This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

December 17, 2003 - graphic novels

Some years ago, I was appalled to read that the soldiers charged with routine maintenance of various U.S. atomic weapons got their training from comic books.

I'm not being a snob. It happens that I like comic books a lot. But it seemed to me that really important training should be based on, well, really heavy textbooks.

I was wrong.

First, let me digress. Before the movies came out, I had read "The Lord of the Rings" series twice. Both times, I was enjoying myself and paying close attention. (The two often go together.)

But you know what? Later, I really couldn't remember much. I could remember parts, of course. But not all, not even MOST, of the twists and turns of the plots. I suppose that's one of the reasons I like to re-read books -- I read fast, but it takes a few times for me to get it all.

When the movies came out, I started to read the series again, and this time, when I was done, I found that I COULD remember them, scene and sequence, in great detail.

Why is that? Because now I could see it, could call up a sort of memory photograph. It didn't matter even if that scene hadn't been in the movie. I just filled it in, extrapolating from what I had seen.

This tendency to remember things that I see better than the things I just read or hear about, isn't a function of intelligence or education. It's just that I am, like most of the people in the world, a visual learner. It isn't the ONLY way I learn, but it's the quickest and the most enduring.

The same explanation is behind the runaway publishing phenomena called "graphic novels."

What is a graphic novel? Well, on the outside, usually it's a sort of high gloss paperback. Inside, it's a shiny comic book.

Most of the graphic novels, as the name suggests, are fiction. But that fiction often has a surprising twist.

Consider one of the first graphic novels to make it big. Called "Maus," it had the unlikely setting of Nazi Germany. But the characters were all animals. The Jews were mice. The Nazis were cats.

But this wasn't an allegory, like Orwell's "Animal Farm." The characters and events of "Maus" were drawn straight from history.

Recently, I saw my daughter reading a graphic novel about Ireland. I picked it up myself. To my distinct pleasure, it left in some of the juice of history -- as opposed to far too many books that squeeze it right out.

You may have noticed that many bookstores -- just like many libraries -- have growing graphic novel sections. Why? Because whether it's fiction or fact, particularly for those of us raised in the age of television, we just pick up things more easily if they are in color, if they are based on image. (Note to the excessively busy: graphic novels are also faster reads than traditional books.)

So if soldiers now find it easier to learn, and remember, how to accurately mantle and dismantle America's weapons of mass destruction, then I say, graphic novels are a Good Thing.

Even if they do look like comic books.

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