In 2003, BBC called upon the UK public to vote for their favourite book, compiling a list of top hundred books that everyone must read. Lord of the Rings came out the winner by a large margin and Harry Potter took fifth place, which was not a big surprise, considering their respective film franchises. However, what was a surprise to me was that not a single graphic novel was included in the list; not even Alan Moore's Watchmen, a graphic novel which changed the way not only comic books were viewed but also written. This omission was corrected by Times Magazine in 2005 when they published their own set of top hundred books which included Watchmen in seventeenth place. Alan Moore beat Iris Murdoch and Salman Rushdie.
Graphic novels are my go-to books when I'm stuck, when I don't know how to further a plot or when I've run out of ideas to make a character more unique. Highly enjoyable in themselves, they give me a perspective that is impossible to find in any other medium: graphic novels not only show you what they want you to see, but also dictate the viewpoint from frame to frame. In just one sketch in Maus, where the protagonist hunches his shoulders and pushes his hands deeper into his pocket, Art Spiegel conveys to the readers how he feels about his father. Or in Persepolis, where Marjane Satrapi depicts the oppression in Iran with gentle, self-deprecating humour. Morpheus (or Sandman) is one of the most complex characters I've come across, and I quite regularly read his conversations with his sister, Death, when I'm unable to come up with original dialogue.
Over seven pages without a single word, the protagonist in Stitches explores an empty floor of a hospital where he finds an embalmed foetus in a jar and imagines it come to life. The art is exceptional and is all that is needed to get across the little boy’s loneliness and fear. These are the pages where I learn “to show, not tell.” Minute changes from one frame to the other not only progress a story, but also changes the tone. Greg Capullo, in The Court of Owls, very cleverly shows the madness creeping upon a drugged Batman as he’s trapped in a labyrinth by inverting the frames, so that you have to turn the book round and round to read Bruce Wayne’s thoughts, making you feel as dizzy as he is.
Although predominantly masculine, this medium has been successfully broken into by women who're making great headway. Raina Telgemeier was the 2014 Comics Industry Person of the Year and won the Best Writer/Artist Eisner award in 2015 for Sisters, an award previously won only by men since 1988. Artists like Fiona Staples, with her poster-worthy work on the Saga series, have been phenomenal in shattering the notion that comics are only for boys.
So if you’re looking for inspiration, pick up a comic book.
Read M S's short story "The Tree" here.
M S Pallister studied computer science at Cambridge University but soon realised that she was more interested in writing fiction. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories, while researching her second novel. Her short stories have been published in The Wrong Quarterly, Long Story, Short, and Literary Yard, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and forthcoming in For Books’ Sake.