Are Graphic Novels Literature?

Yeah, I’m not discussing manga. Its credibility is just way more established in Japan, to the point where they have manga textbooks and pamphlets–I want to look at graphic novels in, at least, the States. Here, the general attitude is they’re appropriate for kids (although I did once see a middle-aged businessman reading ‘Full Metal Alchemist’ on the train…interesting).

So I recently read Nate Powell’s ‘Swallow Me Whole,’ which is done entirely in black and white (the inks definitely look traditional–narrow pen + brush, if you’re curious). The dialogue is fairly minimal but its presentation adds to the meaning: all lowercase versus the more standard uppercase, fading, line breaks, etc. In short, a lot of things that really aren’t an option for a book–though of course ‘Requiem For A Dream’ and the thought sequences in ‘Carrie’ show you don’t have to stick to grammar. Oddly, I mentally add all the punctuation to the former; when I visualize its pages, everything’s capitalized and properly punctuated.


I wonder, then: should graphic novels count as literature? Is it right to allow leeway for the use of pure visuals in lieu of a million more pages?


Let’s look at the amount of time spent by the creator and the reader. For a graphic novel, the creator spends much more time on the artwork–from pencils to inks to adding in the speech, it’s a long process; the reader, however, spends a relatively short amount of time looking at the page. A novel’s reversed (let’s assume both people work at about the same pace–if you want to insist upon a page taking ten years apply it equally to the graphic novel): the reader spends far more time on the page than he would if it were visually represented.


And, in terms of total length, the same density of information seems to be conveyed in both. Of course things like full page spreads and Dickensian paragraphs skew it somewhat, but overall they’re comparable.


Graphic novels are, in general, confusing. It’s possible to see a single page as a work of art or look at the entire book as a work of literature–in the end, the determining factor is quality. Just as it is for a regular book.


I’d like to hear your thoughts.


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