I did not read comic books. There were only a few years in the mid 80s when I started following the Uncanny X-Men (#184-230) and X-Factor (#1-26) as a friend and I would go to the local comic book store which was next door to a magic store. Many years later, while working at Tattered Cover, I was exposed to the genre of Manga and Graphic Novels that was really starting to become popular. In fact, both the Cherry Creek and LoDo store were helping bring those into prominence as they tapped into a very diverse group of readers. The buyers in both stores made sure staff were aware of these growing sections and what readers could expect. Of course, Maus had already been around for years as well at The Watchmen and the Dark Knight Series.
I started reading Ramna 1/2 and Lone Wolf and Cub. I remember getting an odd look from a fellow Express bus rider while reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Then, there was Craig Thompson's Goodbye, Chunky Rice followed up by what is still possibly my favorite graphic novel, Blankets. Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis came out as well. Since that time, graphic novels and Manga frequent school reading lists yet they still often do not receive their just due.
I equate the experience of reading a graphic novel with watching a foreign film and reading the subtitles. As in the film, you are often reading the subtitles, but watching the scenes and images in the movie. Similarly, the graphic novel/Manga has text and images in some frames, while at other times, only images. It is a rewarding experience. Since that time, I have read graphic novels on conflicts in the Middle East, post Katrina, as well as ones discussing sexuality (Fun Home by Alison Bechdel). Recently, I was talking to one of my older colleagues who had never picked up a graphic novel. I was telling her about Guy Delisle's Jerusalem: Chronicles from the HolyCity. It details the religious aspects of the city among the different religious traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, all from the point of view of an outsider, nonbeliever, Delisle. Nothing gave me more happiness than when she came back several days later and told me how much she enjoyed it.
Recently, I had finished a book which had an old, traditional country song handed down to me by my grandmother. My wife researched it and found that it had been recorded by none other than the famous Carter family of country music fame. Literally, within 24 hours of reading the excerpt in the novel and my wife's discovery, I was shelving in my library's graphic novel section and came across The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song by Frank M. Young and David Lasky. This book follows the Carter family through the transition of music being exclusively a gift from God to commercialism and a product to be shared with the masses. Struggling farmers through most of their lives, the Carters started recording and then performing. They would go to friends, families, and friends of friends to write down and then record these songs which had only previously been sung down through the generations. With success follows continued trials and tribulations for the Carter family and there is a portrayal of what stars of today still contend with, how to balance a normal life with the fame, notoriety and recognition that comes with being a household name. A bonus with this particular graphic novel is a CD with many of the old recordings of the Carter family. A nice companion to this graphic novel is Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness by Reinhard Kleist.
If you've never picked up a graphic novel or Manga, there is something out there for every taste and reader. Touch base with your local bookseller or librarian who will offer friendly suggestions on what Manga or graphic novel will meet your own particular taste.