Let me start by saying, the goal is to get people reading. It doesn’t matter what the reading material is (it could be the cereal box), just as long as you are reading. By the way, CONGRATULATIONS! You’re reading and I couldn’t be happier. That being said, there is a medium that is being looked down upon as lesser literature; that we can somehow pretend that these books don’t exist, and that they will simply go away because we ignore them. These books (if you haven’t guessed it) are Graphic Novels.
There is a difference between graphic novels and comic books. Graphic novels are usually longer, and tell a complete story from beginning to end. On the other hand, a comic book comes in installments that can tell a whole story, or is a compilation of several smaller stories. To put it another way, Batman: The Killing Joke is a graphic novel, Garfield at Large is a comic book.
Since they were first introduced in the late 70’s, graphic novels have been looked at as “for children”. While this is certainly the case for some, there are still others that can reach us in a way that no “regular” book can. That’s the point of literature; to affect as many people as possible, and help them see the world in a different light. How are they regarded as “for children”, you may ask? Simple. They have pictures! Some of them bight and beautiful, while others are dark and gritty.
Another reason that graphic novels are looked down upon is because a large portion of them are superhero stories. While superhero stories can also be good literature (that is for a later post), this isn’t reflective of the whole group of books. Several of them seek to put us into the shoes of someone else. I recently read a post talking about this. It focused on a graphic novel called The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The book is the author’s story of growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. She uses the pictures to help her audience enter into her world.
Graphic novels have shown a light on several topics over their years that are beyond the good vs evil motif of superhero stories. Here are just a few:
- Blankets by Craig Tompson – the adolescent years and questioning faith
- Maus by Art Spiegelman – stories of Holocaust survivors
- The Sandman by Neil Gaiman – philosophical conversations between ideas and historical figures
- Y: The Last Man by Brain K Vaugh – feminism
- Watchmen by Alan Moore – critique on the superhero genre, capitalism, and the nuclear arms race
- Pyongyang by Greg Delisle – the culture of North Korea
“Graphic novels are not traditional literature, but that does not mean they are second-rate. Images are a way of writing. When you have the talent to be able to write and to draw, it seems a shame to choose one. I think it’s better to do both.” — Marjane Satrapi
Essentially my claim is that we shouldn’t write off graphic novels because of what they are. Give them a try. They can be just as good as any other “regular” novel. If you need helping picking one out, you can always go to your local library and ask a librarian for some help. Take the opportunity, while libraries across the county do Summer Reading, to try something new.