Weekly Geeks: Graphic Novels
Some people have the impression that graphic novels are glorified comic books, are unsophisticated or don’t qualify as “serious” literature. What do you think? If you track your book numbers, do you count a graphic novel as a book read?
Loyal readers of this blog may remember that I am a graphic novel nut. It should come as no surprise that I absolutely count graphic novels as books read. No one who has read Watchmen or The Sandman series can seriously argue that graphic novels are unsophisticated — and if they can, they’ve missed the point of the work entirely.
If a work of fiction can stand up to literary criticism, it’s literature. Even though Sandman was originally released as a comic book series, Neil Gaiman makes use of copious allusions to myth, as well as other literary techniques, to explore the themes of death, fantasy, change, and destiny. As a result, Stephen Rauch has been able to compare the plot of Sandman to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in a full-length scholarly work. The series has won several literary awards, including the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction (won by issue number 19).
The Sandman is spectacularly written. To the best of my limited knowledge, the list of graphic novels on a similar literary level is a short one. Certainly Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel by Frank Miller, is one such work, and it appears both on Time‘s Top Ten Graphic Novels list and in a few critical works on the genre.
Watchmen by Alan Moore would have to be on that list as well. While the movie gives some idea as to the scope of this work, it’s hard to understand the sophistication involved without wading through the novel. A glance at Doug Atkinson’s “The Annotated Watchmen” might give you an inkling of the narrative and visual threads Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons are weaving throughout the work.
Sometimes, reading a graphic novel can even be more difficult than reading traditional “words on a page” literature. Everything in a panel matters, whether it’s the angle of the “shot,” the writing on a character’s shirt, the label on a ketchup bottle — in one panel of Watchmen, the logo on a passing truck and the shape of a stain on the pavement are significant. As a result, great graphic novels require an incredible amount of attention to detail, and reward repeated readings in a way only great works of traditional literature can.
But that’s only one (subjective) opinion, of course! Do you have an opinion on graphic novels? Please share it below!