Graphic Novels Are Trending in English Departments, and That’s a Problem

Many English departments are now beginning to offer courses on graphic novels, which integrate text and visual imagery. Graphic novels are increasingly studied alongside traditional literature, in some cases supplanting more standard text-based curricula.

For example, one course at UNC Chapel Hill titled “The Visual and Graphic Narrative” can be taken to satisfy the literary appreciation part of a student’s general education requirements. (Students are only required to take one literary appreciation class.) The university also offers a course titled “Comics as Literature” as a first-year seminar.

Given these courses’ rising popularity among students, administrators and instructors may view them in terms of their ability to renew student interest in the humanities. But while graphic novels do have artistic merit, and are of aesthetic interest, the rise of undergraduate courses on graphic novels is problematic.

One reason is that the majority of graphic novels tend to advance political agendas. The graphic novels found on course syllabi and on reading lists often deal with controversial political issues such as social justice, immigration, gay rights, etc. This is part of a larger trend in the humanities, where focus often is on oppression and identity politics.

For example, Ursinus College assigns the widely acclaimed and controversial Fun Home by Alison Bechdel in undergraduate literature courses. Bechdel’s graphic novel is written as memoir, and discusses her experiences growing up in a dysfunctional family. The reader follows Bechdel as she learns about her father’s homosexuality and her lesbianism.

Another graphic novel, Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, also is a popular choice on university syllabi and has been described as an “intersectionally feminist text.” The book is about “a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords.”

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with reading about these topics or with discussing them. But what is particularly concerning about assigning these politically charged books is that it seems to be part of a larger push to rid the university of its traditional focus, and to push a social justice agenda.

For example, last semester North Carolina State University English professor Maggie Simon gave a talk titled “Comics and Graphic Novels—The New Literature.” In her talk, Simon praised graphic novels like Fun Home for their accessibility to “diverse communities of readers.” She explained that “such texts invite students to encounter complex and often uncomfortable iterations of marginalized identities.”

That view of graphic novels is seen in the general education classes that undergraduates can take. For instance, the previously mentioned “Comics as Literature” class offered at UNC Chapel Hill describes “graphic literature’s unique ability to be a medium for the marginal and oppressed in the 21st century.”

In addition to the fact that graphic novels often are used to further a political agenda, it seems that they don’t possess the same merit as traditional literature. Given students’ limited time in college, it is pressing that they be presented with more intellectually demanding readings. This is especially true when a student’s general education course may be the only exposure to literature that he or she receives during college.

Part of the problem with substituting graphic novels for text-based books lies in the medium itself. Grappling with a text to understand its meaning is a more intellectually demanding task, and requires a greater use of one’s reasoning skills.

As Neil Postman argues in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death, “learning to be critical and to think conceptually and rigorously do not come easily to the young but are hard-fought victories.” Even though there are many ways to learn, Postman suggests that the written word is most effective in training students to think about complex ideas.

His primary argument in favor of the written word is that “[reading is] essentially a rational activity” and thus is most conducive to developing strong and coherent reasoning skills. It is difficult to believe that reading a graphic novel could do the same in this regard as having to digest, say, The Iliad.

This is because reading requires a unique interplay of intellect and imagination. In a recent Martin Center interview, Ashley Thorne of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) argued that reading “texts without pictures” is more suitable for college level reading, and “stretches [students’] minds more.”

Texts without pictures require students to exercise abstract reasoning in comprehending the meaning of the text, leaving the accompanying visualizations to their own imagination. The images found in graphic novels, on the other hand, remove much of the need for students to exercise their intellects in order to process the main ideas.

Of course, there is no doubt that, in some sense, graphic novels and literature are equally capable of inviting the reader to contemplate complex ideas. But the portrayal of content is only part of a work’s literary value.

For example, a book, a movie, and a graphic novel can all tell the same story. Maus, for instance, is a graphic novel about a Jewish man’s experience as a holocaust survivor. In the story, the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Nazis are portrayed as cats. Admittedly, this vivid and captivating interplay between images and narrative text can be quite engaging and informative.

But the same could be said about films. The film Life is Beautiful portrays the story of the holocaust just as accurately and vividly as Maus does. But that does not mean that one medium has the same value as the other, or could supplant the other. It certainly does not imply that we might replace literature classes with film-watching classes.

