A Theory: The Better The Graphic Novel, The Longer It Takes To Read

v for vendettaI’ve read a lot of graphic novels lately – well, graphic novels AND comic books. Here are some facts and figures about my recent reading habits:

  • The last three books I read were graphic novels
  • The next three books I plan to read (for fun, not for school) are graphic novels
  • Thirty-one of the thirty-five books I read last month and this month were graphic novels or comic books
  • I’ve read forty-five books thus far this year, and thirty-six of them were graphic novels or comic books


I read them for my honors seminar about superheroes vs. mythical heroes. I read them for my college’s comic book club’s book-of-the-month thingy. (SERIOUSLY. I’M SO EXCITED!) I read them because I’m busier than I’ve ever been before, but I so don’t want to abandon recreational reading in college… and graphic novels are a good solution because I can read them quickly!

I think that last statement is particularly important. I can read graphic novels and comic books very quickly. Except when I can’t.

Because some graphic novels are just too awesome to read quickly. Some deserved to be SAVORED. Some deserve to be reread even as I’m reading them for the very first time, because I flip back and forth between earlier parts and the section I’m currently reading, noticing the connections and trying to puzzle out the deeper meaning of previous events now that I have more information about the characters and plot.

The best graphic novels and comic books I have ever had the pleasure of reading took me practically FOREVER to read.

black widow the finely woven threadOK, maybe not forever, but most graphic novels are between two hundred and three hundred pages long… and I can read them in about an hour! Sometimes even in LESS than an hour. (I would say that I give myself paper cuts from turning the pages so quickly, but… all right, that would be an exaggeration. Maybe.)

I can’t remember ever speed-reading a graphic novel or comic book that ended up being one of my new favorites. I JUST CAN’T. Honestly, I think you can tell how much I’m enjoying a graphic novel by paying attention to how looooong it takes me to read it. REALLY GOOD GRAPHIC NOVELS AND COMIC BOOKS MAKE ME THINK AND I REALLY SLOOOOW DOOOOOWN BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO MISS ANYTHING THOUGHTFUL AND IMPORTANT.


THEY DO. You are absolutely correct. I do it! If I really, really, really enjoy a book of ANY kind, I take my time reading it because A) it gives me so many things to think about and B) I don’t want this wonderful, wonderful story to be OVER.

However, I’d also argue that BY THEIR VERY NATURE, graphic novels and comic books lend themselves to faster reading. Think about it: They contain a ton of pictures and very little text… and are often very action-oriented.

(This is not to say that action-oriented stories can’t make you think – look at Star Wars! – but I do think that sometimes, their creators get lost in the explosions and fights, and forget to focus on other aspects of storytelling.)

At any rate, I practically FLY through most graphic novels and comic books: I read most of a Pacific Rim tie-in volume, Tales From Year Zero, while eating dinner last night. I LIKED the story, but I didn’t LOVE it. It was certainly an entertaining read, but I didn’t feel the need to reread any bits so that I could further analyze them!

batwoman elegyOn a similar note, I borrowed a bunch of graphic novels and comic books from the library and proceeded to binge-read every single one before heading off to college… all twenty-eight of them!

I gave most of them either two or three stars, though, and some even received one-star ratings! Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson received, respectively, four and five stars each.

…guess what stories I spent a lot of time on? YEAH. THOSE TWO COMICS. They have great characters, great plots, great art. I kept rereading earlier bits to find things that I’d missed the first time around. I thought and thought. My perceptions of the characters, the plots, EVERYTHING changed as time went on.

Reading Elegy and The Finely Woven Thread was a PHENOMENAL experience.

I cannot, however, extend the same compliments to the twenty-six other graphic novels and comic books I read that week.

Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese was – probably – the first graphic novel I ever loved. IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO READ IT. It has three POVs!

Art Spiegelman’s Maus series is another example.

And so are the Persepolis books by Marjane Satrapi.

And The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker.

One of my favorite examples is V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd! There are sooooo many POVS and plot twists and monologues and… gah, it’s THE BEST. It has a nonlinear plot, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between reality and fantasy (dreams, hallucinations, memories, et cetera) in this story.

It’s true that I read it in only two nights, BUT BOTH TIMES I STAYED UP ALMOST ALL NIGHT READING. It seemed that with each new page – each new panel, sometimes – the story grew more complicated. The movie adaptation doesn’t even come CLOSE to achieving the complexity of the book. It probably took me longer to read the first third of the story than it did to watch the entire movie.fun home

This subject has been on my mind a lot lately because… well, if you’d peeked into my dorm room after class this afternoon, you would have seen me curled up in our armchair, completely absorbed in Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I started reading it on Tuesday immediately after finishing Tales From Year Zero, but I didn’t finish it until this evening! At first I thought, “Oh, a graphic novel? I can read this in an hour – two hours, tops.”

BUT I DIDN’T. I COULDN’T. It was soooo good and I highly recommend to, um, well, EVERYONE. I read it and reread it and intently scanned earlier chapters for the revelations and connections I missed the first time around. IT WAS GLORIOUS. Definitely a new favorite… one of only three five-star books I’ve read so far this year! (The first was The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy and the other is, as you’ll recall, Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread. Hey, I’m a picky bookworm!) Eventually I plan to review it as part of Reading The Rainbow

AHHH I JUST LOVE GRAPHIC NOVELS AND COMIC BOOKS THAT MAKE ME STOP AND THINK. THEY MAKE ME SO HAPPY. Finding stories that subvert the very reason I gravitate towards graphic novels and comic books is fascinating – these stories can be so much more than what I expected!

P.S. The three graphic novels and/or comic books I plan to read next? They are House of M by Brian Michael Bendis (borrowed from the library), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (lent to me by one of my neighbors in the dorm) and Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (technically, this is for school – I have to read it for my superheroes seminar – but I’ve been meaning to read it anyway!). EEEEEEEE I’M SO EXCITED. BUT I HAVE TO DO MORE HOMEWORK BEFORE I CAN EVEN START THEM, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW I BRIBE MYSELF INTO FINISHING MY ASSIGNMENTS.


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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6 Responses to A Theory: The Better The Graphic Novel, The Longer It Takes To Read

  1. Pingback: Thoughts About Voting & Spectrum | Musings From Neville's Navel

  2. I read Fun Home back when it was first published, and I loved it, too. Then when I did my annual book organizing this year, I decided to set it free out into the world for someone else to read, and I posted it on Paperbackswap. Right after it left my hands I learned about the musical based on it — I love musicals, so I bought the soundtrack. It’s great, but now I sort of wish I had not parted with the book so I could reference it and see how closely the musical follows it. Either way, it reminded me how brilliant the graphic novel was, and I might still check it out from the library to re-read it someday. Bechdel is so brilliant.

  3. Levi says:

    i haven’t read much by way of graphic novels, but i do read a lot of manga. and i have noticed that the higher the quality of the art and story, the more time it takes to read. which is really cool in my opinion. manga like tegami bachi and owari no seraph need to be savoured, so i’ll read a volume over a couple days. idk it’s pretty cool that someone else feels something similar ye

    • nevillegirl says:

      Yay! I actually just finished Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash… which reminded me a LOT of Fun Home, AND it took me a long time to read! It wasn’t very long, and the art style was deceptively simple – this book kept making me pause and go back to read earlier sections! 😀

  4. Pingback: 2015 End-Of-Year Book Survey! | Musings From Neville's Navel

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