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In my paper, I would like to explore the attempt of graphic novels to carve out a unique literary space. Like during the fledgling stages of film, graphic novels seem self-aware of their own status as narratives in a nascent genre. On one hand, many comics create a new mythology befitting this new medium. Superhero comics, for example, created an original narrative economy with unique motifs, story patterns, and style. By dreaming up a mythology all its own, such comics attempt to establish a narrative space independent of other fictional mediums, particularly film and the traditional novel. Some more recent comics seem interested in created a new, but more serious mythology. The Sandmanseries (the only other graphic novel I've ever read!) consciously attempts to invent a new literary space that is more akin to Shakespeare and Lovecraft than Spiderman and X-Men.

Rather than trying to invent a new mythology, other comic books seem to struggle with their relationship to other mediums. Deep in allusion, these novels question what comic books are supposed to accomplish. Watchmen seems to probe such tensions: a work rife in philosophical airiness, it is weighed down by the violence and shorthand of other superhero comics. I think that Jimmy Corrigan exhibits the same uncertainty. Combining serious drama with the absurd, it seems to undermine the pretensions of a medium that uses drawn figures and speech bubbles. Fun Home also struggles with comics' relationship with other narratives.  Annoyingly dense in allusions, it seems to ask whether comics can be lifted to the heights of such canonical writers as Joyce, Proust, and Fitzgerald. Its story, a complex, ambiguous coming-of-age, seems like a self-aware aspiration to "literary" literature.

I hope that the subsequent comics we will read in this class will fit this concern I've outlined. I think they will (and if not, I'll force them in!). I was actually drawn to this topic because of the critical praise on the graphic novels we've read so far. Often, the praise seems more hyperbolic than usual, littered with phrases like "the serious coming of a genre," "Time 100 Books Novels", etc. Ware mocks this practice, combining such hyperbolic praise with trenchant criticism. I hope to use such praise as evidence of comics' self-consciousness about creating a literary space distinct from traditional novels and film.

One other thing I'd like to do is analyze specific techniques, unique to comics, that are emblematic of this attempt to create a self-standing medium. What can the interaction between word and image accomplish that film and traditional fiction can't? What perspective can graphic novels bring that is lacking in other mediums? I need to think more about this formal aspect, and I will probably look back to McCloud for some help. I would appreciate any insight that my other readers might have, particularly other comic books that I could use to justify this somewhat broad claim. Please let me know if you think of any other comics that would fit this framework---I'm particularly ignorant of the superhero fandom I alluded to.

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3 Comments

  1. Unknown User (mkc4)

    This seems like an incredibly interesting paper topic, Kevin.  You seem to have a very firm grasp on what you want to accomplish in writing it.  For the Sandman series, will you literally be comparing it to Shakespeare and Lovecraft?  Illustrating the similarities between them?  I feel like doing this would add a very interesting perspective to your paper, though it may have the potnential to get a bit off topic.  I really think that taking a focus on the allusions made in comics to other mediums is a great aspect.  We've been talking a lot about this in class, so I feel like this would make your paper very strong.  The only thing that may pose a bit of a problem is if you try to examine too many comics.  If you spread yourself out too thin, your examination of each comic may not be as effective as possible.  Other than that, I think you have a great start on what will turn out to be a great paper.  There is sure to be a lot of information out there about your topic, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find outside sources.  They will probably add a lot to your paper, though your ideas seem to be very strong on their own.  Good luck with it!

  2. I think I see what you mean about the sort of inferiority complex manifested by comics aspiring to the equal status of "art," and while arguably Fun Home and even Jimmy Corrigan can be critiqued for their over-reliance upon literary form/allusions, I'd see that only as a relatively brief precursor to your more affirmative topic.  Do you want to spend 10-15 pp. slagging comix?  So I'd say be relatively self-conscious about the issue of canonicity: be sure you have the specifics & citations for all of those "Top 100" lists and patronizing sidebars introducing people to the "new" medium of graphic novels.  And the literariness you reference looks like an excellent way of focusing your reasons as to why we're talking about canonicity.  So then...I think Megan asks a fair question: if Sandman represents a more genuinely original approach -- formally, do you mean?  or in what sense? -- then perhaps it's incumbant upon you to show that.  Probably a lot more fun to write and, I'm guessing, to read.  The opening theoretical section might help to innoculate you against possible fanboy fever.  B/T/W, isn't comparing Gaiman to Lovecraft & Shakespeare sort of the same thing you criticize in Bechdel -- that is, elevating their status via comparison to literary canon?  Or perhaps you could elaborate upon that point?  I know little about the Sandman series besides how many of them there are!  The selections you make should be integral to your topic.  Are you wanting to show NG's development of a distinctive style over time?  Some sort of plot/thematic coherence amongst the works mentioned?  Etc.?  Sounds like a cool project!  It's always good to be learning something new, says I....

  3. Unknown User (nrc2)

    Hmmm... You've chosen an interesting topic, and have already recieved some good comments. I would only add one thing: Comics, as a genre of literature, is still very young, and the Graphic Novel is even younger - practically still in its infancy. It makes sense for a new genre to have to struggle with its relation to older literery forms and to try to carve out its own identity. It might be worthwile to consider the Novel itself, (also a fairly young form of literature, no more than a few hundred years, anyway) and think about ways in which the earliest novels had to struggle with older genres like epic poetry and drama, and how far the genre has since come. Just a thought.

    Good Luck!

    -Nate