Students, therefore, should not be led to believe that graphic novels are just as valuable as books from the literary canon. Reading a graphic novel like Fun Home is not a fitting replacement for Sense and Sensibility or Hamlet.

Nevertheless, graphic novels continue to be popular choices on campus. They have made their way onto many universities’ summer reading lists. The National Association of Scholars provides an annual report on the books that appear on these lists. The report mentions that “many common readings discuss books of which a film or television version exists, [and] an increasing number are graphic novels or memoirs….”

While graphic novels are not capable of the same literary complexity as written books, this does not mean that they do not have their own aesthetic value. Although they should not constitute the entirety of a student’s exposure to literature in college, their artistic qualities are worthy of being studied, even in a university setting.

Perhaps instead of being used to fulfill general education requirements, it would be more reasonable that graphic novels be studied in upper division elective courses. In other words, such courses should build upon the student’s already firm foundation in classic books from the literary canon. This argument was made recently by David Randall in his article “Comic Books in a Liberal Education”:

A comic book should not be chosen because it will make education easier for a student, but because it will make it harder, as it forces him to think and argue about both the word and the picture. Neither should a comic book be chosen as a way to depart from the classic texts of Western civilization, but rather as a way to integrate the study of those texts with Western civilization’s classic images.

Graphic novels should not substitute written texts in satisfying students’ literary arts requirements, especially when the motive behind the assignments is often political in nature. Universities should instead present students with works of literature that will truly challenge their minds and strengthen their ability to reason. Graphic novels can complement, but cannot replace, the canon in fulfilling this role.

  • I remember a friend of mine reading Maus when we were in middle school–that should be an indicator of its intellectual rigor. Definitely no substitute for the written word!

    • DrOfnothing

      I come from a family of Holocaust survivors, and without a doubt, Maus is one of the most insightful and devastating accounts ever written about it. It works on a number of levels, and the simple fact that it puts the event and the experience of it in a visual language that can engage even a middle schooler is part of its brilliance.

      I urge you to return to it as an adult, now with much greater context, and to see how much more you glean from it. If you don’t, that is a failure of comprehension on _your_ part rather than a reason to dismiss the work as unworthy of the designation “literature.” Certainly not all graphic novels are worthy of such recognition, but Spiegelman’s work most certainly is.

      • I agree that Maus is excellent. From it, a reader can glean a lot of horrifying, interesting, and moving content. But it is content only. Reading Maus will not make a student a better thinker.

        The habits of mind gained by engaging in a book–with its intricate, reasoned, layered prose–cannot be duplicated by even the best graphic novel. Why not assign Night instead?

        • DrOfnothing

          Oh yes, Elie Wiesel is remarkable, and if I had to choose one or the other to assign to my own students, I would go with Night hands down, as would 99.99% of faculty out there. But there is no compelling reason to be either/or, which is why I made the earlier point about how sparingly graphic novels are employed in college curricula. There is simply no compelling reason to exclude them, as long as they are employed selectively and wisely.

          The medium of the graphic novel (they are _not_ “comics!”), especially one as complex and subtle as Spiegelman’s, can do things that the word alone cannot. Maus, too, is intricate, reasoned, and layered.

          Ask yourself this: is Joyce’s Ulysses inherent superior to Shakespeare’s Lear? Is Lear, in turn, invariably more worthwhile to teach than Gerard Manley Hopkins “the Falcon?” And are they all more apt to make a student think than William Carlos Williams is?

          so much depends
          upon

          a red wheel
          barrow

          glazed with rain
          water

          beside the white
          chickens.

          The capacity of each to train a student’s habits of mind is not a function of medium or word count. Rather, it is directly proportional to the imagination of the student, the insight of the teacher, and the dedication of both to exploit, to the fullest possible degree, the vast capacity of any good work to offer profound insights into its chosen topics.

  • ikari_kun2002

    Certain graphic novels deserve to be taken seriously. (By “certain graphic novels”, I think I may mean “Watchmen”.) It might also be interesting to have a literature survey course structured around Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman, with its thoughtful treatment of Ovid, Shakespeare, and Milton. But not as a substitute for real books.

  • bdavi52

    They’re comic books.
    They’re extended versions of the Sunday Funnies.
    They’re ‘elevated’ examples of “See Spot Run”.
    They’re peripheral bits of entertainment — sprinkled lightly with substance.

