It’s been interesting to see people’s reactions when I mention that I am taking a graphic novels course this semester. Some people wonder why such a course is offered; others wonder why, even if it is offered, I would choose to take such a course anyway. People who think grad school should be difficult and focused on academics think the course sounds too easy; some people wonder how one can study something like a graphic novel for an entire semester.
Comics and comic books have a long history of being despised by parents, teachers, and sometimes even librarians. Literary critics contend that graphic novels are not literature; teachers beg students to put down comics and read “real” books. The archetypal child who hides his comic book inside his history or math textbook still exists. It seems like the people who love comic books really, truly love them; likewise, those who find comics and graphic novels to be somehow “less than” are not persuaded even when confronted with award-winning graphic novels.
However, it is undeniable that comics have been and still remain popular, not just with children, but also adults. And with the recent surge in the popularity of young adult literature has come a surge in the publication and popularity of graphic novels and comics. Graphic novels have gained new respect as educators have begun to understand the potential benefits of graphic novels in the classroom, not only as a bridge into traditional print novels, but also as a medium in and of themselves. Many publishers are now producing graphic novel versions of traditional classics, from The Boxcar Children to Shakespeare, in addition to works that appear exclusively in graphic novel form.
My personal experience with graphic novels has been rather limited. I have enjoyed the graphic novel adaptations of other novels I have read; I have also read comic strip collections such as those featuring Garfield or the Dykes to Watch Out For. I have read several graphic novels for other classes, but my go-to medium of choice is still a traditional print book or, more recently, an e-book. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I like to imagine what things look like instead of seeing what the illustrator thinks they should look like. A larger part, though, is due to a lack of practice in reading graphic novels. It takes more time to look at the pictures or even process the order of the frames; especially when reading a traditional manga where the book is printed “backwards.” It makes sense to me that a person who prefers comics or graphic novels would continue to read in that medium; the transition to a traditional print book has to be at least as difficult as my transition to graphic works.
So why study graphic novels? Because graphic novels and comics are a medium that my future patrons enjoy reading, and I need to be able to make intelligent choices regarding collection development and hold my own when advising readers on what to read next. And because this is not a genre that I would choose to read on my own, I need to force myself to experience this genre and learn more about it.
Do you enjoy graphic novels or comic books? Is there a particular book or series that you especially enjoy and recommend that I read?