Ending the graphic novel stigma

Don’t fear the pictures, they bring you into a new world of storytelling you’ll love

I’m sure many of us have read a graphic novel or comic in some form. You may have just read a few panels at the back of a local newspaper while on a bus, or an entire novel from beginning to end.

Graphic novels have always been a fascinating form of literature to me. I will admit that my knowledge and full engagement with graphic novels have not been the best, but I absolutely love walking through the graphic novel section at Chapters and reading the first few pages of as many as I can.

What intrigues me about graphic novels is their ability to combine simple or heavily detailed images with text and really draw readers into the world of the novel. Graphic novels take you through space and time while only using panels on a page to do so. The sheer detail and immensity involved with the writing and illustration of a graphic novel in itself is what I love about reading them.

However, the legitimacy of a graphic novel is a question that has been asked by many. How important are graphic novels to the world of literature? Can they be classified as high forms of literature? Should graphic novels be placed in the same plane of works as Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald? Are graphic novels essential to academics and should they be taken seriously in this respect?

To me, the answer is yes to all those questions.

Graphic novels have, for decades, taken on the reputation of just being comics. They’re just little books or panels that you read to get a decent laugh out of and then move on. They aren’t meant to be taken seriously because many people think they’re just imaginative picture books that are only for young kids. What good is a picture book to an adult?

Well the irony is, there are adults illustrating and writing these books for children, youth, and adults alike.

Let’s consider the illustration portion of graphic novels. The repetitive process of drawing the same character, hundreds of times, while ensuring there is no difference between the characters from one panel to the next, is in itself an amazing feat. A repetitive process yes, but essential to maintaining continuity as well. Illustrators have to take their time creating characters and imagining their facial expressions, their body movements, the style of their hair, their clothing, and more, from scratch. Sometimes, these graphic novels are 60, 200, or even 300 pages long. That is an immense amount of time dedicated to the creation of the visual world that shouldn’t be discredited.

The visuals also need to be able to elicit feelings of sadness, adrenaline, happiness, and so much more. The best part about the illustrations themselves is that they’re all still images. The flow and the motion of the images comes from the illustrator’s ability to create smooth transitions between the panels and within them. The images don’t need to be extremely detailed either for one to be part of the flow of images. Basic facial expressions can sometimes be just enough to get you to shed a tear.

Of course, the writing itself can’t be forgotten about. The thought of a speech bubble seems so odd, as they’re just little white circles filled with text in them as ways of speaking—it seems so unnatural. However, what’s fascinating is that the shape the dialogue is embedded in determines the kind of dialogue being said. A box means it’s from a narrator or it’s providing context, a speech bubble is dialogue coming from a character, a jagged sharp box means that the character is screaming, and so on.

There’s also the ability for writers of graphic novels to create words for various sounds. Words such as “Ka-boom,” “ka-pow,” “urgh,” and “pew,” are a few examples. This combines the concept of sound and word in ways we don’t usually engage with.

Though I’ve only scratched the surface of the work placed into the creation of a graphic novel, the work behind the literature is just as, if not more, creatively and intelligently complicated as writing a traditional fiction novel. The illustrations don’t lessen the value of graphic novels. In fact, they add another facet of creativity that gives readers a different way of understanding the narrative.

Graphic novels have the ability to have absolutely nothing on a page except for a small visual or a word, which can impact the significance of the narrative. They’re such interesting and magnetic forms of storytelling that they deserve to be recognized  as formal literature.

That’s not to say they aren’t being recognized as such. I did take a graphic novel course in my third-year of university that opened my mind to the understanding of these books. However, because they’re so rare, the courses related to graphic novels at universities are often viewed as bird courses that’ll give you a break from the other overwhelming ones in your program. That is not okay—the amount of work and dedication put into the development and publishing of graphic novels is just as intense and rewarding as a fictional novel.

Just like any other narrative form,  graphic novels have the ability to move readers. Since this is the case, they need to be taken seriously in an academic setting.

Graphic novels, such as Maus and Stitches, are only a few of many well-written and beautiful novels that moved me and made me fall in love with the medium.

Don’t worry, you’re not a kid if you read graphic novels, nor are you not allowed to read them because suddenly you’re too old for them. Graphic novels have the ability to bring change and change someone’s world.

You could be that someone.



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