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Old 11-12-2005, 03:45 PM   #1
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Are Graphic Novels Literature?

So..I just got back from a trip to Borders with my kids and was struck by how large their graphic novels section has become, compared to the relatively small "cult following" niche these titles used to occupy. Although my own kids are too young to have much of an interest in these yet, I frequently hear from friends with older kids that their teens and preteens are devouring this type of book--and specifically manga--often to the near-exclusion of anything else. So, I was just sort of thinking ahead to a time when my kids' reading interests will be more peer-influenced than they are now, and musing about whether I ought to have any concerns about the apparently addictive allure of these titles.

Now, I've read some wonderful graphic novels that I recommend to people all the time--Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Joe Sacco's Palestine and Art Spiegelman's Maus all come to mind. And I wasn't totally befuddled by the emergence of the anime craze that manga seem to be riding on, because I watched some of those kitschy '70s anime like Battle of the Planets myself as a kid--in fact, those were the only shows besides Star Trek that I didn't ridicule as "baby stuff. " (Or maybe it was more that those were the only shows my older brothers wouldn't ream me for watching. )

But...having spent some time glancing over the manga at Borders, and peeking at what my friends' kids are reading, I do have a few concerns about them. Again, I'm thinking about this specifically in the context of knowing that so many kids read A LOT of them--I'm not particularly concerned about my kids occasionally enjoying them, as one small part of a balanced reading diet. I'm more wondering about how advisable it would be to let my kids get really, really into them, should that start to happen.

1) Manga seem, on the whole, to be very insubstantial in terms of plot, character development, demands on the reader's imagination, etc. While I appreciate that almost all forms of reading build vocabulary and "help instill a lifetime love of books," my feeling is that some of the other, equally (more?) important benefits of reading--analytical skills, moral imagination, ability to express oneself well in writing, ability to take the germ of an idea and develop it into something full and powerful--only come from reading works with much longer, richer and denser narrative content.

2) Judging from the rate my 7 year old is currently devouring intermediate and young adult sci-fi at, my guess is he would/will be able to finish most manga in a couple hours or less. Nothing per se wrong with that, but these books are not cheap and they don't (yet, anyway) seem to be extensively carried by our local library or used bookstores.

3) While most bookstores seem to shelve all manga titles together regardless of subgenre, quite a few of them look to me to be quite inappropriate for anyone under 15 or so. I'm not the sort to think a 12 year old will be irretrievably traumatized by a book whose protagonist says "Fuck" occasionally, or expresses a little sexual desire here and there, but some of these books frankly look more like they belong in the softcore erotica section. Or even the vanilla S&M section (OK, so Borders doesn't have one of those).

But maybe I'm just being a pop-culture-illiterate snob. Or making much ado over nothing.

Perspectives anyone?

On a side note, I'm also curious to know whether these books are just as popular elsewhere as they are in the US.
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Old 11-12-2005, 04:16 PM   #2
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What you're dealing with, in part, is a difference in culture. Manga, for the most part, is written for and read by adults in Japan. As such, some of the subject matter will be of questionable suitability for younger readers. Some of it, additionally, is downright perverted, but, hopefully, most of this will never have crossed the Pacific Ocean.

As someone who enjoys anime/manga, to a degree, I'm forced to admit that most of it is shit. But I also have this attitude towards American films; most of it is shit, but a very small percentage can be very well made and downright beautiful. I'd pretty much suggest being proactive and doing your research ahead of time in terms of what is good and artistically worthwhile.

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Old 11-12-2005, 06:50 PM   #3
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I think that graphic novels like 'V For Vendetta', 'Sin City' (which is actually a whole set of different books of which only 3 were put into the film, The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard and The Big Fat Kill', 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' uses a lot of 19th Century adventure/sf literature sources and integrates them into a fantasy world.

Alan Moore and Frank Miller

Now I think that these were all written for a different audience than Manga ~ but from that sort of pool I think that they classify as literature.
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attitude towards American films; most of it is shit, but a very small percentage can be very well made and downright beautiful
I think that is true of pretty much every film industry on the planet, but if it is a question of exposure I would say we are all exposed to too many bad American films.
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Old 11-12-2005, 08:09 PM   #4
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I think all kids inevitably go through a "garbage" phase of reading choices. And here I'm talking about manga/anime novels, not graphic novels some of which, as A_Wanderer pointed out, are quite complex. A History of Violence was a graphic novel, and Frank Miller's 300 is going to be a movie as well.

