A Comic Renaissance
The comic book has long been the butt of some cosmic literary joke. Once the hot ticket item at dime-store counters, it’s now stereotyped as the territory of the comic bookstore geek – the socks-with-sandles type that floods Comic Con each year. But is this true? Are graphic books really only about superheroes, only designed for children? Despite what you may think, graphic books are becoming a seriously valuable part of our culture and our schools.
This raises the question: What’s the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? The answer: there is no widely agreed upon answer. Karen Green, the graphic novels librarian at Columbia University, believes there is no real distinction between the two. “‘Comics’ is the medium,” she says. “‘Graphic novel’ is a marketing term.”
On the other hand, Dr. Katie Monnin, an assistant professor at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels, says that there is “a historical difference between comics and graphic novels.” In 1954, psychiatrist Fredic Wertham – not-so-fondly nicknamed “the F-word” by Dr. Monnin and other members of the graphic novel community – published a book called The Seduction of the Innocent, on the supposed evils and corruptive qualities of comic books. This immediately gave the medium a bad rap. But behind the scenes, there was a community of writers and artists who knew that the medium had much more potential, and comic books gradually evolved into graphic novels. Will Eisner’s book A Contract With God is credited with having popularized the term “graphic novel” in 1978.
“A graphic novel is different than a comic book — I wouldn’t say they’re siblings, they’re more like cousins,” says Dr. Monnin. According to Dr. Monnin, where a comic book is more plot-based and superhero-driven, a graphic novel “explores the elements of story at a literary level.” Graphic novels are not simply longer comic books.
So what should we call these graphic books? Dr. Patrick Grzanka, an honors faculty fellow at Arizona State University, says that “the term graphic novel is not only a misnomer, but it’s restricting.” If you visit the comics section at the Strand Bookstore in New York City, you will find graphic novels, graphic memoirs and biographies, graphic non-fiction, graphic histories, and graphic adaptations of literary works. In fact, the term “graphic novel” is slowly becoming outdated. Instead, industry experts are gradually adopting more comprehensive terms like “graphic narrative” or “visual narrative.”
These are all important distinctions to make as graphic books enter the modern-day collective conscious. More and more frequently, graphic books are winning prizes, being featured in the media and earning coveted slots on bestseller lists. In 2009, the New York Times launched a bestseller list for graphic books with categories in hardcover, paperback and manga. Earlier this month, Publishers Weekly hopped on the graphic bandwagon with a bestseller list of its own. It would appear that the long-beloved, often-overlooked medium is gradually surfacing in the mainstream.
Even more notable is the medium’s entrance onto the academic stage. Since Ms. Green began working at Columbia seven years ago, she has expanded the University’s collection of graphic books while currying interest in them among faculty and students. When she arrived in 2005, Butler Library only housed three graphic books: Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Palestine by Joe Sacco. “These [acquisitions] were about content,” Green says. “Not about medium.” Seven years and over $50,000 later, Ms. Green and Butler Library can boast a collection of more than 2,500 titles, which means many more volumes.
But graphic novel fervor isn’t just sweeping across university campuses, it’s taking over K-12 classrooms as well. More and more teachers are introducing graphic novels and comics into the classroom curriculum of younger and younger students.
“We’re currently living during the greatest communication revolution of all time,” says Dr. Monnin. “Everything is visually dominant now.” Through teaching graphic narratives, Dr. Monnin believes that teachers can reach out to students of “multiple intelligences;” a term coined by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. Internationally, educational systems have been teaching to multiple intelligences for years. Not everyone learns the same way, and graphic books engage both verbal-linguistic and visual-spatial learners.
Despite the science, graphic novels and comics are faced with overwhelming criticism and negative stereotyping. There are some who would say graphic books are just a cure for some kind of millennial attention span problem. They are perceived to be easier to read or as poor replacements for good old-fashioned prose. Dr. Monnin has even been asked if the term “graphic” refers to sexual or violent content.
“Graphic novels are not going to bring the same things to every subject matter,” says Dr. Grzanka on whether graphic textbooks and adaptations will someday replace text-only material. “I do believe they can be incredibly enhancing.” To deny students the opportunity to learn through exploring graphic novels and other visual means would be “the greatest disservice in education,” says Dr. Monnin.
The market for comic books in Europe, particularly France, is wildly more successful than the market in the United States. Dr. Monnin attributes this disparity to the troubled history of comic books in American culture. Since the 1950′s, the graphic medium has struggled to survive, retaining a death grip on the fringes of pop culture. It seems that now it is finally being recognized as a positive cultural force in our visually-dominant society.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 7 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 8 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 9 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Strartup
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook