As lovers of the written word, we here at Work PR are avid readers. However, that does not necessarily mean we all read books. Some of us prefer to read online blogs and ebooks, while others, like me, enjoy comic books and graphic novels – perhaps not surprising for a graphic designer.
Which begs the commonly asked question, are comics and graphic novels still regarded as literature in the same way a Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling or Dostoevsky book is? That is what we’ve been discussing in the office this week.
What is literature?
Literature has quite a loose definition, but is generally defined as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.”
The argument arises then because comics and graphic novels are not just written words – the visuals are just as important, if not more so, than the written dialogue. In that sense, they are more than literature, they are art.
Therefore, the argument is not so much about whether comics are categorised as literature, but rather if they have as much value as books.
Start them young
As a child, I grew up reading The Beano and The Dandy, and I honestly believe this contributed to my love of reading. While my brother was busy watching TV, I much preferred enjoying the latest antics of The Bash Street Kids, and as I grew up this naturally transitioned into reading books and graphic novels.
According to a recent study by the National Literacy Trust, only 53% of kids said they enjoyed reading and only 26% of young people under the age of 18 spent time each day reading. This is likely due to the rise of technology, with television and games becoming more appealing to the younger audience.
However, comics are an ideal way of getting kids away from television and computer screens and interested in reading. While they may not be as educational as children’s books, the stories usually have some kind of moral message that the child will subconsciously pick up on as they’re reading.
Unlike children’s books, comics are fun and engaging, with shorter stories and colourful visuals, making them more appealing to kids. So really they act as a stepping stone between the visual excitement of television and the written world of books.
Getting more serious
Graphic novels are essentially the next step up from comic books that are aimed at an older audience. They maintain the visual elements and dialogue-heavy copy, but focus more on storytelling in a longer format.
Graphic novels will often deal with more serious issues, weaving them into a story about fictional characters to make them appear more relatable and help the reader learn in a subtle way.
While some would argue that graphic novels are just ‘comics for adults’ and not ‘proper literature’, more authoritative bodies appear to disagree. Art Spiegelman’s Maus was awarded a Pulitzer prize, while Alan Moore’s Watchmen appeared on TIME Magazine's list of the greatest novels of all time.
Does it really matter?
While I am a fan of comics and graphic novels, I do agree that they have their disadvantages.
In comics, you lose a lot of the language that comes with books. Writers will describe people, objects and events in great detail, which will give more weight to what is being described and also improve your own vocabulary.
In a book without illustrations, these descriptions allow you to imagine what you are reading and build a whole world in your mind. But in comics, everything has already been decided by the artist, so you have to go with their visual representation.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re reading a book, a blog or a comic. Many people don’t have the attention span to read long books or don’t enjoy reading in general, so comics and graphic novels offer a good compromise.
While they may not have the rich language of written works, comics and graphic novels should not be dismissed and deserve more appreciation as an artform that is keeping people reading.