Welcome to another Comics Thorsday! Today we’re going to consider an idea: comics as literature. Traditionally, comics have been regarded as part of the pop culture. However, belonging to pop culture does not give a great status, since high arts are those that are better considered by society as a whole. Thus, novels are regarded as literature, and comic books are not. But, could we see comics as literature? I argue that they are. Art Spiegelman is the author of Maus, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. It’s not an easy read since it depicts the Holocaust. Beyond the hard topics it touches, if you read it, you’ll discover a masterpiece. But can other graphic novels and comics be thought or seen as literature? I think so.
To critic comics from a literary point of view isn’t that easy, even if the comic we have in front of us might seem light in contents. The nature of the medium, a mix of pictures and writing, makes it special and more complicated than meets the eye. Not only words have to be analyzed but also how panels are presented, and the artwork as well. Comics are a flexible medium with limitations that can be used to narrate incredible stories that can be as compelling, or even more, than literary works such as bestselling novels. Hence, analyzing a comic book could end up being more compelling and challenging than analyzing a novel.
Comic books can be very enriching if read from a literary point of view. However, we must remember that they are more than just words: they are also art. They are flexible, so they can depict time slowly or quickly. You could have in one panel the depiction of Caesar’s assassination, and in the next futuristic technology similar to Star Trek. Thus, the use of other elements apart from words and pictures, like the disposition of panels and how onomatopoeia has been integrated into the page, gives us subtle clues about the narrative and the story.
The different layers of comic books make of them a literary medium in which we use more than one point of view to deciphering or analyzing the work. It could be argued that most of the contents are already given to us, giving almost no space for imagination. However, the usage of panels and the gaps that must be filled from panel to panel fuel the readers imagination. Including sounds. The sound is missing from comics, but it is represented by onomatopoeia or even drawings. This triggers memories, imagination and shared cultural cues among the readers.
So, can comics be considered literature? Yes, since they are literature. They are not an obvious medium that can be easily dismissed as works for children. We must remember that Tom Sawyer, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter are targeting children, but that doesn’t make of them less of literary masterpieces.