But anyway...when my sister was growing up, "Goosebumps" were all the rage. They were incredibly trashy and very violent. R.L. Stine's young adult stuff could be pretty racy too. I myself read an embarressing number of Star Wars books.

My parents were really upset she was reading that stuff and were sure it was hindering her ability and tastes. But then suddenly she dumped it and started reading "Julie of the Wolves" and other such worthy books. And now she reads Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.

So, I think just keep an eye on it. Your son sounds like he enjoys reading thicker books just as much, so I doubt he will completely give up substantial books for manga. Even if he does, it will probably be just a phase and then he'll want something else. But I would keep an eye out on the sexual content--as melon said, some of it can get pretty out there.

And as for cost, I don't buy manga so I don't know, but Amazon.com has a great selection of popular used books, cheap. People might be unloading their collections.
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Old 11-12-2005, 08:28 PM   #5
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Re: Are Graphic Novels Literature?

Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
So..I just got back from a trip to Borders with my kids and was struck by how large their graphic novels section has become, compared to the relatively small "cult following" niche these titles used to occupy. Although my own kids are too young to have much of an interest in these yet, I frequently hear from friends with older kids that their teens and preteens are devouring this type of book--and specifically manga--often to the near-exclusion of anything else. So, I was just sort of thinking ahead to a time when my kids' reading interests will be more peer-influenced than they are now, and musing about whether I ought to have any concerns about the apparently addictive allure of these titles.

Now, I've read some wonderful graphic novels that I recommend to people all the time--Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Joe Sacco's Palestine and Art Spiegelman's Maus all come to mind. And I wasn't totally befuddled by the emergence of the anime craze that manga seem to be riding on, because I watched some of those kitschy '70s anime like Battle of the Planets myself as a kid--in fact, those were the only shows besides Star Trek that I didn't ridicule as "baby stuff. " (Or maybe it was more that those were the only shows my older brothers wouldn't ream me for watching. )

But...having spent some time glancing over the manga at Borders, and peeking at what my friends' kids are reading, I do have a few concerns about them. Again, I'm thinking about this specifically in the context of knowing that so many kids read A LOT of them--I'm not particularly concerned about my kids occasionally enjoying them, as one small part of a balanced reading diet. I'm more wondering about how advisable it would be to let my kids get really, really into them, should that start to happen.

1) Manga seem, on the whole, to be very insubstantial in terms of plot, character development, demands on the reader's imagination, etc. While I appreciate that almost all forms of reading build vocabulary and "help instill a lifetime love of books," my feeling is that some of the other, equally (more?) important benefits of reading--analytical skills, moral imagination, ability to express oneself well in writing, ability to take the germ of an idea and develop it into something full and powerful--only come from reading works with much longer, richer and denser narrative content.

2) Judging from the rate my 7 year old is currently devouring intermediate and young adult sci-fi at, my guess is he would/will be able to finish most manga in a couple hours or less. Nothing per se wrong with that, but these books are not cheap and they don't (yet, anyway) seem to be extensively carried by our local library or used bookstores.

3) While most bookstores seem to shelve all manga titles together regardless of subgenre, quite a few of them look to me to be quite inappropriate for anyone under 15 or so. I'm not the sort to think a 12 year old will be irretrievably traumatized by a book whose protagonist says "Fuck" occasionally, or expresses a little sexual desire here and there, but some of these books frankly look more like they belong in the softcore erotica section. Or even the vanilla S&M section (OK, so Borders doesn't have one of those).

But maybe I'm just being a pop-culture-illiterate snob. Or making much ado over nothing.

Perspectives anyone?

On a side note, I'm also curious to know whether these books are just as popular elsewhere as they are in the US.
Frankly, I haven't had the time to read your post, with all those letters and such...but that tripped out avatar and winky smiley have me begging for more!!!

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Old 11-12-2005, 08:44 PM   #6
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I think they are literature. Some graphic novels are written as one work like Elektra Lives Again by Frank Miller or Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. Most are collected issue runs of stories from comic books which have grown in popularity recently like Sin City, V for Vendetta.

The ultimate graphic novel is The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The medium is unique in that it allows readers to fill in the blanks between panels while at the same time providing a visual interpretation of the story. I agree with melon too, tons of the stuff is crap but the gems out there are fantastic. The stories cover all facets of literature from adventure, horror, drama and fantasy.

Recommended reading:

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Swamp Thing collected issues written by Alan Moore
Cerebus by Dave Sim
Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross


Or go to Amazon and go to graphic novels under books. Graphic novel / comic books aren't written for children despite the belief. The comic industry has undergone a huge reformation over the past few years luring back older readers who left the medium. I just recently got back into the books again myself after a ten year absense.

