Not Your Regular Graphic Novel

This post contains some spoilers from The Unwritten.

I begin this blog post with an anecdote… One Thanksgiving break, a friend and I were driving to Arkansas and in order to entertain ourselves, we brought along the audio version of A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. Now this novel is about 20 hours long, so we listened to it when we were driving there, any time we got into the car, at night before bed, and when we were bored. It is such a great story that we wished that we didn’t have to hang out with anyone just so we could get to the end. We were driving back to Virginia and we were both extremely excited because the climax of the story was starting and we couldn’t wait to see what would happen to the main characters.

At one point, the narrator announced the cd number and my friend turned to me and asked, “Desirée, are there anymore cd’s?” In a panic, I checked the box and told that it was indeed the last cd and we both started freaking out. We knew that there was not enough space on that one cd to get us through the end of the story and then I started checking Google to see if there was a sequel to the book and whether or not we could purchase it nearby. To our dismay, the sequel was not due to be published for another 6 months and we ended up passing the rest of the trip in silence.

So imagine my reaction when I got to the final page of The Unwritten and discovered that I was going to be left hanging AGAIN. Don’t get me wrong, I saw that it was a series; I just expected it to be a series like Sandman, where each book is independent, yet ties together in some way. Determined to find out what happened next, I went to the library downtown and checked out the rest of the series. That was a little problematic, due to the fact that I have a lot of reading to complete in my other classes, but I manage to squeeze in some free reading.


Currently I am on book three, Dead Man’s Knock, and I’ve decided that what I like so much about this series is not only the plot, but how the pages and panels are structured. In the first novel, on page three (shown above); we see the panel in the background of Sue crying over Tommy’s body takes up about 75% of the page. The rubble underneath them is falling down towards the bottom of the page and out of existence. The last line of text leaves us with a cliffhanger and the rest of the page is blank, it is mentally unwritten. We also have the panel in the foreground of the trumpet by Peter’s ear, this is subject-to-subject transition its placing seems to be a reminder to the reader that this is happening at the same time of Sue’s weeping.

Carey and Gross continue to do things like that, making one panel take up the expanse of the page, with other panels as insets. It seems like a way that a movie would work: showing a close up of the subject, a regular shot, and a panning shot to give the audience a sense of place.


I also liked that the 3 books I read had a modern approach and a sort of blast to the past. What appeared most often was internet news articles and screenshots from forums; doing so helped me feel like this could take place in the real world. I haven’t seen that happen very often, albeit my experience with comics and graphic novels is limited to manga. In “Dead Man’s Knock,” there is a bit near the end that I absolutely freaked out over. In order to find out about Lizzie Hexam’s previous life, you get to do a “Pick-a-Story.” In order to facilitate this and not take up too much space, the pages are rotated horizontally.

I absolutely love when texts break the established norm of book structure – see Only Revolutions and Tree of Codes because it almost feels like you’re breaking a law. The “Pick-a-Story” or “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” format was really popular when I was younger, most of the time your character ended up dying in some tragic way, no matter what choices you picked. In some dark way, I was overjoyed when my first Lizzie Hexam story ended tragically; it was like a taste of the past. However, I did end up going back through and making different choices so I could make it through all the panels that were drawn.

Pictures from: USA Today and Comics Alliance