I have a theory: avid readers are good at visualizing a story as they read it. The more you can immerse yourself in the story of the book, the more you appreciate reading. Counting out the difference in taste for a particular type of story, this explains the type who cannot appreciate reading the “Fellowship of the Ring” while they love the movie.

If we treat this as a visualization problem, then a possible tool that can help solve this is a comic1. They’re somewhere between books and movies. Parts of the translation from words to pictures have already been done.

Now if you believe that comics are solely meant for kids2, then let me have the pleasure of introducing you to “The Sandman”. Neil Gaiman weaves a story with satisfying amounts of detail in plot, dialogue and most importantly, the mythology of the world.

Cover of The Sandman vol. 2, #1 (Jan, 1989). Art by Dave McKean.

Cover of The Sandman vol. 2, #1 (Jan, 1989). Art by Dave McKean.

In fact, I suspect that “Sandman” takes the whole visualization theory a step forward. Some of the story conveyed via artwork in that comic would be incredibly hard if not impossible to convey via words.

A word of warning – it starts out as dark horror in the first few books. Then it gets really good. It was one of the few graphic novels to be on the New York Times Bestseller List. It won the World Fantasy award which then allegedly3 changed its rules so that no comic could win it again. The maturity, darkness and violence exhibited by some of its characters place it firmly for adult readers. There is nudity, blood and violence of the sorts that again play to the visual aspect of the medium.

There are enough references to real world historical events and mythology in Sandman to satisfy your deepest allegorical needs. Sandman has references to Orpheus, Kane and Abel, Barbie and even William Shakespeare:

Whatever happened to me in my life, happened to me as a writer of plays. I’d fall in love, or fall in lust. And at the height of my passion, I would think, “So this is how it feels,” and I would tie it up in pretty words. I watched my life as if it were happening to someone else. My son died. And I was hurt, but I watched my hurt, and even relished it, a little, for now I could write a real death, a true loss. My heart was broken by my dark lady, and I wept, in my room, alone; but while I wept, somewhere inside I smiled. For I knew I could take my broken heart and place it on the stage of The Globe, and make the pit cry tears of their own.

William Shakespeare, portrayed as looking back over his career as he finishes writing The Tempest as one of two plays commissioned by Morpheus (aka Dream, aka The Sandman). “The Tempest,” issue #75 of The Sandman (1996), collected in The Wake.

I particularly like the artwork in The Wake. Sandman and Death have the best dialogues and if you are used to Terry Pratchett, then you know that often, anthropomorphic personalities have the best lines. Proof that Sandman has reached cult status:

Tattooed on a girl's back - words from Sandman

Tattooed on a girl's back - words from Sandman

(Image source: Neil Gaiman’s Blog who picked it from here.)

I urge everyone to give Sandman a try. It used to be hard to obtain Sandman in India, but Flipkart has solved that problem quite well.

In the end, a story that suggests more than what it immediately conveys is far more long living and loved. Let me leave you with this quote:

“-I am anti-life, the beast of judgement. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything.
And what will you be then, Dreamlord?
- I am hope.”

-Choronzon and Dream, playing the oldest game, in Preludes and Nocturnes.

  1. Or the graphic novel, as it is called now. []
  2. I still lose myself in “Calvin and Hobbes” and Asterix []
  3.  The official website states: “Comics are eligible in the Special Award Professional category. We never made a change in the rules.” []
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One Response to On Comics Bringing Interest in Reading

  1. Jason says:

    I grew up reading the old-school DC and Marvel comic books my brother was a collector, and I was constantly raiding his collection and reading stuff I wasn’t supposed to. Did it have a deleterious effect on my reading habits? Doubtful not reading THE SILVER SURFER or THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA wouldn’t have raised my level of enthusiasm for the work of Thomas Hardy. What comic books did was become an ingrained part of my creative DNA, and eventually become one of the prime sources of inspiration for my first middle-grade manuscript, THE CAPTAIN STUPENDOUS FAN CLUB. The contemporary graphic novel has become an amazing and powerful art form, far beyond the sort of stuff I read back in the 1970s Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL is a stunning literary experience, for example. Art Spiegelman’s MAUS was a groundbreaking piece of work. and Marjane Sartapri’s PERSEPOLIS is funny, sad, profound and heartbreaking all at once.

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