on reading the graphic novel

I’m not sure I know any more about Nat Turner after reading this book.  Like the author, I knew very little about the man, and the frustrating part of the book was that I still feel like I don’t know much.  While the graphics were gripping at times, I believe there are still too many gaps to satisfy a reader willing to learn more about a famous slave.  If I had more time, I would spend it googling Nat Turner and try to fill in some of the gaps I feel were missing (but already I am very late getting this weeks readings done).

And that brings me to my next point – time.  Sure I was able to finish a 200 pg book in a very short amount of time, but the time I spent trying to figure out what was happening was frustrating.  There were plenty of sequences when I just couldn’t figure out what was going on (the killing of the old man drummer, for one).  Finally, when I finished the book there was a page of notes that explained that episode.  But it was frustrating going back and forth for a few minutes trying to figure out where I missed the panel “explaining” the situation.  I have lots of questions like this which weren’t answered on the page of Notes.

I imagine a college student, who is pressed for time, will absorb very little of this.  I don’t want to minimize the horror of some of the scenes, and depictions of the violence of slavery in general.  These are the images that will stay with me.  But if an instructor was expecting a student to learn all about Nat Turner, that wouldn’t happen with this book.  The busy college student who doesn’t want to linger and spend the time trying to piece the narrative together, and perhaps even spend a little time in google, won’t get much from this.    At the very beginning of his article, Rabkin says  “…we need extended time to apprehend art – to read it.” (36),  and I think this could actually be a problem with the graphic novel format.

I was really hopeful to see what I would take from this week’s reading.  While I think graphic novels are a nice break from the typical texts, this novel in particular might expect too much from students; many of the students I teach would be willing to put in the time to make the leap to fuller understanding.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, about how students today read, and some experts are saying that because of the format of most of our reading, on a computer screen, we’ve become a nation of skimmers – we do a lot of surface reading, but very little deep reading – and therefore there is very little deep understanding.  And I think that might be a problem with this graphic novel.  The material is difficult and the gaps are sometimes too large, and therefore, the student will just skim the surface rather than take the time to figure it out.  It certainly is tempting just to skim when you have so many other things to do.

1 thought on “on reading the graphic novel

  1. Professor Sample

    I appreciate your point about the demands a graphic novel—and this graphic novel in particular—can place upon readers. I actually see this as an opportunity, though, to explore how we can get students to slow down when they read.

    Time and time again different practitioners we’ve read this semester have emphasized the importance of (1) slowing down one’s reading and (2) re-reading. A graphic novel can be an inviting means to practice these skills and wel’ll talk about some of the possibilities in class tonight.

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