Graphic novel viewed as contemporary literature, professor says

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Graphic novel viewed as contemporary literature, professor says

    Graphic novel viewed as contemporary literature, professor says

    Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 8:30 p.m. CDT

    BY Kelsey Allen source:

    COLUMBIA, MO Using the traditional three rows of three panels, the comic book has become more than a pastime for the socially awkward. It is now considered contemporary literature even art, says Andrew Hoberek, associate professor of English and director of Graduate Studies at MU.

    While it usually takes time to judge if something has become a part of the contemporary world, it looks like the comic book or graphic novel has already secured its place,

    Hoberek said during a lecture Wednesday night at Stephens College.

    "(Graphic novels) sort of seem to have some of the characteristics (of contemporary literature)," Hoberek said. "They get written about as though they are literature. They get taught in classrooms."

    All incoming students to Stephens College had to read the graphic memoir "Persepolis" over the summer. "Persepolis," by Marjane Satrapi, uses pictures and text to tell Satrapi's story of her life.

    Hoberek said that part of what makes graphic novels, specifically graphic memoirs, so popular is their constant association with superheroes.

    "Part of why these memoirs are so interesting is it's actually a way of communicating that people associate with superheroes," Hoberek said, "so there is kind of automatically tension if you are describing details of everyday life. It is so completely un-heroic that it makes it interesting."

    Making the graphic novel even more complex is the challenge of balancing the text and the picture, said Judith Clark, English department chairwoman at Stephens. Hoberek suggests reading the graphic novel at a slower pace than you would a regular novel.

    "You have to study the picture, and sometimes the words are contradicting the picture," Hoberek said. "It is slowed down a bit because in part what you are doing is contemplating the pictures the way you would a painting."

    Graphic novels triumph over classical literature once again

    By: Frances Provine /The Daily Cardinal - November 5, 2008

    If you’ve been to the bookstore regularly in the past 10 years, you’ve probably noticed how one section in particular grows almost exponentially each year. Comic-book nerds and fifth-graders in the midst of getting through ―Maus‖ have been familiar with that section for ages. I’m talking, of course, about graphic novels.

    What once started out as slim superhero volumes you could buy from the same places selling collectible baseball cards (remember those?) have developed into dense 300-page plotlines. At some point in the ’80s, comic-book writers started delving into character

    development and a variety of alternative story scenarios to saving the world and spandex. There’s even graphic non-fiction like ―Persepolis‖ and the radical ―A Graphic

    Biography‖ series.

    But do graphic novels really belong next to ―To Kill A Mockingbird?‖ Are they even ―novels?‖ With the adaptation of several graphic novels into movies, the interest in this newer kind of book has soared. Sometimes when I’ve passed by three-bookcase sections

    of graphic novels in bookstores (once for a very specialized audience) I’ve wondered if it’s signaled a death knell for more ―normal‖ literature.

    Although I was once skeptical, I think it’s probably time to accept the graphic novel as a

    legitimate literary form.

    It’s not just that graphic novels like ―Blankets‖ explore serious themes on par with some of the most prized literary fiction and nonfiction. And it’s not that they’re necessarily more exciting than regular books. Although some have pointed to graphic novels’ use of

    pictures to help tell a story as a sign of being more accessible to a society that, let’s face it, is becoming more and more illiterate, people who consume graphic literature aren’t exactly society’s non-readers.

    In fact, it’s really the opposite. Graphic novels are filled with references to other works of ―real‖ literature and because of complex narratives, they aren’t always much easier to get through than plain old prose. The use of graphics allows authors and illustrators to portray images in ways that prose sometimes can’t. Beyond that, the elimination of the need for heavy description has meant that the writing can focus on characterization and dialogue. Indeed, beyond anything else, it is the complexities of these characters that justifies giving graphic novels the literature tag.

    Which isn’t to say that graphic novels aren’t different from real books. After all, it would be very difficult to apply the same stylistic quirks to text restricted to a two-inch-wide speech bubble. And there can also be something very special about that use of description, both of places and people and also of emotions.

    But what graphic novels and regular books have in common (and this is perhaps a reason why their respective readers are far from being mutually exclusive) is that they both rely on reader imagination. Perhaps normal literature more so than graphic novels, but reading a graphic novel still forces you to superimpose your own imagined accents and movements on the characters, your own imagined sounds of windows shattering and doors clicking open and closed.

    The truth is, those kids I knew in fifth-grade who read ―Maus‖ now read more than most

    other people I know. If some people get intimidated by pages of tightly packed together black letters, that’s fine. But if graphic novels are the key to getting them to participate in a form of entertainment that is not purely receptive, it almost doesn’t matter that regular books are in decline.

    If you wish to meet up with Frances at the bookstore to discuss your plans to attend the next comic-book convention, e-mail her at

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