July 18, 2006

By its cover

My kids all seem to have the ability to focus intently on one task, even in the midst of a crowded room. Perhaps it's a survival instinct, nurtured by growing up in a chaotic noisy household. Recently, I've noticed that my youngest son, With-a-Why, in the midst of the living room full of kids playing poker and blackjack or jamming on their guitars, has been working intently on a folder full of papers, drawing and writing something. And he keeps asking for newly sharpened pencils.

The other day, he asked me, "Want to see my graphic novel?"

A graphic novel? I was curious to see what this would be.

Then he showed me his sheaf of papers. We went through each one by one. He had divided most of the pages into grids, and each little box contained an illustration. In some cases, for emphasis, he used the whole page.

The drawings were simple stick figures, but the novel had a complicated plot that seemed to have its basis in Greek mythology. The narrative was suspenseful, with a new conflict presented just about every new page. The dialogue, suspended in ovals above the stick figures, not only helped the plot progress but served to develop the characters of the stick figures, who seemed to have both distinct personalities and distinct supernatural powers.

I was impressed. With-a-Why seemed pleased with my reaction, giving me one of his rare smiles before he sat down to work on the novel some more.

Later I said to my daughter, "Hey, did you see With-a-Why’s graphic novel?"

She nodded. "Yeah, isn’t it cool?"

Then she laughed. "I told him to call it a graphic novel. I figured that no one would take him seriously if he said he was making a comic book."

26 comments:

ccw said...

That is impressive no matter what it is called.

Lisa V said...

It's amazing the stuff they come up with. Rory is constantly writing and illustrating novels-sometimes up to 50 pages. She also draws house and gardening designs, with roofs that lift off "as a breeze way." How is that most of us let the creativity go as we become adults ?

pPB said...

how cool is that?

OTRgirl said...

One of the things I love about your writing is how you portray the distinct personalities of your children. They each seem like such wonderful people. I enjoy the warmth and pride that comes through as you tell these stories. No wonder the kids would rather sweat it out at your house than miss the fun.

Camera Obscura said...

A friend of mine has a just-finished eighth-grader who was allowed to do a graphic novel for his final project in Language Arts as he is a superb artist and learning-disabled in the writing area. He still had to have proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in the dialogue and exposition, and he still had to have a plot -- a start, middle, and ending -- and conflicts and resolution. But he was far more eager and engaged doing this in a form he could better relate to. Heck, he probably put in more work than the rest of his classmates!

jo(e) said...

Laura over at 11D had a post the other day about boys and reading, and some of the commenters were talking about comic books. That made me think about my own bias. I've always let my kids read whatever they want, but I don't read comic books myself, so I bet I did take the work more seriously because it was called a graphic novel. And yet, thinking about it, I think he is still learning the same skills any writer would use.

So I think, Camera Obscure, that that Language Arts teacher definitely had the right idea.

Scrivener said...

Graphic novels are all the rage, once again. Have you seen Scott McCloud's book on comics? And if you've got any lingering doubts about the potential of comics as writing, check out Maus.

RLT said...

I've been a major bookworm all my life, and I started with comic books. I think letting kids read anything they want is what turns them into readers for life. Also, the more they read, the more easily they read and their comprehension is better. My kids also went from cartoon books to young adults to general fiction. It's a natural progression...as long as they are allowed to discover that reading can interesting, entertaining and fun.

listmaker said...

I always let my kids read whatever interested them, be it recognized literature or the Yellow Pages. There's definite value in graphic novels if the medium excites kids and encourages them to read. And, I totally agree with Scrivener, if you haven't read Maus I & II, check them out.

alison said...

I came to your blog by suggestion from Catherine Newman whom I LOVE reading. Do you live near Buffalo New York?

BeachMama said...

Love it! The creativity that you have in your house is unbelievable. It would be something to see the graphic novel publish, using his pen name of course :)

KLee said...

Your kids are just the limit. I can totally see With-A-Why hunched over the table, drawing furiously!

