I’ve been easing myself into the world of comics and graphic novels this year. Between reading piles of graduate level books and stacks of articles, my brain needs a break every now and then. Stories are one of my lifelines, and the beautifully drawn pictures, lyrical text, and heartbreaking, soul-stirring stories of graphic novels and comics are the perfect escape from the expanses of technical language that fill my school days.
It started one evening after an especially grueling day during spring semester, in the heart of winter. I found a list of web comics and loaded up six stories on six different tabs and started reading. I read page after page of one story in particular, As the Crow Flies. The deeply detailed colored pencil forests and vistas enchanted me. I made one of the panels the background on my iPad. I followed the artist, Melanie Gillman, on Twitter.
Sometime in late July, I stumbled across Tillie Walden’s comics, probably by following links from Melanie’s tweets. I looked through Tillie’s work online and ordered one of her books (A City Inside) that same day. I read it the night I got it in the mail. It felt like an illustrated poem. She depicts the most mundane scenes, a pair of slippers or a sleeping cat, with the same deftness and grandiosity with which she draws cathedrals or giant fish-shaped spaceships.
In September, Tillie launched a web comic, On A Sunbeam. I’ve been following along with the serial installations of a girl traveling through space, restoring old buildings. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a space story. In an interview with Broken Frontier, Tillie says, “And it seemed like such a waste to take a space setting and make it be full of dull machinery and dust….I don’t care that trees can’t exist in space; my space world has tons of them.” Space stories usually give me huge anxiety, but this one inspires only adventure and awe and wonder. Plus, cathedrals. In space. It’s gorgeous. You need to read it.
In some ways, web comics and graphic novels present similar challenges to the texts I encounter in my graduate seminars. They are new genres or subgenres: like and yet not like the books I am familiar with. There are new paths into the stories and new literacies to be learned, different purposes and outcomes to grapple with. All texts have something to offer if you remain a receptive reader.