I’m looking at the graphic novels in my to-read stack. The genre of most graphic novels can be found on the back cover, near the UPC code and/or publisher’s logo. For example, from my stack Grendel vs The Shadow is labeled “Comics & Graphic Novels/Crime & Mystery.” Sex Criminals: Volume Two is labeled “Science Fiction.” C.O.W.L. Volume Two is labeled “Crime Fiction/Superhero.” Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus #9 is labeled “Graphic Novel/Manga/Action-Adventure.
Material Volume One is labeled “Literary Fiction.”
I had never seen that before, not that I had ever looked. I went to the shelf and briefly looked through some of my other graphic novels. Not even the few Adrian Tomine books I have read are labeled “literary.”
Literary fiction is what I read because that is what I prefer to write. Novels that express ideas through its story and characters. Material is such a comic book.
This first volume collects the first four issues of Ales Kot’s series which has four story lines running through it; Franklin, an African American boy, survives a police riot only to be interrogated and coerced into working for police against his family; Nylon, an actress whose career is on the cusp of ending, receives an offer for the role of her life; Adib, a Guantanmo Bay survivor, tries to adjust to freedom; and Julius, a philosophy professor, is prodded into deep reflection from an artificial intelligence that speaks to him through his computer. Each thread reveals something material about our world and how we live today. These stories play out in two-page increments throughout.
In this volume, The Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman writes a foreward with the important title “Always read the footnotes.” Throughout this work there are a number of footnotes that relate to the two-page sequence in the given character’s storyline. For example, during most of Franklin’s story the names of African Americans killed by police officers appear along the bottom of the page. Quotes and references to plays, novels, and nonfiction works provide further material to compliment the scenes above them.
Each issue of the comic book ended with a brief essay, which are also collected in this volume. The four essays address the four story lines. “Future Present” by Fiona Duncan is about the writer’s discovery of Franco “Bifo” Berardi, the Italian Marxist theorist who she sees similarities of in Julius’ character. “How the DMV lost my change of address” by Jarett Kobek discusses his favorite three pages of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, where torture became policy because success was defined based on the results that Patient Zero – Abu Zabaydah – did not have any information to give up. Torture was its own measure of success. “Lindsay” by Sarah Nicole Prickett, is about Lindsay Lohan and the stigma of red-haired women. “Convulsions Among the Lilies” by Bijan Stephen provides insight on being an African American male in the United States.
Will Tempest’s illustrations provide narrative power to the story. The two-page scene with Adib and his wife’s dog in the second chapter is emotionally tense and liberating.
I had read the first three issues in comic book form until I cancelled my subscription of it at my local comic book store (Comix Corner at Masonic and Utica). Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I saw that this was a series that would be bound in trade paperback form, the way I now prefer to read my comics. I almost want to restart the subscription because this is such a good comic. But more insight is obtained by reading the series as a complete whole. I’m eager to see where else Kot and Tempest go with this work of literary fiction.