I'd love to see it. Do you think he'd let you scan in a page?

Shelly said...

I love it. My oldest spins an inordinate amount of time on drawings that he staples together to make his own "comic books." (I will have to tell him this story; he will love the term "graphic novel.")

I also agree with the others about letting kids read what they want. Captain Underpants?! Well, at least it's reading. ;)

Chip said...

for us the problem has not been boys and reading; BK reads like a demon. The problem is writing, which apparently is very common. So we've been thrilled when he's taken pen to paper and drawn and written. interestingly, also in the form of comics or illustrated stories (nothing quite so advanced/developed as a novel yet). He really enjoys it and I absolutely love his little drawings and the story lines he develops (all very basic). Plus, he actually sits down and writes! Which is a major accomplishment.

From the comments here, I think With-a-why has a built in fan base just waiting for him to release his first novel!

Shelly said...

I typed "spins" when I meant "spends"! This happens to me more and more frequently the older I get.

Well -- whoops.

kate5kiwis said...

what a cool sister.. love that innovative title :o)

Scrivener said...

The McCloud book I was referring to was Understanding Comics.

When I was younger, I so enjoyed making up stories and pictures. I don't think I ever made real comic books, but I often drew pictures and stories that went along with them, even if no one but me would ever have been able to figure out what that story was.

Linda (FM) said...

Impressive. I'm really struck by the way your daughter responded to him.

Marie said...

As a high school teacher, can I just say that I think you are the ideal parent! I echo OTRgirl. I always wonder what mystical alchemy happens to produce the wonderful, interesting students that I get to know. I still don't know, but I like to read about it. Thanks.

elswhere said...

I wish I could see With-a-Why's graphic novel!

Another title that's been compared to Maus: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Graphic novel/memoir about a spirited girl with feminist parents, growing up in revolutionary-era Iran. Stunning.

Jules said...

Hi Jo(e)!

Longtime reader (and fan!), first-time commenter here. Just delurking (from within the publishing world) to make a distinction regarding graphic novels, since some commenters here appear not to have encountered the term before. Graphic novels tend to be more long-form than comic books, and are often aimed at a more mature readership. The movie "Sin City," for example, was extracted directly from a graphic novel by Frank Miller, though such dark material is not a requirement in the genre. A graphic novel may be a collection of shorter works, or may include writing which would not otherwise be considered a "novel" if printed without illustrations. Also, in publishing, graphic novels tend to be printed on higher-quality materials than comics, and are often bound in a similar form as "regular" novels (including both paperback and hardcover). One will also occasionally encounter the terms "comic-strip novel" and "picture novel," and some will debate furiously over the exact distinctions, but that's another discussion for another day. :-)

On a more personal note, bravo for With-a-Why and to you for raising such creative, self-entertaining children. And keep up the excellent blogging!

jo(e) said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Scrivener and Elsewhere.

Alison: Hey, you are not supposed to reveal the top secret location of a pseudonymous blogger. Your guess was pretty close, but wrong. Snowstorm City gets more snow than Bison City AND more snow than Camera City. (This is a matter of regional pride.)

jo(e) said...

Thanks, jules, for the explanation. (You and I must have been writing comments at the same time.)

Yankee T said...

I just read "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel for my book group-it's a graphic memoir. I love that With-A-Why is so creative, and that his big sister is such a supportive fan.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I definitely think you should seek permission to post some excepts.

Also, I'm against calling it a "graphic novel." The term "graphic novel" is for people who call horror flicks "supernatural thrillers" and pornography "erotica"

Me, I read comic books, even when they are printed on nice paper and deal with the holocaust or occupied Palistine or whatever.

Piss Poor Prof said...

You can, for a relatively small fee, get his graphic novel published. I have been considering this site for some of my own work. It is not a vanity press, no upfront high fee, no minimum quantity to buy.

www.lulu.com

It seems tailor-made for such publications, and if you buy an ISBN, it will be listed on Amazon...

One never knows.