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In the past years, the noise about graphic novels has been constantly increasing. A graphic novel is basically a novel in comic-strip format, a book made up of comics’ content. However, they are not the same as comics. Unlike comic books, graphic novels are published in book format, they can be fiction or non-fiction and usually tell a stand-alone story with a complex plot. Some graphic novels hold jointly a sequence of comics and are from period to period conceived as novels alongside comparable features such as character progress and several report lines. A graphic novel uses the interplay of text and illustrations in a comic-strip format to notify a story. In place of relying on just text to craft a narrative, it uses graphical agents such as panels, constructions, speech/thought balloons, etc. in a sequential method to craft and evoke a report in a reader's mind. Examples of some top notch graphic novels are Alice in Sunderland, Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (www.famousauthors.org). Simply put, graphic novels are, plainly described, book-length comics. From time to time they notify a solitary, continuous narrative from early page to last; from period to period they are collections of shorter reports or individual comic strips.
Meanwhile, novels are long, fictional narratives that describe intimate human experiences. Novels in the present period normally make use of a literary prose style. Novels are usually long and convoluted and deal exceptionally alongside human experiences across a normally related sequence of events. A great example can be derived from a beautiful novel that I read recently titled ‘The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever’ by author Julia Quinn. The novel beautifully described human emotions as such; “It wasn’t rational. It didn’t make sense. He didn’t even know if he was scared to love her or scared that she loved him. He didn’t know if he was scared at all. Maybe he was just dead on the inside, his heart too battered from his first marriage to behave in a logical, normal manner.” This is exactly what novels and pure classical literature is all about. Such sentences and phrases can’t be found in graphic novels and this is what differentiates those two.
As for short stories, they are simply stories with a fully developed theme but significantly shorter and less elaborate than a novel. Edgar Allan Poe, in his essay 'The Philosophy of Composition,' said that a short story must to be elucidate in one sitting, anywhere from a half hour to two hours. In present fiction, a short story can scope from 1,000 to 20,000 words (www.cliffsnotes.com). Famous examples of such short stories are; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault. Basically, short stories are full form classic literature with fewer words and pages compared to elaborate novels. Short stories are mostly for children, young readers or those who are very new to reading. We can all remember reading books such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid when we were small children, right?
Now that we know what graphic novels, novels and short stories are, and what are the differences between these three types of reading materials, we come to the main question of this report which is whether graphic novels are just as good as novels and short stories as reading materials and whether graphic novels should be included in the reading lists for literature courses in Malaysian schools.
Defining Graphic Novels
The statement given is: Graphic novels are just as good as novels and short stories as reading material. We should include graphic novels in our list of reading for literature courses in Malaysian schools. My stand is against this statement. I do not agree that graphic novels are equivalent to full form classic novels and short stories and I definitely do not agree that they should be included as a part of literature courses in our schools.
Before that, let’s look at what exactly defines literature. My personal opinion is that something is called literature when the text is acclaimed as a piece of art in some way. Literature can be formulaic but generally the idea is that it has structure that matters, it has characters who reflect the human condition, the writing is intricate and detailed to perfectly create a beautiful memory in the mind of the reader. Authentic literature is defined as narrative and expository texts that are written in the original, natural language of the authors. The texts are not written with any controlled vocabulary or rewritten to achieve a particular score according to a readability formula (Routman, 1991). Basically, literature is a term used to describe written and sometimes spoken material. Most commonly, literature refers to works of the creative imagination, including poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction, and in some instances, journalism, and song. Literature can also be defined as the contact of thoughts, ideas, and feelings across the composed word. It is a deal of an extremely confidential memo amid one individual, the author, and the readers. The bare-bones, Merriam-Webster dictionary refers to literature as writings in prose or verse.
So now, back to my stand against graphic novels being considered to be authentic reading material and also against them being included in literature courses. We previously looked at many definitions of literature and I can tell you one thing that is not literature: graphic novels.
Graphic Novels and Their Relation to Literature
I strongly believe that graphic novels lack qualities of literature even though there are a number of researches arguing on their benefits. Many educators and librarians are also reluctant to join the graphic novel fest (The Alan Review, 2005). Graphic actually just art, not works of literature. How is it possible for a book that is so heavy on images to be studied like a traditional novel? (Ryan, Plymouth State University, 2017).
