So, last night I headed to bed after staring at a computer screen for the majority of the day and chose to read something other than my usual non-fiction before turning off the light. Having just picked up The Plain Janes at the bookstore I cracked the spine and dug right in.
An hour later I’d finished the book. Now, that’s generally not such a bad thing but when you started reading at midnight, that hour is a precious commodity! The reason I read the entire thing in one sitting? Wasn’t because it was a good read (though it was) it was because there were no chapter breaks. There are also no page numbers–it’s like the graphic novel version of Vegas: no windows, no clocks.
This is something I’ve noticed with a few graphic novels or compilations, omnibuses, etc. : it just goes on and on and on.
Now, The Plain Janes–by my count–comes in at 144 pages, and the pages are only half sized so it’s not horribly long, but I would have enjoyed a chance to blink, an opportunity to look over at the clock, realize how late it was, and save the rest for another night. I would have liked the choice.
I tried to figure out why an editor would let a book go out without such things as page numbers or chapter breaks. Obviously it’s a style issue on the page numbers, but what about the chapter breaks? Novels have chapters, sometimes chapters within “books” or acts that further break up the flow. Oh, maybe that’s it? Maybe the editor or artist does not want to break up the flow of his or her mater work. But, see, breaks can be used so incredibly well that a chapter break at the right time can serve as a cliff hanger. They also give the mind a chance to pause and digest what it’s consumed in the previous pages, so breaking the flow should not be a reason.
And not all graphic novels do this. Those that are more trade paperbacks frequently contain their title pages or something like that and it serves a similar purpose. Having also recently started Jane’s World, Collection 1, I was overjoyed to see actual chapters. Watchmen has chapters and even V for Vendetta had a sort of in-line chapter system going on. But Strangers in Paradise? Nope. And that’s almost 350 pages! (Granted, in Book 1, at least, there were gear changes with Katchoo’s poetry, etc. that almost served as chapter breaks, but it’s a tenuous connections at best.)
Then I wondered, maybe graphic novels are trying to be more individual, less like the novels that share part of their name. But, well, I don’t think that’s a good idea, either since–love or hate the name–graphic novels are still struggling for credibility in a lot of genres. If you want to appeal to prose readers who may not think about or think highly of the comic book style, the last thing you want to do is alienate them by ignoring basic stylistic conventions that can build a bridge between the familiar and unfamiliar.
Finally, I wondered if it was a ploy to keep the reader from putting the book down at all. I suppose insecurity could lead an artist to want to force the reader to sit through an entire reading all at once but this insecurity needs to be examined. It’s tough for me to stop reading a good book even with chapter breaks but it is sometimes necessary to pause for one reason or another. If the reader is not compelled to pick up the book again, it’s not the fault of the chapter break.
Basically, after all of this thought, it is my opinion (and I may be in the minority here, but it’s okay) that graphic novels, compilations, etc. should make use of chapter breaks if they are, say, 50 pages or more. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, so diving the story at least this simply should not be a difficult thing. Don’t hold your readers hostage, give them a choice and have a little faith in your story.