    Ms. Watkins objects but she objects timidly; she objects apologetically. She tells us, “While graphic novels are not capable of the same literary complexity as written books, this does not mean that they do not have their own aesthetic value.” Of course not. But the real message here is the opening phrase: Graphic novels are not capable of the same literary complexity. Ashley Thorne of NAS dances the same steps, saying, “reading “texts without pictures” is more suitable for college level reading”. No kidding??? Gosh, who woulda thunk it? It would have been just a tad more accurate to say, “reading text WITH pictures is more suitable for 2nd grade”.

    We’re told, “In addition to the fact that graphic novels often are used to further a political agenda, it seems that they don’t possess the same merit as traditional literature.” It seems??? Say it proud; say it loud: They DON’T.

    And yes we all know — the “graphic novel” has enjoyed a renaissance for years now. Yes we know it ‘grapples’ with adult subject matter and is significantly more ‘complex’ than the Sunday Funnies (well, except for Calvin & Hobbes and Far Side — both of which were genius). But to allow Graphic Novels (TinTin’s adventures are quite entertaining!) to assume pride of place, to satisfy the ‘literary appreciation’ portion of the Gen Ed’s is just insane, and sadly symptomatic of just how far the mighty have fallen.

    Heck, while we’re at it — here at Idiocracy U. — let’s let those same funny pages satisfy our Art Appreciation requirements (maybe Pearls Before Swine?). And how about our Poli Sci requirements (Prickly City?)? And history requirements (B.C.?). Math scares lots of people — perhaps we could sub doing some Level 1 Sudoko’s?

    The point is, a college education — particularly at the undergraduate level — needs to build the foundation. It needs to educate our ‘best & brightest’ with the ‘best & brightest’ and “Fun Home” is not and will never be even a mediocre substitute for Hamlet, War & Peace, Gatsby, Moby Dick, et al. Not even close.

    Or, instead, we could simply Embrace the New… and be done with it (‘it’ being any lingering pretense that we are actually all about education & culture).

    • bdavi52
    • JonGorga

      So the problem is that different art mediums require different structures and different analysis. If you try to examine a piece of music with the tools of an art historian you will be lost.

      This is why education is important. The comics medium has had its Milton and Mozart and Goya already but you cannot recognize them because you have not been educated in comics language. It is not your fault but a completely understandable ignorance in the people who educated you.

      Your food analogy is actually perfect. You can (and should) compare literary fast food to literary gourmet. What you are doing is comparing a mixed quality of fruits you know should taste sweet to a mixed quality of vegetables and finding them sour because they are not sweet.

      Comics need it’s own academic department in my opinion.

      • bdavi52

        If we recognize the critical importance of a quality hierarchy — if we understand in any real sense what distinguishes one quality level from another (Thing One from Thing Two) — if we measure ‘best’ vs. ‘best’ — if we compare Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Milton, Shakespeare against the work produced by Stan Lee, Moebius, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, et al. — then we will always absolutely & inevitably find that there is a vast and categorical quality difference between the two sets of story-tellers (both of whom tell cool stories).

        If we can’t tell the difference. If the best Junior Bacon Cheeseburger is indistinguishable in our mind from a 3 Star Michelin meal then we reveal through such an inability, only that we have no taste and are blind, deaf, and dumb to what High Culture offers us.

        Should comics have their own academic department? Good question. When Universities were fat & sassy and revenue was pouring in in unprecedented amounts, we created tons of silly programs & departments to please all kinds of clients & donors. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that among that ephemeral lot we might already find a Comics Department, perhaps housed right next to the Department of Silly Walks. Should we create one now? Only if we want to invite detailed legislative oversight — or if we’ve given up completely on the idea of a quality education.

        But please don’t misunderstand, I really enjoy Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers. I like Miller; I love Moebius. And sometimes munching on any and/or all of them can be fun, entertaining, relaxing, and amusing (it serves a particular appetite). But we should be under no illusion that they are anything but fast food (though they be excellent fast food at that).

  • Leslie J. Anderson

    As yes, remember when we read REAL literature and it wasn’t political at all…llike Hamlet.

