Graphic novels have come a long way since genre defining Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Since these canon were released in the 80s, there has been a constant growth in what is presented in the graphic novel format. A lot credit can also be given to Scott McCloud with his Understanding Comics novel, presented entirely in graphic novel format. Today, we’ll look at three recent graphic novels that take on big topics normally relegated to textbooks.
The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by Josh Neufeld
The concepts and history in this book are an interesting take on the topic of media in world. While appropriate for the style of the book, the conclusion left me wishing Gladstone had given it a second pass. Even with that critique, I recommend this book to people interested in the topic, you will get something interesting out of the presentation and concepts. It will provide for some good starting thoughts for a conversation with a friend.
I find the illustration and presentation to be inconsistent. The illustrator seemed to have some flexibility to experiment, which was great for him, but not so great for a reader. At times it is like an information graphic that needed a second or third iteration. This is minor, and for the most part, you'll make it through without any problems. I still wanted it to be a little clearer at times.
There are clever visual references throughout the book. I know that I didn’t always get all of them. It is an interesting artifact of the graphic novel as informational tool that there is much more information in it than at surface level. Illustrators draw or visually reference a historical character without saying the name. In this sense, these graphical novels are aware of their existence as additional or supplementary articles of information, not sole sources. It says that they are for an audience already educated in the topics. I often find myself wishing that these could have been my high school text books, as I find the graphical presentation much more engaging and easier to make sense of. However, in the current format, with visual references that go without explicit textual notation, they could not entirely replace a text book such as those found in high school or college. Instead, they would have to be used a complimentary works. It would be wonderful to see what a graphic novel might look like that could entirely replace a school text book.
Climate Changed by Phillippe Squarzoni
The best book on climate change I've ever read. Well researched and covering a wide breadth of the topic. As the title says, it is extremely personal, which is a big advantage in relating to the journey of the author as he journeys through his research. The first fifty to hundred pages are a bit slow, but build a strong foundation for the rest of the book. It is a bit experimental in storytelling style at times, but nothing extreme or unapproachable.
Extremely consistent, detailed and well balanced art work throughout the massive tome. There are a lot of talking heads which gives it a film documentary sensation while reading. Small spoiler, the outlook is bleak. Interestingly enough, to understand climate change, Squarzoni has to go into some politics and economics. Which leads to the next book.
Economix by Michael Goodwin, illustrated by Dan E. Burr
The book I wish was my high school economics book. Everyone should read this book.
It is informative as it is bleak. The illustrations are wonderful and clearly carry you through the book. It pretty much explains how modern economics came to be (focused on the western world) by taking a course through history and putting different theories that have emerged through time in context. This placement of theory in context is the strongest angle of the graphic novel, butt it doesn't have to be limited to graphic novels!
Most of the book is pretty clear, but I think I need to re-read the section from about 2000 onward. If nothing else, because things got really confusing and complex in more recent times. That, or we don’t have enough distance from the present to see the large over arching themes yet.
Really interesting is the way that economists throughout time seem to have simply disregarded extra information that would be to complicated to fit into explaining their theories of how things work. Most apt, is the absence of accounting for the environment and the effects that is having on our modern economies. Big business supports private profits and public losses, and cannot be trusted to regulate itself.
In closing. I’m really excited about what graphic novels can do for making information more approachable and exciting. Economics never made as much sense to me as it did while reading Economix. I anticipate myself picking this book up again in a year to reread and refresh myself on the topic. I never said such things about my high school economy text books. The ability of graphic novels to have multiple layers of information, and more easily flow in and out of text and supplemental imagery means that they can engage with different parts of the mind, strengthening the ability to recall information. Graphic novels can also reach audiences that would normally be less interested in their topics if only presented in text alone.