Good to see yolland taking an interest in what his children are reading. You have a knowledge of the genre so can guide your children to appropriate reading material.

I know nuddin about Manga. But I have noticed there is tons of it around.
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Old 11-12-2005, 09:09 PM   #7
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Literature is and will always be a subjective definition, like "art" "music" "film" etc...

there are some that wouldn't consider Stephen King Literature either, but then they probably haven't read Bag Of Bones or Hearts In Atlantis. It all depends on one's frame of reference and whatever experience they have with the medium.

As far as Graphic Novels are concerned, it is up to the reader as well, but I firmly believe them to be Literature...

As in, they will still be read widely in fifty or so years...

There are certain creators and writers of Graphic Novels that are certainly approaching the medium with the same artistic mentality as a novelist...

Transmetripolitan resembles 1984
Sin City resemble the detective stories of Raymond Chandler
Alan Moore's work seems to be loaded with a certain dose of Mark Twain's societal satire.

There are many that I have read that I would hold up to the level of fictional prose literature by the greats.

Craig Thompson's "Blankets"
Frank Miller's "Sin City" & "Ronin
" & "The Dark Knight Returns"
Alan Moore's "Watchmen" & "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
Jeff Smith's "Bone"

Blankets is a good example because it is a biography with no superhero or sci fi aspects whatsoever.

As for manga, It is a similar mixed bag...

there are the classics, like AKIRA
and then there are the others, and yes many of them are geared to the adult market (and i mean "adult" market.... these books can be overtly sexual and involve very graphic scenes... one must be a discerning consumer to follow the trends and titles)

But in effect, I feel that Graphic Novels definitely have their place in Literature, some writers are simply more visual than others. Blankets rivals many books I have read.

And as far as children reading them goes, I feel that these things are not for your average comic book fan... if they are reading them start to finish then they really are reading and getting involved in the narrative... which cannot be a bad thing. Experiencing storytelling on that level only encourages them to read more, which is much better than sitting around watching television.
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Old 11-12-2005, 09:19 PM   #8
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I bought Ronin when it was first released many moons ago but didn't enjoy it cause I was only 13 or 14 but after rereading years later, I was like "oh I get it now".
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Old 11-12-2005, 10:57 PM   #9
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Yeah, I think they are novels. I was given Frank Miller's Dark Knight stuff when I was a kid, and I liked those novels a lot. I'm a big appreciator of art and drawing, probably because I'm not that great myself. When it's good, like Frank Miller, it's gripping and a bit scary at the same time--much more so than mere words could be for the worlds and people he was describing.

My grandmother once gave me a graphic novel that had stories from the bible in it. That was kind of cool and different. Sometimes pictures can breath new life into stories and characters that have been around so long that they've lost that initial spark.
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Old 11-12-2005, 11:11 PM   #10
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Yes
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Old 11-13-2005, 02:59 AM   #11
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nevermind if its literature, just be glad the kids are reading anything. if they like reading, they'll make up their own minds eventually

i say this as someone with zero interest in graphic novels, but i did read a lot of books until adulthood ruined me.
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Old 11-13-2005, 01:06 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by trevster2k


The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross


I love graphic novels . The sandman is great, and Dave mcKean is one of my favorite illustrators...

I understand that graphic novels are considered now as literature, but not all the comic books are included there. Graphic novels are usually directed to a public who can read complex plots, and some of them have more adult situations. Also, the illustrations plays not only as a represention of the texts but they have an unique value as artistic piece and important part of the narration.



my favorites also are:

* moebius - le monde d'edena
* Frank Miller
* Katsuhiro Otomo - AKIRA (see kaneda in my avatar )
* Barbucci, Canepa - Sky doll (i'm reading it right now)
* Hernandez Brothers - Love and rockets
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Old 11-14-2005, 03:25 PM   #13
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yolland,

I agree with melon re: manga, and I think most of it is for ppl to wank to. The ones listed in this thread are the good ones, though. Also, I notice that people who are into manga tend to indulge in a lot of role-playing computer games, too - so that's where your kid's time could potentially be spent on as well

My first few graphic novels (for children) were pretty good adaptations of the Hobbit, and the plays of Shakespeare. Does Asterix count? My parents bought them for me. I wouldn't have found them myself, I don't think.

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Old 11-14-2005, 06:45 PM   #14
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Does Asterix count?

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Old 11-14-2005, 07:39 PM   #15
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Tintin and Asterix were well read.

I recently found Tintin in the Land of the Soviets ~ strongly anti-Soviet to boot
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