  • Nick Sousanis

    Among other troubling things about this article, I’m particularly disturbed by this statement presented as fact, “While graphic novels are not capable of the same literary complexity as written books”. Says who? Someone who hasn’t spent much time learning about comics? As someone who has been teaching on comics and education for most of the last decade, wrote/drew the first doctoral dissertation in comics form at Columbia U, which was subsequently published by Harvard UP as their first comic (graphic novel if you prefer http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431), I can say I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what comics can do and find this piece painfully uninformed and about 25 years out of step with what’s going on with comics. I point to this post with analyses of a single comics page by my students to point to their complexity http://spinweaveandcut.com/aera17-analysis/, and I urge the author, to spend some time reading comics and seeking out people who work in them, teach them, write on them – to get a better understanding of what comics can do. (and at least take the time to look up how to spell Alison Bechdel’s name before trying to sum up her work – it is, for the record, one of the most sophisticated, complex, literary, and difficult works to wrestle with, well deserving of the National Book Critics Circle Award nomination and her subsequent MacArthur Genius award…) Thank you.

    • bdavi52

      That comic books can be fun, interesting, entertaining, even intriguing & challenging goes without saying. That illustration can be beautiful is equally true. And, when you combine them to tell a story — yes, no question, they can and do work well together. They always have.

      Who among us has not thrilled to N.C.Wyeth’s vision of Stevenson’s Treasure Island?

      Indeed, much of our great art is derived from Story, is used to not simply illustrate story but expand upon it, dimensionalize it (unflatten it) — to show it in a way which transcends mere illustration (perhaps which transcends story itself). Our stories, on the other hand, distill life — allow us to see it & understand it more purely, to feel & touch its essentials more cleanly. It opens our minds and our hearts to see the world, ourselves, & life itself (via word & the active engagement of the challenged imagination) through other eyes & other minds.

      And graphic novels do many of those same things. [Though by their very nature their partnered use of picture & text pre-chews what otherwise would be grist for the mill of our imaginations].

      In the end, sure, perhaps you’re right. Perhaps it’s unfair to insist that “graphic novels are not capable of the same literary complexity”as great literature. Just because they’ve demonstrated little to none of that “literary complexity” to date, doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t. Perhaps there is a Hemingway, a Fitzgerald, a Milton, a Dostoyevsky, a Shakespeare out there, writing and drawing their little hearts out. Maybe. And maybe one day we’ll celebrate their world-class accomplishments. But they’re not there now.

      And to use the ‘graphic novel’ (whichever one we choose) as the ‘solution’ for the literary appreciation portion of the Gen Ed’s is just flat out ridiculous, especially when the best we’ve ever created — works that have shone for centuries — are available instead. Akin to selecting Beatles’ song lyrics over Yeats to satisfy the English Poetry requirement. Or watching Saving Private Ryan as a substitute for 20th Century European History. Or spending 101 minutes in “Waking Life” rather than in Kirkegaard.

      But please don’t misunderstand. Graphic novels / comic books can be great, just as video game stories/art can be great. They can suck you in and tie you up, and we can wander the worlds they create for hour upon hour (though the wastelands of FallOut or the mystic realms of SkyRim). But in the Quality heirarchy, sort of like a MickeyD’s quarter-pounder, as satisfying & engaging as they can be, they still are not a 3 star Michelin meal. And truthfully, they don’t even pretend to be one. The mistake is in thinking these tasty quarter-pounders serve to educate & ‘enlarge’ the mind of a would be college graduate in the same Hamlet of Karamazov might.

      As for the ability of any hyper-dedicated scholar to spin dissertation-level analysis out of ephemera — no one one would deny that it happens constantly. After all it’s estimated that there are 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals, collectively publishing about 1.8–1.9 million articles a year. That it can be done;’ that it is done constantly tells us nothing about the quality of the ephemera the analysis chooses to address.

  • Nimisha

    “One reason is that the majority of graphic novels tend to advance political agendas. The graphic novels found on course syllabi and on reading lists often deal with controversial political issues such as social justice, immigration, gay rights, etc. This is part of a larger trend in the humanities, where focus often is on oppression and identity politics.”

    Have you read a book? You don’t think the “classic literature” you so highly praise stands for or tries to advance political agendas? Gaskell? Hardy? Dickens? Alcott? Shakespeare?

