Should Comic Books and Graphic Novels be Considered ‘Art?’

A friend of mine wrote a very interesting editorial regarding comic books and graphic novels as a form of art. I highly suggest that you check it out at frequency: x2k.

He asks the question near the end, “should comic books and graphic novels be considered art?” Obviously, my response is whole-heartedly and emphatically: yes!

And I say so for many of the same reasons that I hold television in high regard as a storytelling medium. The medium was originally seen as being intended for children in much the same way TV was seen as a brain-rotting waste of time, even though the programming discussed themes and issues that children would not really fully comprehend.

Comic books and graphic novels do the same thing, and always have: Captain America would fight the Nazis for more of a reason than they were “the enemy,” and the prejudice discussed in any X-Men comic ever written has represented civil rights, racial inequality, and LGBTQ issues (depending on which era of X-Men you’re reading.

While I wholly disagree with Alan Moore’s taking his name off of every film adaptation of his work, I understand it. He thinks that the graphic novel is a purer form of art that film and mass media bastardizes. I think that the comic book is a medium that is just coming into its own right. I think the film explosion of adaptations has done nothing but increase comic books as art, and I think that more people are seeing them as a legitimate storytelling medium than even twenty years ago.

There are always going to be some people who see comics and graphic novels and being for kids, and I think that’s a shame; however it is not unprecedented. It took many decades for television to really come into its own, and comics have been around even longer than TV. The difference comes in how readily accepted television was by everyone because there was programming for all ages whereas comics were very much a niche market until recently. As John mentions in is article, the Pride and Prejudice comic is a step in the right direction for being considered legitimate literature. Popular novelists such as Stephen King, Jim Butcher, Laurel K. Hamilton, Dean Koontz, and Orson Scott Card are already publishing adaptations of their novels into comics, with some entirely new stories being told visually.

I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I had not had a professor my freshman year of college make me buy Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a text for my English 111 class. The next semester, Dr. Buchanan taught an entire special topics composition class using graphic novels–Daredevil, The Essential Amazing Spider-man, The Dark Knight Returns (a second time for those who didn’t take the first semester with him), and others such as Scott McCloud’s and Will Eisner’s seminal texts on the production of comics. He thought there was something about comics that made it worth studying, and he passed that on to me. He was a few years ahead of the curve, as the comic adaptation and popularity boom had only just begun with the first Spider-man film. When he passed away the next semester, my future was rooted because I saw for the first time a legitimate academic career in something that I loved and had loved my entire life.

Where do you fall in on this debate? Are comics a legitimate form of art, or are they still kids-stuff that has no worth in the realm of academics or higher thought?

Comments

  1. Longasc

    Comics are definitely a form of art. You just cannot compare them to literature or film, the combination of text, images and often references to our world or other comics makes them what they are.

    There are also huge quality differences, some comics have more the level of trivial literature (… I love trivial literature!), while others have more depth.

    The issue I see is to define the border between comic and graphic novel. Graphic novels are usually rather serious, but not all comics are slapstick.

    I think comics are a legitimate form of art. What I would like to call failed art is the many film adaptions of comics, transporting a story from one medium to another sometimes does not work out too well.

  2. J.Ayers

    "What I would like to call failed art"

    I love that term! It explains so much so well.

    As for Alan Moore, I used to think it odd, him taking his name off the movies, it really comes down to a choice of simplicity. Not that I agree or disagree. It is just that his name being on the work, while giving him a share of the profits, gives him a share of responsibility should the studio do something immoral or illegal with his work (like stealing pieces of someone's copyrighted work for the movie). And what the studio does is not his fault.

    What it boils down to, is he did not write those stories to be films, therefor he believes once it becomes a film, it is no longer his story.

    Plus, he generally signs all the other monetary rights to the comic's artists because artist do tend to get shafted a lot in the biz. That is a fairly noble gesture.

  3. We Fly Spitfires

    Anything is a legitimate "art" form depending on what you classify "art" as. I hate it when people say comics or graphic novels are childish or silly because it's just plain incorrect – often they have more in-depth characterization and stories than many books or films.

    The media used is only a device – is what comes out that's important.

  4. Ben Miller

    There are stories that create a connection to the reader no matter what medium they are in. I've been lucky to be exposed to some of the great graphic novel works. I think the book that really pushed me into "Comics are a great storytelling medium" camp is The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness. That book had an imapct, which is saying alot for stick figure characters.