So if you haven’t noticed, I read a fair amount of graphic novels. My original idea for this post was to argue why I think graphic novels are still valid forms of literature, but as I searched on the inter-webs for counter arguments, I was surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Either I was completely wrong with my assumption that people don’t think graphic novels are books, or those people do not post their feelings on the internet in a big way. By big way I mean, posting about it often, or dedicating web pages or blogs to it.
I guess most of the complaints I’ve heard must have been offline, which makes more sense since comic books are becoming a more technologically based media. So in case there are still any nay-sayers out there reading this, I’d like to make a few points about why I think graphic novels are worth reading.
Now I’m sure the argument, if there is one, for not reading graphic novels is that they’re just comic books with hardly any text. Basically summed up, this picture:
In this light, graphic novels and comics are considered lower culture, and a waste of time. But there’s a lot to look at when it comes to graphic novels. Take for example this strip from the graphic novel Maus:
This panel has a lot of stuff going on in it. First I’d like to point out the subject matter of Maus. Maus is a biography of a Jewish man’s struggle during the Holocaust told by his son. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that comics are just guys in spandex flying around and making Kablam! movements. But comics aren’t just about superheroes any more; we’re actually starting to see some pretty serious material in the form of comics.
Second, look at how the cartoon is draw and colored in. While it maintains its cartoon form, the way it’s drawn gives it a more adult feel. There’s more detail and it’s darker than a child’s comic would be. The way a comic is drawn and shaded can make a big impact on how it’s read by the audience. So this comic would be read as a dark, serious comic rather than something silly.
Lastly, I’d like to look at the sense of time conveyed in the panels. Time and space are very important in comics. Panels don’t always follow a minute by minute account of what’s going on in a story. Some panels are meant to show what’s currently happening, then the next panel can show a moment several minutes past that. The amazing thing is that the author doesn’t always have to explain that it’s a few minutes later; the reader can infer what’s going on without explanation. In this example, I’d like to point out the last panel on the page that’s clearly the biggest. See how there’s no frame around it? That says to the reader that it’s a standstill moment within the novel, so it’s something that is significant and should create an impact on the reader. In this case, it’s the introduction of the Nazism that will soon destroy their lives.
If you’re interested in the subject of graphic novels and studying them, I highly recommend that you read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. It’s a well written novel that talks about some of the ideas I mentioned in this post and a bunch of others I didn’t even touch.
If you’d like a sample of the book, here’s Scott McCloud on TED talks discussing the subject of comics. Enjoy!
Total books read: 13