Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Graphic Novels as ... Literature?

Several years ago, I listened as a colleague presented a graphic novel version of Beowulf to our department coordinator, hoping to incorporate the text into our college prep classes.  The catch was that she wanted to replace the Burton Raffel translation of the epic poem, and use the graphic novel in place of the original text, which many believe is just too complex and overwhelming for the average reader.  The department had to say no, of course, as the substitution of "a comic book" for the thousand year old classic poem simply wouldn't fly with our community.  However, there is not necessarily anything wrong with a supplement.  It could be used in addition to the text - though costs can prohibit such luxury.  That wasn't the only time graphic novels came up in regards to the traditional high school curriculum.  A colleague mentioned a graphic novel as an addition to our AP Language and Composition class.  It was similarly dismissed by more veteran teachers who worry that the strict expectations of the curriculum and the "Lang exam" precluded such innovative and multi-genre approaches to literature - and literacy.  That concern, however, may be changing.

With the rise of the common core standards, teachers are finding it easier to expand the definition of literacy.  The graphic novel is becoming an accepted - even a respected - genre, and that may enable it to work its way into the curricula of English departments across the country.  Certainly, there is something admirable and viable about the art form of graphic novels.  While the truly pedantic and elitist will continue to dismiss its significance, others who opened up the the literary nature of popular culture years ago have come to accept its place.  Certainly, as my department noted years ago, the graphic novel should not replace the novel or poem or play.  But it can take its place aside the classic forms.  Graphic novels can be truly insightful and intricate in the way they blend the oral, written, and visual.  And we should not dismiss their ability to engage reluctant readers in great narratives.  They do require a skill in appreciating the message and the medium, and they can be analyzed critically.

So, it's not a bad thing for the English classrooms to "embrace the graphic novel as a learning tool."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If we consider stage and cinematic interpretations of a classic text as good supplements, why not graphic novels? It also opens the discussion to how the different media support or change the interpretations of the text. What are the affordances or limitations of each?