For the longest time, I believed graphic novels were not for me. I was born legally blind and came of age around the time that MAUS by Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. As a book lover this was troublesome because I want to read ALL THE BOOKS. Just the concept that there were books that were obviously SO GOOD, yet beyond my ability to access, upset me greatly.
So, I tried. I used the vision I did have to read MAUS and later PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi and FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel. I used a magnifying glass and I asked my roommate for occasional assistance. But here’s the thing: as graphic novels continue to win awards and become a more firmly entrenched format in the public consciousness, it should NOT be so difficult for me to access them. They should be accessible for all.
And the National Library Service (NLS) agrees.
Starting small with books like CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT by Roz Chast (DB 80646) and Brian Selznick’s WONDERSTRUCKk (DB 74157) which is a combination of standard text and full-page illustrations, NLS made the leap into creating audio recordings of full-length graphic novels with the three volume MARCH TRILOGY by John Lewis (DB 87098).
It’s not a simple process.
According to NLS Senior Selection Librarian, Jill Garcia, “Unlike commercial audiobook producers, when we do graphical material, we describe all the images. Fortunately, Laura Giannarelli volunteered.”
Once NLS selects a graphic novel to be added to their audio collection, the narrator then creates a script. 40-year veteran NLS narrator, Laura Giannarelli, describes the process:
“It takes me probably an hour to write a script for each ten pages. My method is to describe what I see as objectively as possible. Rather than say, ‘He is surprised,’ I’ll say, ‘His mouth is open, his eyebrows are raised, and his eyes are wide.’ You try as much as possible to give the facts and let the reader interpret. But there’s also an art to balancing the details of the pictures with the forward momentum of the text. As a scene heats up, you drop the details and focus on the words.”
I for one truly appreciate the effort taken to not only describe the illustrations accurately, but to consider my desire to interpret the meaning of the scenes myself. And MARCH TRILOGY was merely the first in what has continued to be a steady stream of full-length graphic novels being produced by NLS including FAITHFUL SPY: DIETRICH BONHOEFFER AND THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER by John Hendrix (DB 94260). I’m particularly excited to read this one as it was nominated by YALSA for the excellence in Nonfiction Award for 2019. And I recently learned that NLS is currently working on recording MAUS.
Now if I can just get a self-driving car, I’ll be all set.