On Scott McCloud: I take seriously his assertion that the content of a graphic novel can directly influence the ways in which we read it. A lengthy, drawn-out panel can influence the perception of time and a rough sketch can indicate the ruggedness of an action. Reading Nat Turner, the coarse, crude drawings were emblematic of the grittiness of the subject matter. I got that. I just don’t get how this makes it literature.
On the coattails of our discussion regarding video games, I think my reaction toward graphic novels is very much the same. My fascination with games, beyond my anal-retentive min-maxing of character attributes to break the algorithm of every game I can—this so-called “theorycrafting”—is in regard to their textual/expressive potential. Yet even despite how much I agree with Gee’s assertions that player choice in Deus Ex can “mean something,” I hesitate to call JC Denton’s disposition toward multinational corporate corruption and government conspiracy “literature” … or my process of annihilating it as literary.
I respect Baker’s Nat Turner and very much enjoyed reading it, as much as one can enjoy 200 pages of massacre. It was a quick read, and I found many of its moments quite powerful. Yet I feel literature must be read, imagined, and interpreted. You can interpret a painting, of course. But a painting is art. And art is not necessarily literature (though the written word can certainly be considered artistic). After all, when the words “run” and “boom” compose of 50% of the words embedded within the story’s frames (aside from the excerpts), there’s much to question whether a graphic novel—at least in Nat Turner’s case—is read or, perhaps better put: viewed.
I think there’s additionally plenty to be said that Scott McCloud directly compares comic books and graphic novels not to literary giants like William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser but visual expressionists like Van Gogh and Munch (which he transposes himself within at one stage of the piece). Perhaps this is a point that does not need to be made; this is an argument I’m not sure anyone ever even said. I think the visual rhetoric of a piece like Nat Turner is certainly something worth examining, but like the idea of actually teaching a video game in a classroom, I think there is more to learn from Nat Turner than there is to learn about it (not that I have anything against teaching it or video games in the classroom necessarily).