Graphic Novels? Uh, yes

By January 16, 2015Writing about Writing

Why are there no literature classes focusing on works like The Watchmen by Alan Moore or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi? There is such a bias in today’s literature academia world against the works that include pictures. I have heard graphic novels be equated to children’s books and simple-minded entertainment and never have I taken a legitimate English course where we have discussed graphic novels and their influence as a piece of literature.

The  genre is often forgotten, but graphic novels have so much richness to offer. They seem to have gotten a bad reputation back when comic books first started getting popular. They were considered cheap entertainment for children, and the idea that pictures could possibly communicate complex ideas  was an impossible thought.

However, pictures, art, drawings — all of these have been used since the dawn of communication to express ideas. Egyptians used hieroglyphs to record the history of their civilization. Cavemen (or, as I like to call them, Homo neanderthalensis)  used pictures to also record their daily life. Anthropologists don’t see these pictures as childish creations that depict simple ideas. They give the respect due to these people for their ability to communicate an entire ancient life through simple drawings. Through these images, we can create a better knowledge of an ancient civilization.

Are the ideas of Dickens or  Stevenson automatically brilliant because they happen to use our current mode of communication?Would the integration of pictures really detract from a fantastic idea? There are so many ways to communicate an idea. Musicians can get across a feeling just from playing the right note to create a particular sound. Plays, movies, & tv shows can communicate ideas through the mere fabrication of human life. So, why can’t pictures be given their due credit?

Nick Kremer jumps into the conversation with his blog post, ‘Writing with Pictures:Creating Comics in the Classroom‘. As a teacher, he wants to integrate the usefulness of the graphic novel within his literature classes. He uses graphic novels to “force readers to critically analyze both what they see and ‘hear,’ to draw inferences about what occurs between panels, to experience symbols and metaphors and juxtaposition and a litany of other literary elements in extremely overt forms, and to navigate transmediated forms of composition.” Graphic novels are essentially another medium to bring across nuanced literary techniques and terms to a better understanding for its readers.

The integration of words and pictures can be so powerful. After reading The Watchmen by Alan Moore, my entire perspective about morality and superheroes has taken a complete one-eighty. I never thought I could have such a strong interaction with a book with pictures, but I did, and now I’m hooked. We teach our kids how to read with the integration of words and pictures because its easier to grasp what a word means when it is coupled with a picture. Larger concepts can also be grasped when there are images to play it out.

Give graphic novels a try. It’s such an understated genre, but has so much to offer the literature world. Check out Time’s blog with their Top 10 Comic Books and Graphic Novels in 2013 if you want to know where to start!

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Emily Power says:

    This topic is especially relevant considering the large shift in the way we communicate now. We interact with images more and more, and often share photos on more than one platform, including Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. Interestingly, images themselves do get attention for their artistic merit and the way they communicate. You cited some examples of this yourself, such as the caveman paintings. I’m in a class right now called visual rhetoric, dedicated to understanding images and the way they influence change. It’s seems like our real issue is merging these two mediums. Have we perhaps normalized using images and words together on things like comics and memes, so now we have a hard time taking them seriously? Why do people ignore this genre in general? I think it’s important to try and understand why graphic novels are largely disregarded, as this way we can learn something about the logic behind the stigma against them, and better combat limiting ideas of them.

  • Remy Terle says:

    I agree that graphic novels deserve more respect as an art form! I’m not incredibly well-versed in them, but one of my favorites is The Killing Joke. The canonization of art is always problematic. I think it’s often a product of the elitist need to designate markers that maintain cultural or socio-economic gaps. Video games have been struggling in the same capacity for quite some time, despite incredibly artistic works. Anyway, this was a super interesting choice for a blog post!

  • Ryan says:

    I personally don’t read graphic novels at all. Actually, I really dislike them. However, there are a lot of things that I don’t personally like that have serious academic fields devoted to them. From what I understand about graphic novels, it seems that they have the content and themes to warrant research and discussion.

  • Allie B. says:

    Hey Jade!

    I completely agree that graphic novels should be considered as a form of literature. I know in the Digital Cinema program sometimes offers a Marvel Superheroes course (DC270) where they read graphic novels and interpret the deeper meaning behind them, as well as watch movie adaptations too. (This is from my limited understanding – my roommate is taking the course right now and I haven’t gotten all the specifics yet!)

    This course is only within the Digital Cinema department, but maybe it’s just the beginning. Maybe with this one class in one department could open the door to other departments taking it in as well? Maybe eventually the English Literature department will offer a specialized class in graphic novels too!

    Keep hoping!