I remember my ninth grade English Literature teacher. I remember her well. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything. She had some very firm ideas about what was literature, as well as what was not. She was rather cold and emotionless in the classroom, and wrote on our papers with a green pen. We usually called this “bleeding on our papers” because most teachers wrote with red ink. I insisted my English teacher was a Vulcan, and that explained why she “bled” green.
I understand as an adult that she may have felt she needed to be picky about what we “should” and “should not” read for book reports because she was trying to open students up to reading things they wouldn’t have chosen on their own. That wasn’t a very good tactic to take with me. I’d read just about anything printed on paper, with the exception of biographies and romance novels (I have since learned to enjoy biographies), and I was almost sure to read something I’d been told not to read. I do think, though, that some of her ideas were personal. She wasn’t someone who would have accepted comics/graphic novels as “literature”, regardless of the story.
The funny thing about that is there was one project I very much enjoyed that year. We were to split ourselves into pairs and work together on a project of our choosing to create a piece of art based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. I grabbed the best artist in my class to be my partner, and he agreed to my idea. While everyone else was making shadow boxes and dioramas, I rewrote the story so that it would be easier for small children to read while my project partner drew the illustrations.
We adapted it into a comic book. I wish I’d realized at the time what we were doing. I could have enjoyed feeling like we were “getting back” at the teacher in some way.
Recently, my husband has started re-reading the graphic novels in our house. Neither of us is a huge comic fan, but we love good stories wherever they are found. There are some stories I can’t imagine being told as well any other way. The most interesting thing, to me, about my husband doing this is that he’s managing to read books at a reasonable pace this way.
My husband, you see, is a disabled Marine. He is in constant pain, and the medications he’s been prescribed only make the pain more tolerable. He has to lay down for a half hour or more several times throughout a day, and the medication makes it very easy for him to fall asleep within a few minutes of laying down. He loves to read! We sometimes joke about how marrying me means he got all my books, too. He can’t read if he can’t stay awake, though.
The graphic novel format is making it easier for him to stay awake while he’s laying down. Instead of a page full of print, he’s seeing the words in shorter blocks that are positioned in different places on a page, and there’s all those pictures! Any comic reader can tell you the pictures aren’t there just to look pretty. You’ll miss parts of the story if you don’t pay attention to the art. This seems to be keeping my husband’s brain more active and alert than reading pages of nothing other than text.
Let me be clear about this: My husband is not an unintelligent man. He is, without the pain and medication, perfectly capable of reading and comprehending works that even my ninth grade English teacher would have recognized as “real literature”. He’s disabled. Comics and graphic novels are allowing him to keep reading.
This is part of why organizations like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are important. Comics and graphic novels, and those who sell them, still get treated different than volumes of pure text. The genre is still treated like these works aren’t “real literature”, and therefore aren’t given the same protections in many cases. I have personally heard some people talk about mature comics and graphic novels as if there’s no reason for them to exist because they’re “inappropriate for children”, implying that only children should read comics.
I want this art protected from people who have closed their minds and want to force other’s minds shut, as well. I want the work of writers and artists to be respected as an important part of our culture. How much history would have been lost to us if it had not been for the stories and works of art that outlasted the cultures that gave birth to them? If we want future generations to see us as people who valued ideas and creativity, we have to give comics as much respect as we give other works.
I also want my husband to have books to read. And others like him. I don’t know if there are any organizations that focus getting comics and graphic novels for the disabled and hospitalized. If you know of any, please leave a comment. If there aren’t any, maybe there should be.