For Your Eyes Only
by Frank Lipsius
Originating in Japanese manga, which are associated with teenagers and salarymen on subways, graphic novels began only a step above comic books in the cultural pecking order. At least these text-and-art stories need to be read (with one interesting exception below), compared to the great literature that people "read" through earphones thanks to audio books.
Just to confuse the picture, so to speak, the series Manga Shakespeare places Hamlet in 2017 after global warming has devastated the earth, but the words are still Shakespeare's and illustrator Emma Vieceli makes the images in the elongated skeletal style of Japanese manga.
The Puffin Graphics version of Macbeth, illustrated by Tony Leonard Tamai and adapted by Arthur Byron Cover (Puffin, $9.99), also uses Shakespeare's words but seems much more intergalactic, with periodic exclamations of "Doom!" and "Ahhh!"
The manga phenomenon gives respectability to comics, as does Disney Comics: The Classics Collection (Disney, $47.95), which puts Bambi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland in hard covers and thick but grainy comic-book-like paper.
Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age edited by Ariel Schrag (Viking, $18.99) is in the manga tradition of portraying teenagers, but the adventures of these souls explore the loneliness of middle school, where a girl applying her first makeup in the girl's room is told by another girl, "Don't worry. You're still ugly."
The Fog Mound series by Susan Schade and Jon Buller (Travels of Thelonious and Faradawn, Simon & Schuster, $15.99 each) looks back to "ancient times, when human beings ruled the earth and the animals did not yet have the gift of language," but now they roam empty cities to figure out the giant creatures who built them and once lived there.
Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Amulet, $14.95) focuses on one underweight high-school boy (especially in the stick-like drawings) as he tries to gain pounds in middle school, a challenge he faces by turning into a cartoonist and lifting milk-carton weights.
High-school kids are the subject of Aimee Friedman's Breaking Up (Scholastic, $8.99) with art by Christine Norrie illustrating the frustrations and ups-and-downs of high-school romance in the Georgia O'Keeffe School for the Arts.
Teenage series now available as graphic novels include R.L. Stine's Goosebumps (Scholastic, $8.99) and Ann M. Martin's The Babysitters Club (Scholastic, $8.99).
You might think that books comprised of all pictures would be for the youngest kids, but the brooding brown and black images in Shaun Tan's The Arrival (Scholastic, $19.99) portray the grim life of an immigrant in an industrial world that is a fantasy version of the 1930s.
Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, $22.99) does have words, which make up their own chapters, as do chapters of just pictures enlarged, detailed charcoal drawings of locomotives and other realistic images suitable for adults. This is the exception that proves the rule, because there's an audio book version, which the publisher says translates the 300-plus pages of illustrations using "vivid sound design" and received a National Parenting Publications Gold Award.
As the graphic novels show, they can be in all shapes and sizes for all kinds of readers, just like audio books.
Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.