    “Part of the problem with substituting graphic novels for text-based books lies in the medium itself. Grappling with a text to understand its meaning is a more intellectually demanding task, and requires a greater use of one’s reasoning skills.”

    Do you have studies to link to that shows students losing reading comprehension skills from graphic novels vs. your “classic literature?” Because this statement is not a fact, it’s your opinion.

    “For example, a book, a movie, and a graphic novel can all tell the same story. Maus, for instance, is a graphic novel about a Jewish man’s experience as a holocaust survivor. In the story, the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Nazis are portrayed as cats. Admittedly, this vivid and captivating interplay between images and narrative text can be quite engaging and informative.

    But the same could be said about films. The film Life is Beautiful portrays the story of the holocaust just as accurately and vividly as Maus does.”

    So you’re saying…Life is Beautiful is about the Holocaust and so is Maus so they’re essentially the same thing but neither of them are a book so neither of them deserve to be taught?

    “Students, therefore, should not be led to believe that graphic novels are just as valuable as books from the literary canon. Reading a graphic novel like Fun Home is not a fitting replacement for Sense and Sensibility or Hamlet.”

    You realize that the literary canon is completely arbitrary, right? A bunch of old white people decided which texts adolescents should read at what age. This does not make it a decree of the highest order.

    “While graphic novels are not capable of the same literary complexity as written books”

    You really should be using “I believe” and “I think” in statements like these, because what you are saying is not a fact, but an opinion. Are you then saying that art in general isn’t as valuable as books because it’s not written down in word?

    “Neither should a comic book be chosen as a way to depart from the classic texts of Western civilization, but rather as a way to integrate the study of those texts with Western civilization’s classic images.”

    With this quote and really with your entire article, you’ve clearly shown that you do not have students’ best interests in mind. Graphic novels can be an accessible tool for students to learn and as a way for them to feel represented, because not all of us can see ourselves within your Western literary canon and that makes it pretty hard to connect with the material for those that aren’t white and privileged like you are.

  • Kathryn Kim

    Even the title of this article begs a reader to look beyond the supposed premise. Let’s break it down: “Graphic Novels are Trending in English Departments, and That’s a Problem” The main issue here is the term ‘Trending’, making an entire genre of complex literary works seem like a passing fad, looked down upon in a way typically attributed to youth culture. It speaks of Graphic Novels in such a way that implies that they will magically vanish once people tire of them, and also brings up a very interesting contradiction. If they will so quickly become irrelevant, why are they a threat to long-established English departments? A more fitting title for this article would be “Graphic Novels Broach Complex Subjects in Ways which Threaten my Ideals and Sense of Job Security”.

    What I see written between the lines of this article is fear, and an unwillingness to delve into the complex world of comics. Nowhere in the world will you find a history or piece of literature that is not somehow biased, be it culturally, politically, or socially. Humans have been combining the potency of pictorial representations with written word practically since the invent of art, and just as early, have been exerting their own agendas on those works.

    All histories are written with political agendas in mind, and all literature is written from the perspectives of authors constantly surrounded by culture and change. Moreover, the insinuation that comics or graphic novels courses would overtake the need for english courses is quite frankly naive and highlights the fear harbored in this article. Furthermore, the idea that comics cannot be considered academically rigorous enough to be used in undergraduate courses is foolish at best.

    Considering the ease with which people can consume literature in the form of comics an issue is also unsettling. What exactly is the problem with accessibility? Even Shakespeare’s plays were created with accessibility in mind for the time period in which they were created, as they were made expressly for the common person to enjoy. The virtue of sifting through a hard-to-read, esoteric text is not so much intellectually rigorous as it is a test in patience and research. Comics are a tool that can make some of the most challenging to breach ideas and discourses more easily digestible. And the lack of research on the graphic novels name-dropped in this article is appalling.

    Cheers,

    -A comic creator and comics class-taker

    • Fat_Man

      Juts because they exist and you like them does not make them worthy subjects for the education of our children. “Humanities” Depatments don’t want to teach Shakespeare because he is a SIX.HIRB and a DWEM. They have spit the bit when it comes to education. Shut them down.

