweens than, say, 15 year olds.

Maybe you could split the category in two, say 14 and under and 14 and up, or something like that.

Sarah Stevenson said...

We definitely are splitting the noms into 12 and under and 13 and up categories. That helps a lot, though I still think there can be a world of difference between a children's GN and a middle grade GN.

And I was actually thinking of Fun Home and Mom's Cancer. Though Deogratias is sort of on that line as well, I think it fits for older YAs (i.e., 15-16 and up). I haven't read Pride of Baghdad yet, but it's waiting for me at the library--can't wait to pick it up tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

I am not a comic expert at all, but while I LOVED Fun Home, I don't think it's a YA book at all. Selected older teens may enjoy it but I think it too sophisticated in tone for most teens. There were a lot of references which went over my head.

Fantastic book though.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I totally agree, Keri. It's a real standout and one of the best GNs I've seen recently, but the tone and references, as you said, are a bit sophisticated. Not everyone reads Proust! :)