According to Time magazine, the graphic novel Watchmen is on the greatest novels of all time list. Like many, I’ve only seen the movie version and never read any of the graphic novels. But in order to explore the idea of a comic book being considered literature, we need to look past the pre-established rubric and examine the terms fiction and narrative. Comics are simply just another form of fictional narrative wrapped up in the package of a graphic novel (comic books). Graphic narrative can take many forms.
The most commonly known “short story” narrative of the traditional and well-loved comic strips as seen in Sunday newspapers. The comic book is typically 32-pages long, and contains one continuous story, or often times an installment of stories released in a series. According to Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, comics are “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” What seems to set comics apart from the common cartoon is the use of verbal content in the form of a contextual narrative, which then begs the question, should it be considered literature?
While this may be reaching, consider the Lascaux complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. Could one not look at these drawings and call them cartoons or comics? They are no more than a pictorial representation of the life and culture of that time period. Historians place an enormous amount of cultural significance on these paintings. Why then would we not place the same level of importance on comics and treat them for what they are?
Comics are one of many types of cultural representation that reflect the life and culture of the time they were created. In my opinion, they are just as significant as the cultural contributions of paintings, music, architecture, novels, and many more. Comics and graphic narrative offer diverse and compelling examples that engage us with different styles, methods, and modes of communication that offer a historical representation in the form of visual-verbal texts.