Picture Stories

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Photo by Milka Laaksonen

Liz Waid and Nick Page tell about graphic novels. These books combine pictures and words to tell a complex story.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Nick Page. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1 

Imagine this situation: It is 1985. Russia and the United States are enemies. In New York City, a man dies.This was not a normal man. He was a superhero known as The Comedian. Superheroes with amazing powers used to keep the United States safe. But now, most superheroes have retired or lost their power. People in the United States are afraid. They fear nuclear war. They worry it could happen at any time. Many of the nation’s superheroes are afraid of what is happening. But one of these heroes must decide: should he save the human race, or let them die?

Voice 2 

This is the story Watchmen, a book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. However, Watchmen is not a normal book. It is a graphic novel. Graphic novels use both pictures and words to tell a long story. Today’s Spotlight is on graphic novels.

Voice 1 

Early graphic novels started in the 1930s as comic books. A comic book tells a short story with pictures and few words. Each page of a comic book includes several squares with pictures. The pictures show what is happening in the story. The pictures also have words with them. These words express what the characters are saying or thinking. And each picture tells the next part of the story.

Rack of classic comic books
Photo by Lena Rose
Voice 2 

At first, comic books were like magazines. Each monthly comic would include a small part of a larger story. Often these stories were about superheroes or other non-human characters. People would have to wait each month to read the next part of the superhero’s story. But in the 1970s, publishers began creating longer comic books. They did this by putting together the stories from all the comic books in a series. Soon, writers wrote longer and longer stories using comic book design. They called these longer books graphic novels.

Voice 1 

Graphic novels combine two kinds of storytelling – writing and narrative or story art. Sometimes, a writer can have a good story idea, but she wants to tell her story with more than just words. So she creates pictures of her characters.  These pictures show what a character looks like.  But they can also show what the characters are doing.  By combining pictures and words, the writer can show special details. She can also tell a more complex story with fewer words.

Voice 2 

Like all stories, writers create graphic novels for many reasons. Some graphic novels teach a moral lesson. Some are just for fun. And others help readers learn about other people, times and cultures. Not all graphic novels are about superheroes. In fact, some of the most famous graphic novels are true stories. They are about events and situations that happened to real people.

Voice 1 

One famous example is the novel Maus. The novel’s writer is named Art Spiegelman. He lives in New York City. In the early 1980s, he wrote Maus about his father’s experience during World War II. During World War II, the German Nazi army fought for control of Europe. They also tried to rid European countries of particular groups of people – including the Jews. They killed millions of people in planned executions, and in prison camps.

Voice 2 

Speigelman’s father was named Vladek. Vladek ran a factory in Poland before the war. And Vladek was Jewish. During the war, Nazis took Vladek’s factory away. They moved him to the huge prison work camp called Auschwitz. Most Jews that went to Auschwitz did not survive. But Vladek did. After the war, he moved to New York City.

Voice 1 

Vladek told his story to his son. And Speigelman decided to make a graphic novel about his father’s experience. But instead of creating a story about people, Speigelman made the characters of the story animals.

Voice 2 

In the graphic novel Maus, the Jews are small animals called mice. The Nazis are cats. People from Poland are pigs and people from America are dogs. There are many stories of survival from the Holocaust, but Maus makes the reader look at the story of survival in a new way.

Voice 1 

People often consider cartoons, like the drawn pictures of animals in Maus, to be funny or childlike. So, some people may think using animal characters makes Maus less serious. However, Lev Grossman would disagree. Grossman is a writer for Time Magazine. He believes using cartoons in Maus makes people notice again a story we may have forgotten.  He wrote,

Voice 3 

“Those mice are more human than most people.”

Voice 2 

Craig Thompson is another graphic novel writer. As a boy, he loved reading comic books. As an adult, he rediscovered comics and began writing graphic novels. Thompson enjoys creating graphic novels because it combines many of his skills. He told Mother Jones magazine,

Voice 4 

“…One person can do it all — do the character designs and create the background setting and write the story.”

Voice 1 

In 2003, Thompson wrote a graphic novel called Blankets. This story is based on his young adult life. Thompson enjoys using his art skills to connect with other people. The beauty of his art communicates much emotion and struggle. Many people can relate to Thompson’s story. He asks questions about the faith he was raised to believe. He also tells about his first love. In his story, many people see their own story of growing up.

Voice 2 

For many people, graphic novels help them feel closer to the story emotionally. They do not just read the words. Instead they look at the pictures too. Readers are also part of the creative process. They must imagine what happens between the pictures and few words the writer provides. They must work harder to understand the story. And for many readers, this helps them remember the story better.

Rack with Black Panther comics
Photo by Alicia Quan
Voice 1 

The best thing about graphic novels may be the slowness of the reading process. Graphic novels provide a chance to slow down and think about the story. Thompson told Mother Jones,

Voice 4 

“There is something natural about the slowness of reading graphic novels. There is something natural about wanting to resist the fast speed of modern, popular culture. With the graphic novel, it is the opposite of fast speed popular culture – it is about resisting all the internet culture.”

Voice 2 

The writer and producer of this program was Dianna Anderson The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called “Picture Stories.”

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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