    • Stanw909

      Did you really read the article. One of the Authors points is that reading texts (of probably most any kind , even dare I say Danielle Steele ) expands the thought processes of the brain. I disagree with the author including the Leftist agenda aspects of some graphic novels being pushed . This is unfortunately a byproduct of virtually all levels of education in America today and is probably already included in current literature classes . The greatest losers in dumbing down higher education are the customers (students ) who walk out of College with huge debt and a lousy education that leaves them ill prepared for life .

      • Stanw909

        I should add that I would like to think that graphic novels could be a gateway to interest young people into reading text based books , but supplanting the long accepted catalogue is not a step in the right direction. BTW pass it on http://www.projectguttenberg.com gives access to thousands of books FREE ! FREE ! way cheaper than a graphic novel .

  • Fat_Man

    Yet another reason to shut down “Humanities” Departments. They don’t want to teach Shakespeare because he is a SIX.HIRB and a DWEM.Never mind that his work, along with the King James Bible, is the foundation of the English language, and that it plunges the depths of the human heart. It is time too get these people off of the public payroll. Let them contemplate the really important questions, such as do you want to biggie size that?

    • Brett Hampton

      Elitism can be quite ugly. Especially when it’s incessantly repeated.

      • Fat_Man

        Hating academics and the academy is not elitist. It is self defense.

        • DrOfnothing

          Regardless of ideology, whoever feels compelled to hate those who love knowledge has surely embraced ignorance as their most cherished value.

          • Fat_Man

            Academics do not love knowledge, they love cushy jobs and spouting fashionable shibboleths.

          • DrOfnothing

            Yes, that’s certainly why so many of them spend seven years to get a Ph.D. and wrack up enormous debt in the process for the privilege of a 7-day, 70-hour work-week, a sub-$50k starting salary and no job security for the first 6-7 years (if ever). It might not be working in a coal-mine, but as far as professional careers go (e.g. law, medicine, business, lobbying, dentistry) it’s far from “cushy.” You really have absolutely no insight or knowledge about the profession, just shallow prejudice and loudly-proclaimed, completely ill-informed opinions.

          • Fat_Man

            Sadly, I know. I also don’t care. Your stupidity in wasting your time and money puts us under no obligation to you or any of your kind.

          • DrOfnothing

            You did not address my question. From whence do you get your knowledge of academia?

    • Ash O’Connell

      Really, tell me more about your linguistics or early literature degree because neither one of those texts are the foundation of the English language, unless we’re going to throw out the Beowulf poet, all the Anglo Saxon poets, the Gawain Poet, Chaucer, and basically all of medieval literature.

      • Fat_Man

        I am not going to throw out all of medieval literature, even though none of those people wrote in a language that anyone uses these days.

        What I want to throw out is you and all of your PhD friends and all of the pretentious bovine dejecta that is the modern American Academy. You are all a lot less than worthless because you are systematically indoctrinating our children in your politicized idiocy. Further you are living off the taxpayers hard work and contributing miseducation and utter nonsense in return

        • Jeremy M. Carnes

          Just to note, you used the word “foundation.” The foundation of a language does not in fact need to be spoken anymore. Just because it isn’t spoken, doesn’t mean that it is any less important for what has become modern English.

          • Fat_Man

            Pedantic garbage.

          • DrOfnothing

            Accurate analysis. You should try it!

        • DrOfnothing

          I challenge you find a single major English Dept. in the US that does not offer courses in Shakespeare as a central aspect of its curriculum. What’s considered “canon” is in a constant state of revision.

          Also, please reference where a linguist has argued that Shakespeare and the KJV Bible are the “foundation of the English language.” That is clearly impossible, since both were written in (early) modern English.

          • Fat_Man

            Drivel and evasion. We all know what is going on and it is game over bankruptcy and unemployment for the lot of you.

          • DrOfnothing

            “I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all markets.” (As You Like It, III,iv).

          • Ash O’Connell

            Exactly, I have to know six of his plays inside and out for my MA comprehensive exam! And he was also the only individual author course required for my BA.

        • Ash O’Connell

          It hilarious that someone that only wants pre1800s literature studied is calling someone else pretentious. And I’m living off of donor scholarship money and part time jobs, but please tell me more about my life.
          Also college students are adults, not children. And maybe if you had paid attention in any humanities class, you would know that just throwing in a bunch of SAT words doesn’t make an argument cohesive.

          • Fat_Man

            “I’m living off of donor scholarship money and part time jobs”

            Stop wasting your time and the money of others. Go get a real full time job, and stop wasting your time with academic garbage.

