Law and Conversation

November 17, 2010

Three graphic memoirs worth reading

I mentioned last week that I’ve been on a graphic novel kick on and off this year.  The combination of dialogue, occasional narration, and often stylized cartoons to tell great stories never ceases to fascinate me.

The relatively recently coined term, “graphic novel,” not to mention the Pulitzer Prize that Art Spiegelman won for “Maus” in 1992, is an indication of the respect comic books have gained since I was growing up, when my parents admonished me against revealing that I had a subscription to Mad magazine.

My parents’ admonitions notwithstanding, until recently, I didn’t realize just how controversial comics once were, condemned by no less than Sterling North, the author of Rascal, and Frederic Wortham, the Comic Book VillainDavid Hajdu recounts that interesting and scary history in his nonfiction “The Ten Cent Plague:  The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America,” which is reviewed here and here.  Hajdu discussed his book and the history of comic book persecution and burning in a number of podcast interviews, including this one from Maximum Fun and this one from NPR.

Here are three other graphic memoirs worth reading:

1)  Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, which got me started on graphic novels earlier this year, is the story of the Iranian revolution of 1979 from the vantage point of a young girl in Tehran as she grows from a small child into a rebellious teenager.  Her parents ultimately send her to Vienna for her own safety and for more opportunities.  (Satrapi now lives in France.)  Satrapi also wrote “Embroideries” and “Chicken With Plums,” both of which I enjoyed, but not as much as “Persepolis,” which was made into a movie.  Like “Maus”, “Persepolis” is a two-volume work, and, also like “Maus,” the first volume so enthralled me that once I’d finished it, I RAN to the library to check out the second. 

2)  Stitches:  A Memoir.  David Small’s remarkably nonbitter account of his parents’ dysfunctional marriage and his radiologist father’s unwittingly planting the seeds of cancer by treating his breathing difficulties with massive amounts of x-rays during the 1950s.

3) Fun House, Alison Bechdel‘s memoir of coming to terms with her father’s and her own homosexuality, and with her relationship with her complex father.  Bechdel drew and wrote the comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For” for years; I thought she’d stopped, but her website seems to suggest that she may still be drawing it.

I have more graphic memoirs and novels and books relating to comics on my near-term reading list, including Craig Thompson’s “Blankets” and Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier And Clay.”  With so many great stories, fiction and nonfiction, in graphic novel format, and with even more stories about the history of comic book controversy and censorship, there’s no lack of material for future posts.

What comics or graphic novels have you enjoyed?

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November 15, 2010

Read This! Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

Today’s Read This! recommendation features “Man’s Search For Meaning,” by psychotherapist Viktor Frankl.  A law professor I know characterized this book as “one of the best books on the planet,” and he’s right.

Frankl tells the story of his experiences as a concentration camp inmate in the Holocaust and then uses his story to make a convincing and beautiful argument that the strongest force driving people is the search for meaning and purpose in their lives.  It’s a book that merits reading and rereading. 

On Friday I posted about my plan to read Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” over the weekend.  Now that I’ve done so, I’d include it on any list of great Holocaust literature or list of seminal graphic novels.  It’s fascinating to see how the cartoons of people as mice, cats, pigs, and dogs (and one frog) work so well with the characters’ conversation to convey Spiegelman’s father’s harrowing story of the Holocaust as well as his son’s own story of how he came to draw and write the book.

Speaking of the Holocaust, there are wonderful YouTube videos of another concentration camp survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, playing the piano at the age of 106 and telling the story of how music helped sustain her.

And speaking of graphic novels, last week I posted about another graphic novelist whose books I love, Lynda J. Barry.  Nathalie Atkinson at Canada’s National Post calls Barry a “happiness bomb!” in her article of November 12, “Everything is illuminated: Tagging along on Lynda Barry’s magical mystery tour of Toronto.”  Barry is in Chicago today, giving a talk at the Art Institute.

What stories have helped you find a deeper meaning in aspects of your life?

November 12, 2010

Weekend reading: Art Spiegelman’s Maus

Weekends are often good opportunities for me to catch up on reading.  This weekend I’m continuing my on-again, off-again graphic novel jag by picking up a graphic novel modern classic:  Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the story of his parents’ experience as WWII concentration camp survivors.

I’m approaching the book, which has been on my list for years, with some trepidation because of its ghastly subject matter.  But I’m also expecting it to be a great story, not least of all because of the melding of text with illustrations.  Many great writers, including Anne Frank, Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel, and Gerda Weissmann Klein, have, through words alone, eloquently conveyed the horror of the Holocaust as well as the hope that sprang up afterward.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Spiegelman uses pictures to tell and reinforce his parents’ story.

What graphic novels or comics do you think have told stories particularly effectively?

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