What are your most memorable classes? Most of us would like say something that includes multiple mediums: listening to readings, performances, watching film, and being shown examples of concurrent artwork alongside the literature of the time. Some of our most robust lit survey courses in undergrad likely contained a healthy dose of art history as well. Whether it was the tapestries or illuminated manuscripts of medieval literature or Pablo Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles alongside late 19th and early 20th century modernist writers, art is ubiquitously connected with literature. Therefore, (for me), it is easy to build a bridge between the literature classroom and a graphic novel.
I was unprepared literally or graphically for the gruesome nature of Nat Turner, which probably made my reaction to what I was “reading” all the more interesting in hindsight. I won’t finish the frames with the baby dangling over the shark, or the inset frames depicting dead faces or severed limbs. That being said, I am likely not a prime example of someone whose softer sensibilities would be violated by such things. My guiltier pleasures include films by Guy Ritchie, shows like The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy, and smuttier non-literary books I don’t wish to divulge here to the public. To me, Graphic Novels and other non-traditional literary genres are equally important in terms of our student’s interpretive faculties. The lines of distinction by high-art and street-art are continually blurred and why the hell not?! It’s not like graphic novels will discredit the value of those that preceded it.
McCloud’s meta-renderings of showing and telling the visual and literary concepts that go into the design renderings of graphic novels was particularly enlightening to me as someone who has not had the pleasure or privilege to have the material brought into class with any fervency. The graphic novel allows the literature student to step back from decoding text and sit back to observe as moment, subject, and action occurs in front of them, much like watching tv or film. Rather than busily consulting supporting text and reference lit, images and occurrence can simply wash over one’s consciousness with the effective force of display.
All of this being said, I refrain that text and picture are complementary and should therefore be practiced in balanced unison, as much as this is possible.