On Graphic Novels

Persepolis

This argument begins about two years ago while in my Senior Literature course at Rowan University. My beloved professor assigned Persepolis and I think he still regrets it many years later. We were all graduating senior literature students so we were supposed to be able to control the conversation ourselves and focus it on parsing every sentence for meaning. It did not take long for the debate to just deteriorate into half the class decrying the use of graphic novels as legitimate literature. The other half unabashedly defending them as equally important to the literary world just in a new and different way. They seem to forget that the novel was only recently embraced as the primary mode of philosophizing. It was merely mindless medieval romances but grew to importance and slowly became included in serious academic studies. My comrades and I were arguing that soon graphic novels would have to be included.

I studied art before I became a literature major. I understand how powerful an image can be. In Persepolis there is a particularly moving image that is so simple but Satrapi conveys a variety of emotions with just one simple blacked out box. It comes after the discussion of her favorite uncle being taken away by the government never to return. Sometimes words can diminish a moment and that little black box said more than pages of sentimental words could ever attempt. The other students did not see it that way. They claimed that using cartoons to express an emotion is dumbing down literature and therefore ruining us as a culture. All I have to say is: “That’s ignorant.”  Visual art existed long before the written word as art. I just do not understand how you can separate the two mediums just because they are using cartoons instead of realistic renderings. How is it any different than the works of modern artists like Keith Haring or even Andy Warhol. Both of whom use very simple images to convey deeper messages. Did these two artists dumb down art? Or did they take in a new and necessary direction? I think the better argument is made for the latter.

So, how do you feel about graphic novels? Are they important to the literary lexicon or just childish rubbish best left to super heroes? For me, they are an important step in both art and literature. I hope that they can be added to a curriculum soon. And thank you Professor Plourde for including a graphic novel and allowing us to yell and stamp our feet without interruption. I will always be indebted to you for not admonishing me for calling that girl that I could not stand narrow minded. It felt so great.

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