I believe that literature should be something that consists of words. It is no doubt that graphic novels have words in them most people point to this as proof that graphic novels are literature. However, just because a graphic novel has this one single criteria doesn't make it literature. Let’s say there are potatoes in chicken curry, but that doesn’t make it potato curry just because a tiny bit of potatoes are there. For instance, if a book is 90 percent pictures and 10 percent words, it is no longer literature. Although a graphic novel contains certain literary elements, when we look at it as a whole, it is not literature.
Let's look at it this way - a movie, by the definition of literature given earlier, isn't a piece of literature. Movies may very well be executed off of literary works and the scripts themselves consist of literature elements, but the movie itself isn't. However, if the movie is being watched with subtitles, can it now be considered a piece of literature? The answer is no. Without a doubt, every movie is a work of art and a noble creation on its own, but it's not equivalent to literature. In terms of being educational, telling a story or conveying news, movies serve just about the same purpose as book, but they do it using a different medium. Graphic novels function in the same way. Their effects may be same as a book full of words, but they aren’t really full of words. Graphic novels are based on visuals, just like movies. They convey the story line and get their points through these visuals and images but the words only act as an auxiliary force. A great example would be the Harry Potter books by J.K.Rowling. The original novels are full of words and words only. Would you say those are equivalent to the movies? Definitely not.
Any real literature book consisting mainly of words works in the opposite manner. Some of them may have pictures and graphics to add to the message the author is trying to convey through their words, but the visuals act merely as supporting elements and the message can still be conveyed even without those images. Therefore, I can strongly say that actual words have to be the key mode of expression for the messages being portrayed in order to be counted as proper literature. An easy way to determine this is by looking at how the actions being carried out by the characters are described in the book. Most of the time, graphic novels’ images and visuals present movement or fighting using a sequence of pictures to portray those actions with very little use of words, if any at all. However, in a piece of authentic literature, actions as well as everything else have to be portrayed using words. Another beautiful example from The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever is: “Miranda pressed her lips together and kept her eyes firmly on her book. Olivia sniffed and tried to look affronted”.
To conclude this point, graphic novels don't even qualify to be judged as great literary works because they deal so little with letters and words unlike great works of literature that make use of wide vocabulary and even thousands of words to be produced into what they are. Graphic novels are not literature, they are sequential art. Hence, they should not be included as a part of literature courses where the students are supposed to learn about authentic literature.
The Impact of Visual Media
Although graphic novels are spoken greatly of for their ability to grab the attention of adolescents, mainly students, it is evident that they don’t possess the same artistic merit as traditional literature. Given students’ limited time in colleges or even schools, it is more important to present and challenge their minds with more intellectually demanding readings. This is principally real when a student’s general education course may be the only exposure to literature that he or she receives during college.
As mentioned earlier, real literature uses words to tell a story. Yes, it is true that the graphic novel also uses words to also tell a story. However, without the accompanying illustrations, the story would be incomplete at best, and almost certainly incoherent. Graphic novels as well as their readers depend greatly on visuals to understand the story, or facts, or anything else that the book is about.
The point is, due to the high usage of such visuals, I believe that graphic novels kill one’s imagination along with their creative thinking skills. Personally, when I read a graphic novel (which I only did once in my lifetime and chose to not repeat as I did not enjoy it), I feel like my imagination becomes stagnant and has been disabled. I feel as though books give me elucidations that I can use to create characters and places in my mind. Grovel.org, a website that reviews graphic novels, argues that a graphic version of an H.P. Lovecraft novel, in part, defeats Lovecraft's own inventiveness of horror fiction, which was that the scariest stuff is best left to the imagination.
For example, I read the best-selling novel from the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan titled Percy Jackson & The Last Olympian. In this novel, the author describes the character Annabeth as a teenage girl with curly blonde hair and startling grey eyes. I personally imagined her having wavy honey blonde hair with really big eyes. Graphic novels don’t really give me this opportunity. After some time, when I got the opportunity to read the graphic novel version of the same book, the illustrations showed her with braided hair (although the colour was blonde) and much smaller eyes. I personally remember feeling the tiniest bit disappointed when the image did not match my imagination and for a brief moment I even thought “oh my goodness why does she look so bad?”
