Have you ever heard anyone say, “I hate novels! I’d never read one.” Probably not because the term “novel” is an umbrella term, clumping together Agatha Christie mysteries with Ender’s Game science fiction with Jodi Picoult “chick lit.” But I’ve bet you’ve heard this phrase before, “I hate comic books! I’d never read one.”
Marvel superhero comic books, Vertigo Fable tales based on myth and fairy tale, and Japanese manga romance are all comic books. Doesn’t this leave the smart reader wondering, isn’t the term “comic book” like “novel” just as all encompassing? We don’t condemn the medium of novels because we don’t like “chick lit,” one of the many genres a novel can take. But, we see it all the time, comic books are often condemned in just this way, and by condemning them, we’re denying ourselves the pleasures of both reading and writing in this unique form.
Perhaps because of the stigma against comic books, I’d lived eighteen years without ever reading one. I grew up surrounded by books. My dad would read Nancy Drew novels to my sisters and I before we went to bed, I devoured The Lord of the Rings trilogy in a single week when I was in middle school, and I reluctantly read Thomas Hardy and Milton in my college literature classes. But not once did I read a comic book. By seventh grade, I was dead set on following my dream of becoming a novelist. I had been writing since first grade when my mom bought me a journal with kittens on the front, yet by college I felt something was missing. I loved to write, to create ideas and bring them to life, creating something out of nothing. But I wasn’t reading very much anymore. And reading for school doesn’t count, because, honestly, I never finished Tess of the d’Urbervilles, or The Jungle, or All Quite on the Western Front, or The Canterbury Tales…
And then one summer I fell in love with the Iron Man movie, and the can of worms was opened. The new movies based on comic books metaphorically snatched the James Joyce novel from my reluctant fingers, and Shazam! replaced it with Origins, my first ever comic book. Comic books were a form of reading (and writing) I’d never experienced before. The visuals combined with words, an emphasis on characterization and plot, not on elevated language or fancy metaphor. Comic books contained the best elements of a novel, and, I’d argue, could represent the human condition as well as The Great Gatsby, all while visually involving the reader, pulling her along on a more compelling adventure. I decided to write a graphic novel for my senior thesis this coming year. I’ll take the traditional novel I’d been struggling to write for nearly three years, and write it as a graphic novel script. Just a month ago, I pulled up a blank Word document and began writing my novel as a graphic novel for the first time. I couldn’t believe how rapidly my thoughts propelled themselves onto the screen. I was writing more than I’d written in months, and I was enjoying it! I’d found my new form, shook loose my musty old views of what writing should be, and took a step closer to finding myself as a writer. I wish someone had told me earlier that it was ok to read comics, and perfectly acceptably awesome to write them
I’d like to challenge anyone who hasn’t read a comic book yet to do so. Try to push aside the prejudices you perhaps have against comic books. Remember, you’d never say “I hate novels!” Right? So don’t clump all comic books together. Explore the different genres within the graphic writing medium and you might (probably) find a new favorite way to read.