Graphic Novel Literacy
Unlike Pictures, written words constantly flow beyond the framework of a page: a book’s covers do not establish the boundaries of a text, which never exists entirely as a physical whole, only in snatches or summaries. We can, in one instant of thought, conjure up a line of “The Ancient Mariner” or a twenty-word summary of Crime and Punishment, but not the entire books; their existence lies in the steady stream of words that holds them together, flowing from beginning to end from cover to cover, in the time we grant these books for their reading.
Pictures, however, present themselves to our consciousness instantaneously, held by their frame – a cave wall or a museum wall – within a specific surface.
- Alberto Manguel Reading Pictures p10-12
The placement of pictures in a specific order to convey meaning is a form of communication that has existed for many years. The form’s most obvious incarnation today is the graphic novel. Many books have been compiled on the subject of the medium’s history and several suggestions for its possible origin have been postulated but neither of these things will be debated here. What sets this form of communication apart from others will be the focus here, specifically whether or not the reading of graphic novels constitutes a form of literacy in its own right.
The epigraph above suggests a firm line between the picture and the textual that I found intriguing, given that the nature of graphic novels to use both words and pictures to tell their story. Are these works only cunningly illustrated stories or something else? The necessary first step to answering this and other questions will be to define some of the terms that surround the medium. Comparisons with other forms of media and a detailed examination of the medium’s mechanics, including my own perspective as a life long reader of the form will follow. All these points will cohere to show that the reading of sequential art does in fact stand as a discipline apart from other forms of literacy.
This paper was written by Warren Maynes
for LIS 585:
Multimedia for Young People and has been