Thursday, August 1, 2013

Doctors, Meet the Doctor: Graphic Novels

I’m not much of a graphic novel reader, but when I saw Health Care Reform at my library I instantly picked it up. After all, nothing is worthier of graphic art than the Affordable Care Act. Obvi.

As odd as I will admit that sounds, it turns out the graphic novel format was the right way to go in explaining the ACA to a large audience. Yes, I could have gotten most of the information from a well-written newspaper feature, but I probably would not have finished a more text-dense piece. This, on the other hand, was easy to understand and finish in an afternoon. Written by economist Jonathan Gruber, who consulted on the ACA, the book never struggles to explain the intentions of the legislation. The artist, Nathan Schreiber, uses a firm black/white style as though to hammer in the clear logic of the ACA, and he also cleverly suggests that the economist is a superhero in the scenario. Considering how messed up the US health system has been, putting a new plan in place isn’t far off from the actions of a superhero. Definitely a recommended read for anyone confused by “Obamacare.”

After reading Health Care Reform the next book on my list was a coincidentally a Doctor Who graphic novel. Nothing like going from an economist saving the country from medical care to an alien saving innocents in the universe from untimely death. Both have pictures and at least one doctor and nurse, though!

Doctor Who Series 3 Volume 1 has two complete stories, “The Hypothetical Gentleman” by Andy Diggle and Mark Buckingham, and “The Doctor and the Nurse” by Brandon Seifert and Philip Bond. As an occasional Who-watcher (not even at the level of a casual Whovian, I’m afraid), I had no idea that people wrote Who comic books. I suppose I should have guessed, but as Doctor Who is celebrating 50 years of being on TV, I kind of figured fans already had enough material without comics. Clearly that was silly of me to think.

And I’m glad I was wrong! These comic story lines are actually more fun than most of the episodes of Doctor Who I’ve seen in recent series. (Apologies to Steven Moffat, but let this be encouragement for him to return to Jekyll sometime.) Unlike recent episodes, these stories are stand-alone tales. Even when threads of the bigger plot of the series come in, they’re treated as common knowledge rather than as Deep Foreshadowing. The result is a pair of adventures that are thoroughly amusing.

“The Hypothetical Gentleman” is a typical Who story: a Victorian woman believes she has psychic powers, but the Doctor determines that she is really communicating with a sinister alien. The illustrations are good, with obvious care taken in rendering the Eleventh Doctor and the creases of everyone’s clothing. Essentially it reads like a more concise episode of the TV show.

The second story, “The Doctor and the Nurse,” leaves Amy at the London Beer Flood of 1814 while Rory and the Doctor get lost trying to fast-forward the hours Amy has ordered them to spend together. Along the way there is a sabre-tooth tiger, Ian Fleming, and a giant gorilla (or extremely small NYC). Everything in this story, from the writing to the illustration, is done with a comic touch. The style is very different from the Diggle/Buckingham, and it takes a few pages to get used to the new appearance of the Doctor in particular. But the zany story, with its dialogue complaining about what a curmudgeon Rory can be, and how skewed the Doctor’s sense of relaxing vacation spots may be, is like a breath of fresh air. It’s the sort of thing that could never work on the TV show (except perhaps as a Red Nose Day sketch), but is exactly what a comic book can do.

And, as I'm sure legions of graphic novels fans have been saying, graphic novels can do many things that text-only novels cannot. Now the question...what should be my next pick from the graphic novel section?

Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary, How It Works
by Jonathan Gruber with H.P. Newquist; Illustrated by Nathan Schreiber
Published by Hill and Wang (2011)
Read in August 2013; Copy from library
Rating: 3.5 Stethoscopes

Doctor Who Series 3 Volume 1
by Andy Diggle and Brandon Seifert; Illustrated by Mark Buckingham and Philip Bond
Published by IDW Publishing (2013)
Read in August 2013; Copy from publishers through NetGalley*
Rating: 3.5 Sonic Screwdrivers

*Much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.


Alyssa L. said...

Yay graphic novels! I am surprised to see the health care one came out in 2011--for some reason I thought it was more recent than that, like this year or something. I guess probably because I've just heard people talking about it lately! I look forward to the time when I'm caught up enough on Doctor Who that I can read that graphic novel without fear of spoilers (although I too am confused about the difference between title and content). What will you read next? I've enjoyed the Walking Dead graphic novels, although they are very...graphic (and I still like the show better, I think). Bon has read/rec'd the Fables series, which I have been meaning to try out but always forget to search for when I'm at the libes. Or Sandman!!! We may yet find a Neil Gaiman you love. :)

Susan said...

lol. I think Sandman will be my next foray. I love the Neil Gaiman on Arthur and on Twitter--do those Gaimans count?

Feliza said...

I actually adore the idea of learning about the upcoming healthcare reforms through graphic novel. I'm a fan of graphic novels myself, and I've found there are definitely things like street harassment and cultural appropriation that are a lot easier to understand when it's expressed in pictures - and it seems like anything related to the law should help, too.

As for recommendations - check out some titles by Faith Erin Hicks, if you haven't already. I loved The Adventures of Superhero Girl, and I ended up buying another one of her titles for my sister.

Susan said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I just checked out Friends with Boys and Superhero Girl, and all the pages I've read are cute and sensitively drawn! I also realized that my library shelves adult graphic novels separate from young adult ones (which seems kind of obvious as I type it) and that's why there were only a handful of Gaiman and Health Care Reform and Habibi on the shelves I was looking at for the past year. I can't wait to work through the Faith Erin Hicks collection.

Feliza said...

Friends with Boys is the one I gave my sister! She also really liked it, which is great. Faith Erin Hicks has another one out, but I can't recall the title, but definitely follow her on Twitter and buy all her books. I'd also recommend Gene Luen Yang. He's fantastic, and his new two-part series (Boxers & Saints) is out this fall.

Susan said...

Oh cool! I had to go to the library to pick up a book tonight, and picked up Friends with Boys. I'm so excited! I'll look for Yang on my next trip.

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