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Nonfiction Graphic Novels – A Continuing Discussion

Back in January, we had a conversation (in reference to Derf Backderf’s Alex Award-winning My Friend Dahmer) about what makes a graphic novel “nonfiction” and the rigidity of categories like “fiction” and “nonfiction.”

A couple of new comments have been added to that thread, so please head over to the above link to read the whole chain, but I wanted to post separately about a new development in the conversation, which is a fascinating comment on Goodreads by First Second, the publishers of many fabulous nonfiction graphic novels, including one of our Best Adult Books for Teens of 2011, Jim Ottaviani’s Feynman.

First Second is discussing Ottaviani’s new Young Adult graphic novel, illustrated by Maris Wicks, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas (which is amazing, by the way).  You should read the whole comment from First Second, but here’s a piece:

Graphic novels are one of those things that it’s hard to fit in the nonfiction category – because everything is so described that it’s just about impossible to be 100% accurate. For example, with Jim Ottaviani’s previous book, . . . Feynman, we had to have a whole big discussion about the depiction of Richard Feynman as a person who rolled up his sleeves. Apparently, in real life, he didn’t roll up his sleeves ever. But in the book, he had his sleeves rolled up all the time – and the depiction of him as a person who was always getting down to work was emblematically portrayed in those rolled sleeves.

. . .

Does it make the book fiction instead of nonfiction?

You decide!

I love that publishers and authors are having the same debates about this as we readers, reviewers, and librarians–and seemingly can’t come to a decision either!  Which perhaps just solidifies Francisca’s point from the first post that this “naggy classification game may have as much to say about libraryland’s [and apparently the publishing industry’s] desire to get the exact right pigeonhole than the reader’s quest for insight.”

In any case, I thought our readers might be interested to see another side to the conversation.

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark