Breaking the Rules with Graphic Novels

By Greg Hunter, Editor

Graphic novels are a great storytelling form for rule breakers. That’s not me encouraging anybody out there to get in trouble. What I mean is that each story tends to follow certain conventions, and it might have a subset of rules specific to the book too. And that’s a good thing—graphic novels tend to be a welcoming form for reluctant readers, because the rules are pretty simple.

Take these pages from The Mystery of the Tree Stump Ghost, the second volume of The Whiskers Sisters series by Miss PATY:

spread from the Whiskers Sisters

spread from the Whiskers Sisters

See? The first tier of a page goes left to right, and then we’re onto the tier below it, where we go left to right again. When a character speaks, you’ll see a handy tail pointing from a speech balloon toward that character. Each panel contains a different moment in time, and we’re moving forward in time throughout the page. A developing reader might follow along with these rules without even knowing it.

Rebel lit

But The Whiskers Sisters books also break the rules sometimes, and that’s part of the fun too. Have a look at this—it’s a full page from The Mystery of the Tree Stump Ghost:

spread from the Whiskers Sisters

All of the sudden, we don’t see panel borders separating moments in time, even though the characters do move forward in time as they travel down the page. The journey from the left side of the page to the right and back is way looser too. But Miss PATY has the reader’s back. She uses the same space that Maya, Mia, and May are exploring to guide a reader from the top of the page to the bottom.

That’s not the book’s only bit of rule breaking either. When one character begins to tell a story, we take a detour into picture-book-like territory:

spread from the Whiskers Sisters

Of course, some people might say that this page doesn’t really break the rules. Although it doesn’t include speech balloons or use other boxes to contain the text, it does surround the text with a healthy amount of negative space. This way, the page’s art does a clear-enough job of bordering the text on its own. And although there aren’t strict panel borders, Miss PATY stacks one illustration atop another so that they read (informally, let’s say) as two different panels.

This is the best part about graphic novels that break the rules: it means they trust their readers. An artist like Miss PATY knows that if she shows her readers something adventurous, they’ll follow along. Which is perfect for a book about siblings on an adventure!

Where to find The Whiskers Sisters

The Mystery of the Tree Stump Ghost is available through, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, and all major distributors.

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