            College Students may be legally adults, but until the leave college and become self-supporting, they are children.

          • Ash O’Connell

            Academia is my real job, but I need my MA before I can become full time. I’m sorry you’re such a bitter person who thinks education is a waste of time and feels the need to be demeaning towards strangers on the internet. I’m happy with my life and that’s what matters.

          • Fat_Man

            Academia is nobody’s real job. I am bitter because parasites like you have destroyed the educational system. I rejoice in your impending bankruptcy. I will continue to have disdain for you (and all the rest of the parasites) until you quit your fantasy life and stop being a leech on the taxpayers.

          • Ash O’Connell

            May all that hate not cause you high blood pressure, bless your heart.

          • Fat_Man

            My blood pressure is fine, Thank you. There is only one person in the whole world that I hate. It is you. Please take it personally

          • DrOfnothing

            “Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch!” Richard III (I, ii).

          • Fat_Man

            Same to you, and the horse you rode in on.

          • DrOfnothing

            “I prefer, to thee, a misfiring blunderbuss, for it hath amusement by sound, and thee, only dull noise.”

          • Fat_Man

            And your little dog, too.

          • DrOfnothing

            “If thy words were birds, they would be as a cheap fowler’s, ill-chosen and poorly-pluck’t.”

          • Fat_Man
  • DrOfnothing

    Graphic novels are, without exception, taught in a paltry minority of instances, and even then only alongside traditional literature in today’s college curriculum. As has been exhaustively demonstrated in other conversations, the offerings of any type of “non-traditional” literature are vastly outweighed by the courses teaching the standard canon. Once again, I challenge anyone to find a single college or university English curriculum where the majority of courses do not fall within the standard canon of novels, plays, and short stories written by US or European authors writing before 1970. No one was able to do it before, and I’m certain no one can do it now.

    On to the specific point at hand.

    The Illiad was originally an epic poem, spoken rather than written. Would the author acknowledge the spoken word today as “literature?”

    Among the other forms of creative expression that were once dismissed by conservative critics and the general establishment as “simplistic,” “worthless,” “low culture,” or worse, we can include:

    Any play that wasn’t a tragedy (most of our modern dramas would have been labelled “comedy” by the Greeks)
    Shakespeare (which largely appealed to the masses, hence the bawdy humour and violence)
    Impressionism (Monet, Degas)
    Abstract Art ( “Cubism” was a derisive term)
    Pop Art (e.g. Andy Warhol)
    Any number of modern poets (e.g. William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsburg)

    I would say that to be dismissed and denigrated those with narrow minds and limited imaginations may well be the surest sign that a form of creative expression _does_ indeed have great value. One of the primary goals of art, after all, is to provoke a reaction!

    • Stanw909

      ” Graphic novels are, without exception, taught in a paltry minority of instances ” . For now .

      • DrOfnothing

        Look on the bright side–there are a lot more crappy novels produced every year than there are crappy graphic novels. You need to be a proper artist for the latter, but only barely literate for the former. Exhibit A: Dan Brown.

        • bdavi52

          Very true. The ability to actually draw does tend to filter a great many who otherwise get through (if the ability to use Word is the only qualifier).

    • William Murray

      A problem does not need to be widespread to merit attention, especially if it is just one instance of a more general malaise.

      But to get to your main point:

      “The Illiad was originally an epic poem, spoken rather than written. Would the author acknowledge the spoken word today as “literature?””

      This is easy: No, delivering a spoken performance of Homer to students would not be an adequate educational substitute for an in-depth reading of the text on their part.

      (Note that this is the real issue under discussion, and framing it in terms of your question is simply muddying the waters: Whether to call it “literature”, a mostly boring problem of categorization and word-usage, is largely beside the point.)

      Yes, the Iliad may have originated in its earliest forms as bard poetry (though see Knox’s introduction(s) to Homer for a nice summary — this issue is far less clear and settled than you are making it out to be).

      So what? Graduate students and professors in Classics spend approximately 0% of their time bothering with hearing historically reconstructed performances of The Iliad. What we have now is not that; what we have is the result of a long tradition of editorship that produced an incredible work of written literature — one that has provided ripe material to inspire philosophers, poets, and literary theorists for almost 3,000 years, beginning with Plato himself.

