In some sense, comic books are the world's oldest form of literature. Cave paintings, Egyptian wall art, Greek murals—they're all essentially graphic novels, pictoral representations of real life, beliefs, and stories. The fact that so much of today's literati reject comics and graphic novels us "un-literary" simply indicates the supreme heights of snobbery to which an overabundance of education will lead you.
For the rest of us, stories with lots of pictures are pretty important. It's not because we live in the age of the image, or because we're all TV addicts, that this is true; it's true because the world is a place we see, and often to learn we need to see rather than just hear. Sure, there are plenty of comics that are worthless and garbage and bad literature; but there are plenty that help us understand ourselves and our world as much as any novel without pictures.
Technically, there's a difference between comic strips and graphic novels: comic strips are usually funny, while graphic novels tend to have more serious themes and are longer stories. Some of the earliest examples of the graphic novel, and among our favorite books, are the Tintin series by the Belgian artist Herge. Tintin is a young reporter who travels the world having adventures with his dog Snowy and a variety of colorful friends, and often his adventures reflect to some degree the political currents in Europe during the first half of the 20th-century.
Comic strips have been around longer, and collections of comic strips in book form are what led eventually to graphic novels. Some of the most beloved comics of all time are Charles Schulz's Peanuts strips, which offer (often sobering) reflections on life and growing up. Schulz's Christian worldview is clearly demonstrated throughout the series, as is his sometimes laugh-out-loud, sometimes more subtle sense of humor.
Then there's Calvin and Hobbes. That the kid and his stuffed tiger are named for the greatest theologian and one of the greatest philosophers in the Western tradition will come as no surprise once you read their wise and hilarious adventures. A newer comic we've come to love, and which chronicles the adventures of a young man surprisingly like Waterson's Calvin, is Frazz by Jef Mallett. Frazz works as a janitor at a school, and shares his offbeat thoughts and love of music with the kiddos.
Again, there are plenty of comics we wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, which is largely the reason we don't carry many titles. We're looking to expand our collection, but we want to handpick good series, not just bring in whatever's popular to fill the shelves. Comics are supposed to be fun, but even our fun needs to honor the Lord; we think the books we carry are prime candidates for encouraging the right kind of enjoyment.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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