I also find graphic novels harder to understand personally as there is often so much going on with the multitude of images and speech bubbles everywhere. With colour and outline often showing who is speaking and in which tense, I find it much harder to keep up with the story and not just guess via the images. A great deal of the fun of reading is imagining the characters for yourself. With graphic novels there is very little room for such imagination and interpretation Therefore, I will strongly argue that graphic novels not the best way of reading that would help children or adolescents to stimulate their minds and develop as good readers.
Negative Impact of Graphic Novels
I think that reading these types of books dismisses the idea of quality literature and might it shows a negative impact on youngsters’ education. Graphic novels give very minimal opportunity for imagination and they are not filled with authentic, bombastic vocabulary. At this point, I can say students cannot learn new words or expand their vocabulary since words are limited in graphic novels. Although students graphic novels absorbing, their vocabulary level and themes do not intellectually challenge students. How are school students going to be ready or college or how are college students going to be ready for a successful career if they are limited this way?
Hence, we come to my stand that graphic novels should not be included as a part of literature courses in Malaysian schools if the main idea of schools is to produce intellectuals at all. I personally still don’t contemplate that graphic novels beat general books as there seems to be a lack of your own imagination being used. The characters are already designed and shown and there are no real descriptions so that you can create your own image in your head.
Access and Appropriateness
Educators may struggle to find enough graphic novels for an entire classroom as they may not be available in local bookstores, especially in large quantities in Malaysian bookstores since the idea and concept of graphic novels is still quite new to a still-developing country like Malaysia. Most educational boards do not yet consider them suitable texts for literary or historical study. Additionally, some graphic novels portray scenes of violence. Besides that, choosing a graphic novel for study in a classroom that appeals to all students may prove difficult. Some readers may find graphic novels more appealing but some would not find them valuable and would prefer traditional reading methods. Therefore, I stand by my statement that graphic novels should not be included in our education systems.
To conclude my arguments, although there are many researches and reasoning that try to portray the benefits of graphic novels for young readers just because they are more entertaining and appealing, I will not agree they are just as good as short stories and novels as quality reading material. This is because as I had mentioned before, graphic novels are in no way actual literature. They are just a different, modified version of comics, full of images and very little words and vocabulary. I do not question the artistic integrity of graphic novels, but when something strays so far from the use of words and depends so heavily on visuals, it can no longer be considered actual literature. Graphic novels certainly possess the potential to become great artistic works. They just can't do it under the name of literature, and therefore they should never be a part of literature courses like I had mentioned earlier. In my point of view, comparing graphic novels to traditional literature just doesn’t make sense.
Moreover, graphic novels are not ideal for development of the brain and mind since they limit the readers’ imaginations and paint the pictures that the readers are supposed to paint for themselves. When you read an actual book consisting primarily of words, you are automatically bound to construct that unique world in your mind. You get to deeply enjoy the descriptions, the actions, the little details about each and every character or setting and build your own vision of what the narrative is. This is simply because even the most detailed and thoroughly descriptive author cannot control the mind of every single reader. Graphic novels on the other hand, allow none of these abstract pleasures and stimulators.
Reading should be informational and stimulating to the mind, it is not a movie or song for pure entertainment. People are free to read graphic novels, but that does not make them equivalent to novels or shorts stories or any other form of authentic literature. We are not obligated to be confined to just one type of reading, but literature courses should only have real literature in them and graphic novels, in my opinion, are not real literature. Again, I would like to repeat my stand against graphic novels being considered to be just as good as novels and short stories. I do not agree that graphic novels should be included as a part of literature courses in our schools.
- Graphic Novels, Barbara Eder - Comics Und Graphic Novels – 2016
- Virginia Woolf’s Definition Of the Short Story, Christine Reynier - Virginia Woolf’s Ethics Of the Short Story – 2009
- World Literature in Graphic Novels and Graphic Novels As World Literature, Monika Schmitz-Emans - Tensions in World Literature – 2018
- The Term 'Graphic Novel' Has Had A Good Run. We Don't Need It Anymore, Glen Weldon - https://www.npr.org/2016/11/17/502422829/the-term-graphic-novel-has-had-a-good-run-we-dont-need-it-anymore
- Tigerprints.clemson.edu, https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2352&context=all_dissertations
- View Dermidy, Graphic Novels: Pros and Cons, Read and Drink Tea, https://readanddrinktea.com/2018/07/06/graphic-novels-pros-and-cons/
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