      As for the rest of what you say, this just seems to be a smear. Nobody called graphic novels “simplistic,” “worthless, or “low culture.” You just made that up.

      And even if conservatives did claim that, I have no idea how this somehow makes them guilty by association with critics of Cubism or Warhol. Again, you conjured this out of nowhere. (Nevermind the fact that you anachronistically assume we can meaniningfully label 19th-century critics of Impressionism as “conservatives” in a way that is intelligibly related to modern conservatives.)

      This is just lazy.

  • Stanw909

    https://www.gutenberg.org. thousands of free books.The only cost is a little brain power. Way cheaper than big comic books .Sorry graphic novels .

  • James Bucky Carter
  • Gwen

    The comics medium requires advanced interpretive skills that take quite some time to master. For instance, in comics, the narrative is forwarded principally by images, with words playing a secondary role. I typically begin my comics courses by asking students to read out loud pages from a “silent” or wordless comic such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. Almost immediately, students recognize the connections that Tan has embedded among the panels on the page — a central feature of sequential art, and they are then better prepared to read a comic in which words are integrated in a variety of ways to enhance the visual narrative. Students also study “braiding,” a concept best elucidated by comics scholar Thierry Groensteen (The System of Comics, 1999; Comics and Narration, 2010). Braiding refers to the significant repetition of images, layout, color, and other visual effects to enhance meaning. Braiding underscores that every panel in a comic is in dialogue not only with other panels on a page, but with panels across a comic. Anyone with even a fleeting experience with poetry will see how studying comics form could strengthen a student’s understanding of poetic form. However, comics stand on their own as a valuable communicative form, one in which various levels of time can be depicted simultaneously, and in which issues of representation are placed centrally in front of the reader, demanding a confrontation with issues are often too sensitive to render in language. In Maus, which has been mentioned derisively in the comments here, Spiegelman is able to show on one page: his father’s memories of a specific event in Auschwitz, his father in the present day, agonizing over the event, and Art, his son, sitting alongside him, being impacted by the geopolitical and familial fallout of the Holocaust. And all of this information can be realized without the use of overt narration. The bottom line: If one wishes to criticize a medium such as comics, please at least spend time reading up on the medium, reading examples of the medium, and reading the scholarship and pedagogy associated with it.

    • DrOfnothing

      Game, set, match.

    • Ash O’Connell

      Marry me! I’m a comic scholar focused on narrative and adaption and have neither the patience nor the ability to reign in my defensive sarcasm to write an eloquent response; so bless you.

  • Ed05267

    By reducing exposure to classical literature we are losing more & more abilities related to logic, reason, analysis and understanding. Language has many capabilities but by not being exposed to and not using specific words of nuance and description we diminish conversation and debate.

    Irony, sarcasm, satire, parody, literary allusions, similes, metaphors, and humor are rhetorical tools that are only effective when understood and recognized by those with a broad enough education to be able to perceive and appreciate depth and meaning. This eliminates most of those with knee-jerk reactions to anything that even slightly implies that their politically correct stances on things that are “universal truths” (because Everybody Knows…) are actually based on wishing and hoping.

  • Nick Wyche

    Wow… just a ridiculous, blinkard, POV. Argue something is shallow and undeserving of study/merit based on content, fine. Throwing away an entire medium is ridiculous. I agree that graphic fiction should not replace nor supplant prose fiction, but this is still a very narrow-minded approach to an entire medium.
    Just like novels, film, and television, there is worthwhile content and worthless content. No one serious would reduce literature to Harlequin romances or Robert Ludlum thrillers, film to Adam Sandler movies, or television to the Kardashians. To be reductivist about the medium of comics as a storytelling medium and it’s worth is ridiculous and beneath a true intellect.

    • William Murray

      What part of the article suggested “throwing away an entire medium”?

      In fact, the article mentioned very specifically that graphic novels ought to be given their own place in a university setting, perhaps in the form of upper division elective courses. This makes a lot of sense, both for the graphic novel’s sake and the student’s sake. (For students, so that they do not leave college only ever having read ‘Bitch Planet’; for graphic novels, so that they can be subjected to an in-depth treatment as literature and as art.)

      It is mind-boggling to me how entirely oblivious a number of the commenters on this thread are. It is almost is if they cannot read.