I think that graphic novels would actually benefit from being in their own category. It would allow them to be judged not only on the effectiveness of the writing, but also on the effectiveness of the art. And how well the two elements work together to tell the story. If they're simply being thrust into the same category as conventional novels, the recognition of how those elements interact runs the risk of going unnoticed.Kristy Valenti recently covered a panel on graphic novels held at the Seattle Bookfest on October 24th. Gary Groth, Megan Kelso, Ellen Forney and Leigh Walton took questions on a myriad of topics at the event, but they kick-started the whole shebang with some information that was fascinating and completely relevent:
Forney kicked things off by explaining that she had taught a studio graphic novel class, which was composed of art and design students; however, she recently began teaching a graphic-novel lit class, which focuses on reading and discussing comics with students from different majors. She said it was a different experience: that the students weren't as versed in the language of comics. Groth said that they weren't acculturated to comics, and since they weren't habituated, they didn't have the skill to know how to read them.Perhaps what's most important, if we are going to wrap graphic novels up into their own separate category, is that we consider the change an opportunity to educate readers. I hope the fans of graphic novels (and it seems there are many!) will make themselves heard over those who might undermine the form. I hope that they keep talking about what makes the marriage of images with words so rich and meaningful. And I hope that, as the popularity of graphic novels spreads, they teach readers to read images as well as words, and in doing so offer us a new way to experience the wonderful, imaginative act of reading.
...Kelso, who did not grow up reading comics, commented that she used to read the words and forget to read the pictures. She noted that comics are like a foreign language: when one sees words that are familiar, one tends to neglect the rest. Absorbing pictures is a skill, she explicated: and, again like a foreign language, children learn it more easily, and it becomes natural.... [Kelso also said] that research suggested that reading comics taps into more parts of the brain that [sic] simply reading text alone.