Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 5, 2008

Graphic Novels

Filed under: Articles for Class — Mandy @ 8:16 pm

I read both the articles on graphic novels, but I enjoyed the one by Gretchen Schwartz entitled “Expanding Literacies through Graphic Novels” much more than the one published in the New York Times. I think Schwartz offers a lot of great insights about graphic novels, which are incredibly convincing. I found one of the most important quotes to be in the first paragraph, which states “graphic novels appeal to various readers, offer all kinds of genres, help students develop critical thinking and encourage literacy” (58). Further, she also emphasizes how graphic novels help to build “multiple literacies” and are also ways to study “…character development, dialogue, satire, and language structures as well as develop writing and research skills” (58). It seems there are overwhelming benefits and advantages to using graphic novels in ELA classrooms, so why aren’t more people doing this?!? The example about a teacher using a graphic novel of Romeo and Juliet in the classroom also resonated with me. When I was at NCTE this past fall, there were a ton of graphic novels based on Shakespeare’s works, and they are really interesting. At the very least, teachers could use these as supplementary materials if they are resistant to using them as central texts.

I thought the second most important statement in this piece was on page 59, when Schwartz writes, “the graphic novel can be legitimate literature.” I simply think this is very well stated, and backed up by everything Schwartz is discussing in this article. It seems that graphic novels offer everything that classic literature does.

Also, on page 62, Schwartz presents a list of questions that readers can ask about graphic novels, and I have to admit that these were helpful for me. Sometimes I get so caught in the actual texts, that my eyes glaze over the pictures. But now that I have specific questions to consider as I read, I think I will be a much more thorough graphic reader.

Finally, I was somewhat heated at the end of this article. First, Schwartz hits the nail on the head when she writes, “anything new often faces resistance”, which is unfortunate and something that I think we will all have to struggle with in the years to come. I am interested to see what Keith Ward has to say about this in his district. Further, she also highlights how the “current political climate is not particularly supportive of innovation” (63). I wonder if this will change in 2008, with our new President? Will education finally be a priority?




  1. I agree with Mandy on the points made by Schwartz in her article. As you all know, I think comic books are more than legitimate. One only needs to read Watchmen or Buddha or ABC, etc. to see why. These are very dense works that cannot be ignored just because they have pictures. The pictures add a whole new level to the storytelling (I can’t help but think of what Keith stated in his post about heiroglyphics and other styles of ancient writing).

    I feel it’s only a matter of time before people realize the vast amount of potential in reading graphic novels in the classroom and expanding our students’ literacies. In fact, I find many similarities between the graphic novel and film. Why do you think studios are able to churn out so many super movies every year? Because they already have the storyboards in front of them from the source material (case and point, Frank Miller’s Sin City… the film adaptation is the first three story arcs of the comic franchise, word for word, frame for frame). If we can study film in the classrooms, it seems only logical to study comics. Hell, a few panels of Calvin and Hobbes contain more insight into the human condition than most of the trashy paperback novels floating around these days.

    But Mandy is right in pointing out Schwartz statement about our political climate and the lack of innovation. That’s why we need someone completely new in charge. Hopefully the next four years will be better than the past 15. Perhaps whoever takes over will throw a little attention our way and rattle the cage. Anyways, I’ve gone off on a tangent. I probably shouldn’t bring politics into this discussion. My main point is, graphic novels are legit. In fact, they’re too legit… I’ll stop there.


    Comment by traverse02 — February 5, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

  2. …to quit. You’re absolutely right Raph, and Mandy. There’s no stopping the tides of time. I was having a conversation today with a teacher at Candor High who was telling me that kids are so much “different” than they were ten years ago: “They just can’t sit still and pay attention.” Really, they can’t sit still and pay attention to things which bore them.

    Quality graphic novels offer students the opportunity to engage in serious intellectual activity; and they might acutually read and enjoy them too!


    Comment by scrollman — February 5, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

  3. I think it’s important to consider the revolution in the visual that is giving rise to (and legitimizing) the explosion of graphic texts and their popularity. These shifts are largely driven by media saturation and the primacy of the screen, any screen.

    Too, Mandy, I would really like to discuss THE NEW YORKER with you. No question–a NYorker author is writing for a very different audience than is Schwartz and for very different purposes. I think comparing the two gives us a great opportunity to analyze discourse. What’s “comfortable” about reading the piece from the EJ and what’s less comfortable about reading the piece from The New Yorker, an article written for what is assumed to be a literate audience, sophisticated readers. What does the New Yorker piece contribute, if anything, to our understanding of graphic texts?

    Anyone else read these articles? Just suggesting we reflect on these as different rhetorical “occasions.” KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 6, 2008 @ 1:10 am

  4. To continue your point about the target audience of The New Yorker article, Karen. I felt Schjeldahl’s tone suggests that he is addressing an older audience who may feel resistant to graphic novels. He hides behind his own age and race as an excuse for not being able to understand the appeal of manga when he says, “I throw up my hands in Caucasian senior-male bewilderment.” In spite of the article’s opening scene in which “about a dozen” kids voraciously read graphic novels in a Barnes & Noble, he doesn’t seem to think much of graphic novels. Clearly, he doesn’t think those kids will be reading The New Yorker.

