Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are Comics Literature?

At least I hope it gets comments.
This is something very sensitive to us comic book lovers. I am caught in a odd predicament and I find myself becoming a conundrum, I am a English major who loves comics. Is that possible? Can someone who studies Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton be aloud to appreciate Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Will Eisner (If you know any of these three authors congratulations... your a dork)? I would like to believe that I have not wasted my time over the years and that reading comic books are not only considered literature but have benefited my life and society in some way.

The other day my ENGLISH PROFESSOR WHO HAS A DOCTORATE handed me a book that WAS ON HIS SHELF called "Reinventing Comics." This is a book that talks about the rise and fall of comics and how comics can come out of obscurity. This book is a bit dated (1999) so the author hasn't seen the success of the comic book movies. We are not here to discuss the movies though, they are a success and they are helping comics gain popularity, but are they considered legitimate literature? One of the things that "Reinventing Comics" talks about at great lengths is how comics can be considered literature.

Comics started out as either ten cent magazines for kids or "the funnies" in newspapers. It wasn't until Eisner in 1978 wrote the first and coined the phrase "graphic novel." He realized that the comic industry would not be respected until they started making actual bound books. The first "graphic novel" was called "A Contract With God."
Alan Moore wrote "The Watchmen." Some of you have probably seen or heard about the film, forget that. "The Watchmen" is considered by everyone as the best graphic novel. It won a Hugo Award (awarded to the best Science Fiction/Fantasy novel of the year). It also made Times "Top 100 Novels of All Time." "The Watchmen" asks the question, "what if superheroes were real?" It is a dark look at the impact superheroes would have on the world, it is magnificent and one of the best written books I have written, honestly. Side note (The best selling comic book is "The Death of Superman" (1992))
Comics do something that normal literature can't. They meld picture and words in a seamless cohesion. The best part about comics is the space between the pictures. This "empty" space is where the reader has creative freedom. The reader can imagine what is happening between the gaps and fill it in with their own images. It's also been said that "a picture is worth a thousand words." Some of the most powerful images in comics are those without any words. We as a culture are becoming increasingly more visual, comics just seem to be the perfect transition to our more increasingly visual culture.
One of the most famous images in comics. From "The Death of Superman." Don't worry he got better.


1. Written works, esp. those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit: "a great work of literature".

According to the above definition Comic books/Graphic Novels are indeed literature. Comic books still have a long way to go to become legitimate in America (In Japan everybody reads comics, even respected businessmen). But I foresee a day when comics will be respected and studied as literature. 

1 comment:

Sam said...

yeah, comics are definitely taken much more seriously now than ever before. In those studying English Teaching talk about the benefits from graphic novels. Its a great way to promote reading and literacy.
Good literature can be found in graphic novel form. I'm sure you've heard of the Fable comics, and I've seen things like Moby Dick made into the graphic novel. I have a graphic novel called Kill Shakespeare that could be a fun way to introduce Shakespeare to people who otherwise wouldn't read his works. Comics are a definitely legitimate part of literature.