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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Some graphic novels feature favorite comic figures, such as Superman. Others are fantastical adventures, Japanese comics or attempts to retell Shakespeare.

OREM — Fifteen-year-old Katie Arrington began reading graphic novels about two years ago and was inspired.

"I just picked up one one day and I said, 'Hey, this is pretty cool. I don't have to read a lot of words. The pictures are right here for me."'

Arrington is among millions of Americans drawn to a 30-year-old genre of literature that's entering the mainstream.

Graphic novels are a loose genre comprising lengthy comic books — often hundreds of pages long — that contain literary elements such as a plot and characterization. Some graphic novels feature favorite comic figures, such as Superman. Others are fantastical adventures, Japanese comics, or attempts to retell Shakespeare.

One of the most famous graphic novels is "V for Vendetta," by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. It was made into a movie and released on DVD last August.

Among Arrington's favorite graphic novels are "Fullmetal Alchemist" books by Hiromu Arakawa, a tale about orphans who try to bring their mother back to life with alchemy.

"It's a wonderful story," said Arrington, a ninth-grader at Orem's Lakeridge Junior High. "It's so invigorating. I just love it."

As with other literature genres, Utah Valley State College English and literature professor Stephen Gibson recommends parents help children choose age-appropriate books.

Gibson teaches a special topics class devoted to graphic novels at UVSC.

He recommends adults curious about graphic novels start with "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" by Art Spiegelman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the author learning about his father's experiences as a Jew in Poland during the Holocaust.

For children, Gibson recommends Jeff Smith's "Bone," "which is kind of like the Smurfs meet 'Lord of the Rings."'

Gibson's class studies the genre as literature, such as strategies that authors use to tell the story and themes.

But they also discuss visual elements of the novels.

"We look at different kinds of transitions from panel to panel, sometimes there's a contrast between a visual image and a written image, and that can be really interesting," he said. "We look at ways images try to persuade readers. And we look at the sort of ideologies or the cultural attitudes that are perpetuated or questioned by comic books."

Gibson requires writing assignments for his class. Students also have the option of creating a graphic novel and a written defense of why it's a good graphic novel.

Arrington, too, has started creating her own graphic novels.

"Usually, I sort of develop a little bit of a story line," she said. "I come up with all the characters before I start drawing it. I decide the characters and what the conflict is going to be."

Then Arrington sketches the panels and inks them in.

"It's actually a lot of work," she said. "It's pretty time-consuming, but I love it."

In the library at Art City Elementary School in Springville, students can check out "manga," Japanese comics that students read in English, but turn the pages from back to front.

Librarian Angel Pearce buys books on recommendation from the students and doesn't mind that the visual element is at least as powerful as the words.

"I think any kind of reading is reading, and I have over the last seven, eight years learned it just takes that one book to hook a kid," she said. "And they'll read everything from that author. And suddenly, they'll come up and say, 'Do you have anything like it?' And they'll start to branch out and try more and more things."

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com