The Power of the Graphic Novel

I have enjoyed all of my courses at Colorado College so far, but I have not been as sad to see one come to an end as I am while looking ahead to the last few days of Jewish Comics and Graphic Narrative. This class has reshaped my understanding of comics as a medium of storytelling; I now see graphic novels on par with novels in terms of literary merit and value. I have also been challenged to question the nature of representing both history and fiction through text and images and the extent to which this abstraction of information can successfully transition to the page. I have appreciated the craftsmanship and rich narratives in each of the works we have studied so far.

To begin the week, we finished off the massive novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The second half of the novel sees the two protagonists in crises of identity and purpose, as Joe copes with family tragedy and Sammy struggles with conforming to a society that represses both his art, creativity, and sexual orientation. Michael Chabon’s masterful yarn-weaving explores the darkest depths of the human psyche as Sammy and Joe fight to stay sane in an world in which human atrocities continue to defy belief and reason. The clever conclusion of the novel left me feeling at once satisfied and inspired to analyze in depth the components of the literary mountain I had just summited. I do not speak lightly when I say this is one of the best-written, intellectually-stimulating, and engrossing novels I have ever read.

With our novel done, we returned to the harrowing tale of Vladek Spiegelman in Maus II, the second part of Art Spiegelman’s remarkable account of his interactions with his father as he attempts to put onto paper the horrific experiences his father endured during the Holocaust. Maus II charts Vladek’s time in the Auschwitz concentration camp as he struggles to survive, separated from his wife, Anja, in a living hell during the final year of the Second World War. He survives only by dint of his resourcefulness in performing specialized jobs (teaching a guard English and working as a tinsmith and shoe-repairman), the allies he makes in the concentration camp, and his determination and faith that he will be able to live through this inhumane ordeal. Vladek’s will to survive is inspiring, as is Art’s goal to record his father’s story and cope with his own trauma as a descendant of the Holocaust and child of survivors. The bittersweet ending nearly stirred me to tears; this work is incredibly moving and should not, under any circumstance, be disregarded or demeaned because it is a graphic novel.

Last up is Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds, which promises to be an exciting read. I’ll be back in a few days to give my final thoughts on the course. Thank you for reading!

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