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Micah reader in March 2017 by Brenda Levenson
In the past, “graphic novels” or “graphic memoirs” have not been on our list of books to discuss. However, our leader never one to be adverse to adventure and anxious to expand our cultural horizon, convinced us to read March, the trilogy that Congressman John Lewis wrote about the event that took place in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, beginning with the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In American history, it remains a crucial moment of the Civil Rights movement led by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. As a prologue to our discussion, Rabbi Susan Landau gave a splendid presentation, explaining to us what graphic novels are, giving way to questions and comments by our readers.
In brief, graphic novels belong to the category of comics, with pictures complementing text. John Lewis was advised by his editors to “keep it plain,” in other words simple. One of our readers voiced the opinion several of us shared that graphic novels are perhaps meant for people who cannot read, as the books we bought for our children and grandchildren, whose understanding of the stories we read to them was helped by pictorial illustrations. Such belief, we were told, is “missing the point.” Mea culpa…. I confess that I did miss the point, as the pictures distracted me from what I was reading.
Rabbi Landau’s talk touched upon the interaction of words and pictures, and how they work together powerfully, conveying tone and action. True in a sense, particularly as it applies to children’s books, but so does good writing which also puts us in the skin of the characters in a novel, forcing us to share feelings and emotions. There is no better example than “Light in August,” Faulkner’s novel which we read last month.
In support of Rabbi Landau’s point, one of our readers evoked the power of the stained glass windows in the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. For the illiterate masses of medieval times the images shown were not just gorgeous, they fulfilled the intent of telling the stories of Christianity as they appear in the Greek Bible few could read. The icons that artisans painted on wood and carried around achieved the same pedagogical goal. But we are living at a time when literacy is mostly taken for granted, and so some of us question whether graphic novels “open another window on art.”.
Rabbi Landau’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject were contagious, judging by the interest her talk elicited among our readers. With these words, I beg to be excused while I take leave and return to my 575-page book without pictures!