Are Comics Like Real Books?
Believe it or not, we’re talking about the same basic storytelling format—panel-to-panel, sequential art—a choreographed waltz of words and pictures.
So if this ancient form has so many names, is it really a book? I mean, a book is a book, right? Sure you have picture books, text books, and novels, but they’re still considered real books. There are even awards for them, such as the Caldecott Medal, Hugo Award, and Bancroft Prize. Heck, you can even win a Pulitzer for writing a real book.
My mom used to refer to comics as funny books. Now the Black Panther or the Flash getting the begeebers beaten out them did not seem funny to me. And saving the world from giant sea creatures seemed pretty serious business for the Challengers of the Unknown.
Maybe it’s the fact that books have genres, you know, different thematic territories. The famous sea story Moby Dick is considered an adventure; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, also a sea story, is considered science fiction. Then there’s the historical fiction tale of Drums Along the Mohawk. And let us not forget a good mystery like The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Yes, genre might be a determining factor, though I remember having the same options when I was younger. Aquaman and Submariner stories were certainly about the sea. And the Submariner tales from World War II contained elements of both historical and propaganda value. In the ’60s, DC Comics had its Tomahawk series, and at least five others involving Native Americans and early pioneers. We could surely argue about historical accuracy, stereotypes, and political correctness—but then shouldn’t books and reading generate dialog?
There were, and still are, other titles that sit comfortably next to their more readily accepted literary brethren: Superman and the Flash next to Hercules and Mercury. We could view the ’40s Green Lantern in a similar realm with Aladdin, and Sue Storm could go hand in hand with H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, if they could see each other’s hand. And do I have to even name which comic book creation mirrors aspects of Frankenstein? I don’t think so.
Gee, so if comics and graphic novels can hold a candle (dim or otherwise) in the genre realm, should we consider page count as the determining factor? Not when you consider that comics average about 22 pages per issue, and graphic novels range from 48 to 120 or more.
How about exclusivity? You know, only real writers write novels. Nope, can’t go there because several novelists have penned comics. In fact, a number of actors, directors, and teachers have found creative satisfaction in our medium.
It seems to me that it has become harder to say which is the “legitimate” child of literacy, and which is the stepchild. Depending on which historians you favor, cave paintings came before the written word—and in numerous cultures visual art was a major part of record keeping and other forms of communication.
So once again I ring the bell for comics as well as graphic novels. Both serve the public just as well as their equally valuable nonsequential-art cousins. Now, whether the graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451 will be as good as the novel is a question I would not even try to answer. No more than I would compare either to the movie. But if you ask will a portion of the public (kids and teens especially) discover this story for the first time? Of course!
So, write on you scribes and scribblers. Illuminate, you pencilers and inkers! And most important of all, folks—read, read, read.-- Alex Simmons