    Comment by sostrom — February 6, 2008 @ 3:32 am

  5. The Schwarz and Schjeldahl articles are barely comparable. Schwarz is writing for teachers, to convince them to use graphic novels and instruct them how to do so. The Schjeldahl article is for, well, a wider audience of more general interests.
    As a teacher, of course I benefited more from the Schwarz article. I found particularly interesting the exercise from the Oklahoma teacher- turning Romeo and Juliet into a graphic novel (p59). I think this could be done, and should be done, with any work of classic literature.
    I also underlined sections of this novel about the change in traditional literacy- one type of literacy is no longer enough. There’s no denying it, we need to be visually and verbally literate in our society. Graphic novels are a perfect method. “Today’s young people need the knowledge and skills to deal with persuasion in an age of images” (p 62).
    Raph notes the importance and complexity of several key graphic novels. I read ABC in about an hour, and I heard some other classmates saying the same thing. Graphic novels would make an ideal suppliment to prescribed, “traditional” novels. There’s really no excuse for leaving them out of the classroom curriculum.

    While it was not as engaging for me as the Schwarz article, the Schjeldahl piece had it’s merits. After reading it, I feel as though I understand the evolution and inevitibility of the graphic novel trend. In addition, Schjeldahl’s words and the Stamp Of Importance from the New Yorker contributes to the legitimacy of the genre, something Schwarz laments is severely lacking. I especially enjoyed the ushering of graphic novels into avant-gardism, and the parallel to Picasso and Eliot! Hah!

    Comment by allison — February 6, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  6. Yes Allison!! I challenge your thinking though around what reading we benefit the most from. As Eng. teachers the world of literate discourse informs who we are and who we are always in the process of becoming as models for student engagement and literacy learning. .

    I like to think that my bringing in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review every Monday to my classes (none of these kids would have found that newspaper in their homes for example), sharing some of the reviews and putting others on the bulletin board was as if not more important as any reading I did about pedagogy. I know you agree with this so I’m not really being a devils’ advocate here. Thanks for sharing the circulation info by the way..

    Yes, Sarah, interesting comment on whether or not Schjeldahl thinks kids who read graphic novels will be reading TNY. And of course I say, why not!! They could be reading TNY in their high school classrooms as well — if they are fortunate enough to have teachers who read!! KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 6, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  7. In the Schjeldahl article, I was disheartened to find that there were a lot of generalizations and not a lot of intelligent criticism. The first sentence, in of itself, puts graphic novels into a category of negative connotation and rebellion. Specifically the description of the bookstore’s graphic novel section, with: “the young bodies sprawled around it like casualties of a localized disaster” (1). The entire article gave me a feeling that the author, although writing about the up-and-coming place in literary society for graphic novels, is still unsure about the legitimacy of the genre. The author also paints a portrait of main characters that are “Emo” and depressed, but so far my own minute experience with the graphic novel has not encountered such individuals at all. I also really didn’t appreciate the multiple uses of the word “comics” in this article, as I feel that it is not really an accurate description of this genre of literature. Am I wrong to be offended by this label? Is this like labeling a race or ethnicity? Like only my fellow Irish friends are allowed to call me a potato-head, but others certainly are not? Ok it appears I am off the topic, I know, but it’s late so I will continue on…
    The Schwarz article, in contrast, seemed a more legitimate proponent for the graphic novel. One part that I particularly liked was the idea that graphic novels are just another method that teachers could use to promote “the goals of traditional literacy. Getting students to read is one benefit” (58). For sure teachers are interested in getting their students to read, and graphic novels are a great method for gaining the interest of reluctant readers. Schwarz also points out that any traditional literary elements taught with YA lit can be applied to the graphic novel. Finally, I liked how the author uses graphic novels as a challenge of sorts to the English teacher to develop critical thinking, create an appreciation for diversity, and to merely promote the “think outside of the box” mentality.


    Comment by kariredmond — February 7, 2008 @ 5:05 am

  8. yes, I, too, think the intended audiences are important in this discussion. Though the Schjeldahl article belies a penchant for reading graphic novels (listing one after another with thoughtful response on the one hand, while poo-pooing the graphic reader with the other,) it tends to down play any further significance that the graphic novel genre may have. Peter’s claim that “artistic breakthrough, having been made and recognized, is over” (6) after intellectuals have begun to theorize about the movement, I think is incredibly pessimistic… but I think that’s the accepted tone that New Yorker type writing takes. And I can’t help but think that Peter is secretly writing a love letter to the graphic novel, including an acceptable amount of salt so that it gets published. I actually preferred this article to the other. And I am a beginner with graphic novels, but I love what I know so far, and Peter’s article kind of made me want to read PERSEPOLIS, and also JIMMY CORRIGAN, amoung others.

    The Schwartz article is more textbooky, which is also an audience-type read. I think since we read so much of that in J-F, O-A, and Lesesne, I was less receptive to this second article.

    Perhaps I should study my resistance to this second, and my interest in the first. Maybe it’s the classic reverse psych type thing, where when someone tells me not to juggle machetes, I have the urge to do it.


    Comment by joycehansen — February 7, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

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