Graphic Novel Reviews: American Born Chinese, Maus, Watchmen

Recently finished reading American Born Chinese, a wonderfully written and illustrated graphic novel (comic book). I believe that people discount and underestimate the storytelling power of graphic novels. The medium is relatively young, but I’ve had the good fortune of reading some very impressive stories in this format.

In fact, I think well-done graphic novels trump many traditional novels, because they’re able to capture images and actions that just can’t be communicated in words. Graphic novels tell their story in two ways: through the words, and through the subtleties captured in each panel.

I’ll give a quick intro/mini-review of three of my favorite graphic novels, and I highly encourage you to check them out!

American Born Chinese – This graphic novel follows the journey of a Chinese-American boy growing up in American society, covering topics such as identity and adolescence. I really liked the three separate yet related story lines, including one about the Monkey King from the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West. As an ABC (American-born Chinese), I could relate to a lot of the main character’s experiences, and I appreciated how the author was able to bring to light the important issues in a clever and entertaining way. The artwork is bright, colorful, and not overly-complicated.

Maus – I remember reading the first and second books of this series in high school, and I have never forgotten the powerful images and story this graphic novel shares of the Holocaust. The genius is that the author presents different races of humans as different animals, which makes the story different from a typical war memoir, but is still strikingly effective. The story is based on the author’s father’s experience in a concentration camp and surviving the Holocaust. The artwork is dark and dreary, very intricately drawn, and also very beautiful. Also the first comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Watchmen – My all-time favorite graphic novel. I don’t even know where to begin, but I do know that the movie, as faithful as it was to the book, doesn’t do it justice. The story follows a group of masked vigilantes past their heyday of crime fighting as they react to a murder and subsequently a larger conspiracy. Watchmen has some very universal themes, does a wonderful job of tying different story lines together, and uses a lot of literary techniques such as flashbacks, foreshadowing, symbols, and motifs. This comic book reads like a novel, and the artwork is absolutely amazing, complementing the story perfectly and holding all sorts of details that make the book very re-readable. Ranked as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 best novels of the past century.

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