Thursday, March 14, 2013
Should We Equate Comic Books with Traditional Literature?
That's the question posed by Varsity Online.
From the piece...
Even the terminology surrounding this question is fiercely debated. Whereas most like to refer to works such as Maus as ‘graphic novels’, the term seems to be a hopeful attempt to disassociate the new breed of ‘intelligent’ comics from tales of superheroes, making a clear distinction between comic- book-pulp-fiction and high-art -visual-narratives. Publisher Dan Franklin of Jonathan Cape chooses not to make a distinction between comic books and graphic novels, although he admits that, “because the books we publish are at the more literary end of the spectrum I’m probably inclined to think of them as graphic novelists first.” Comic book theorist Scott McCloud – at the forefront of the new ‘academicising’ movement – prefers to call them ‘sequential narratives.’ However, this term is yet to catch on in popular usage. Practitioner Nick Hayes, a former student at Emmanuel College and author of acclaimed graphic novel The Rime of the Modern Mariner, is more relaxed about the matter: “people get all in a fluster about this. The most pretentious of the lot is Sequential Artist, but I think you may as well print up a T-shirt that proclaims your own self-esteem paranoia... I tend to change my job title to suit its audience.”
This year, two graphic works were shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards for the first time in the prize’s history. Winning the biography category was Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, by Mary and Bryan Talbot - a comic-strip life of James Joyce’s daughter, blended with memoirs of Mary’s father; in the novel category Joff Winterhart’s linear story of a holiday, Days of the Bagnold Summer, went up against Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies. Is it fair to judge such different mediums against each other? In his 1766 work Laocoon, Lessing criticised the comparison of pictures with words, contesting that they are so different that they should never be compared. However, such a simple division of the two is not possible with comic books. Hayes thinks that the best comic books have an equal emphasis on both elements: “I think the best comics place equal emphasis on the words and the images, or at least make some kind of balance – I think the most striking effect a comic has is the initial view of a two-page spread, when you have just turned a page – at that point, the words have no meaning, as they are not immediately discernible, but they operate as shapes which break up the flow of other shapes. That’s how I try to see them when designing my pages.”