Comic Books as Literature

Viewing Comic Books in a New Respect

In A Nutshell

Salma Geneidy

November 1st, 2016


When reading a comic book, readers don’t need to imagine the world they’re discovering, it’s depicted on the page in images as well as words. But does that make comic books any less valuable than traditional literature? Comic books have been around for decades. The earliest known comic book was published in 1837, titled The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. Since then, the comic book industry has grown into one of the biggest in entertainment. Some argue that because comics are mostly images and their stories are not always very well written, they do not qualify as literature. However, comic books and graphic novels have evolved in such a way that it is difficult to dismiss them from the category.


Literature is defined as written works, particularly those described as iconic and earning critical acclaim. Some of the greatest literary works were deemed great because of meaningful, powerful storylines and good writing. For example, To Kill A Mockingbird is a story that examines the issue of racism, written during a time when such a topic was extremely controversial. Harper Lee’s use of literary devices and elements has made the book one of the most iconic pieces of American literature.


These are the characteristics that deem a story worthy of being called literature; to say comic books lack these characteristics would be ignoring a rich treasury of stories. An example would be a graphic novel titled Maus. The author interviews his father, a Holocaust survivor, about his experiences in the concentration camps. Just like in many iconic literary works, the author uses symbolism, personification, metaphors, and other literary devices to depict his father’s experiences. The novel went on to win many literary awards, just as other forms of literature have. Other comic books such as Persepolis, Palestine, and The Arab of the Future discuss issues in the Middle East from the point of view of those who have lived there.


Literary elements and devices are used in good comic books, just as they are used in other forms of literature with stories just as rich. This is why it is common to have both a writer and a comic book artist working together such as in the case of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.


Comic book artists have also brought classic books to life and generated a greater audience for them by recreating them in graphic novel form. Examples include stories of Edgar Allen Poe, Call of the Wild, and The Red Badge of Courage. In these stories, the characters’ thoughts and words as well as the story line are still the same as they are in the original work. It’s the descriptions that have been transformed into images that create the setting and the mood of these stories.


Others argue that many comic books are not well-written; the same could be said for many other forms of literature. Just as there are poorly written novels, there are poorly written comics.


In conclusion, many comic books and graphic novels focus on and examine controversial issues in ways that literary works have done for centuries. They incorporate imagery with the written word to depict worlds and stories that would otherwise be unknown. Sometimes the art replaces the descriptive sections in a written work, which makes it come alive for its readers.