By Nora Ibrahim, Staff Writer

Graphic novels have been considered a pretentious form of novels that are essentially comic books. It is important to first distinguish the difference between these two forms of literature. Comic books have been published for more than a century, dating back to the 1930s. The term “graphic novels” came a few decades later in the 1970s.

The difference between comic books and graphic novels are length, price and the narrative arc. Many readers and publishers may not agree with the concept that graphic novels are “real” and respectable novels, and not appropriate for “adult” audience. On the other hand, novels have a richer history and are more revered in the literary industry.  Lorrayne Carroll, an English Professor at USM shared her view on graphic novels.

I often read children’s literature, and in fact use what you might call children’s books for adult book discussions,” Carroll said. “The genre or format is not as important to me as the ways in which I can work with the text to make meaning, think about the ideas or stories, derive pleasure from the experience. So, the idea that graphic narrative is the “grown-up” version of children’s comics misses the point that, done well, they are rich visual and verbal texts. That said, I think that the notion about graphic narratives as adult comics might have much more to do with perceived “appropriate” content: violence, sex, fear, disorder. In that sense, I read many texts I wouldn’t share at this point with younger folks because the complexity and intensity of the content may overwhelm them.”

The key element one must take into account while reading graphic novels is the combination of images and words. The well known Chinese proverb states, “One picture is worth ten thousand words.” Graphic novels may depict certain scenes or characters exactly how the artist imagines the details of the story instead of allowing the reader to construct a virtual world based on the hints the author provides. Therefore, one might wonder how pictures and words can form a complete scene rather than relying on one form of expression to better understand the underlying message.

Some audience members may read graphic novels because they deliver the plot of the story much quicker than a novel. Those who choose to read a novel for entertainment purposes are aware of the lengthy commitment they have participated in when they have chosen it. While graphic novels may include cracks in the narrative arc, one cannot help but be influenced by the facial expressions, body language, colors and even a blank box. On the contrary, novels have the cracks in the narrative arc in such way that the reader may add their own touch to the story. This overall connection builds a thought process and shared analysis between the reader, the author and the literary work itself.

The fundamental question that must be asked is “Do graphic novels truly help the mind to exercise freedom of imagination?” To go back to the statement above, the audience can be influenced by the images presented in graphic novels, yet some claim that such novels are most often read as a mean of leisure instead of looking closely into the text to inspect the author’s words. In other words, reading graphic novels can be a vacation from traditional novels.

Many authors rely on the use of strong language to describe sceneries, events and emotions. They incorporate language and the five senses into their text in such a way that the reader feels infused with the context. However, this task is not simple.

The well known African American author, Maya Angelou, supplies her audience with powerful imagery, enough for the text to be cinematic in the reader’s mind. Her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, uses a marvelous amount of diction that is carefully selected so the reader can taste, smell and feel on a deeper level.

She speaks of food quite often in this book; here is a wonderful example of her use of language, “She fried thick pink slabs of home-cured ham and poured the grease over sliced red tomatoes. Eggs over easy, fried potatoes and onions, yellow hominy and crisp perch fried so hard we would pop them in our mouths and chew bones, fins and all.” In this passage, the words vibrate with energy and float from the page.

In contrast, Watchmen, a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, uses color to create a psychological effect in the reader. In some scenes the colors are warm, in others, they are dim and cold. Not only that, but the perspective and angles captured in each scenario is similar to that of a film. This graphic novel is 411 pages long; it beats the standard one by close to two-hundred.

To conclude, the difference between graphic novels and traditional novels are how its readers absorb the plot. There are visual learners that may benefit from the experience; at the same time, taking a challenge to commit to a traditional novel may prove worthy in the end.  


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