Graphic novels and the literary canon – The Varsity

Graphic novels expand the possibilities of personal reflection. NICHOLAS TAM/THEVARSITY

Until recently, graphic novels were treated like children’s toys

I grew up obsessed with the X-Men. On Sundays after church, my father would take my brothers and I to the only well-stocked bookstore we knew of in the mall. As we neared the entrance to the bookstore, I would rush inside, happy and bouncing in anticipation of losing myself in the wonders beyond its doors.

The bookstore is where I first learned to lose my outer beautified self to my other self, my raw inner self, the way one can lose themselves in a sea of ​​dreams before suddenly waking up. I discovered what love is inside the pages of books. In the stories I encountered, I saw the vastness of the beautiful world and it filled me with a hunger to simply learn. The X-Men were some of my first heroes. This is not to say that the X-Men were just the first superheroes I met, but that the graphic novel itself, in its storytelling and in its medium, also saved me from a dull mind and pushed me towards an endless imagination.

That’s what great literature does — it saves! Yet growing up, I never saw an English teacher open a comic in class to discuss class differences or the complexities of the female gender as they did with novels like To kill a mockingbird or Jane Eyre. Until recently, the academic community and society treated graphic novels as children’s toys, bread for the weak-minded. They are like dolls in that as you get older you are expected to naturally give up ‘childish’ doll-like toys and engage in more grown-up pastimes — Russian literature, Negroni Sbagliatos and taxes.

Normal people don’t play with dolls that have passed a certain age, so as not to encounter the special distaste we reserve for adults who are in love with children’s things.

And yet, as a kid, the X-Men saved me from a lack of imagination with its meticulously executed fight scenes, daring superhero costumes, limitless variety of characters, stories and powers, and its overarching story of people persecuted for who they were.

The strength of the graphic novel, like all literature, is the power of manifesting imagination and daydreaming as defined by Toni Morrison in her “Sarah Lawrence Commencement Speech”. Morrison describes dreaming as intimate projection, “Focused imagining [that] should precede our decision-making, our reasoning, [and] our action.” Believe, say and it will be so. You see, God also works in the realm of dreams; here, He said, “Let there be light!”

My first heroes raised me in this spirit of dreaming when I didn’t know what was possible. In X-Men I saw that it is not a curse to be born as an “other” identity in the disorder of heteronormative society and that curses are not magic, but an intimate projection of evil dreams. I learned from my heroes that in order to break the curse, you have to dream in turn, dream so hard that you wake up in the world you wanted to see, a world made in your own image.

For a Little Child, by Neil Gaiman The sand man can be the story of a dream god on a quest to regain his power, just like Moby Dick it can be a story about a man and a whale. As we mature, however, we see the layers within those narratives. Gaiman gives us the story of Morpheus, the god of dreams, on a journey to reclaim his objects of power and restore the dream world so that humanity can dream properly again.

As we flip through The sand man, we reckon with big existential questions; a world where sleep is no longer a peaceful escape, where life becomes waking death as dreams, art and stories cease to exist. Clearly, it is worth taking a closer, more mature look at these texts.

Cultivating visual literacy and comprehension skills to enable readers to decipher meaning from words and images, graphic novels expand the possibilities of personal reflection, political protest, and overall storytelling. They also make complex and serious stories more accessible to children, allowing them to deal with the real world in a language they recognize.

Compared to my childhood experience, it’s great to see graphic novels being taken more seriously. From various university courses on graphic novels to brilliant TV adaptations like The sand manattitudes are changing towards taking graphic novels seriously as articles of literary value.

Graphic novels combine visual art and the written word to tell stories. They are different from written novels, but equally valuable, in the way that poetry is different in its oratorical nature and musical application. Equating written literature and art with graphic novels doesn’t do either of them justice. Instead, it is necessary to develop programs dedicated to graphic novels. We also need a literary canon of the graphic novel.

Whatever it is, the beauty of the dream voice is that it is eternal, its morphic resonances ultimately endless.

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