Blood in the gutters… guts, too?

I will admit: I’ve been spending more time this week on my presentation than thinking about Nat Turner and graphic novels. However, in reading my classmates’ posts about teaching graphic novels, I’ve been inspired by their enthusiasm.

In answer to the specific question posed in class — How can we get students to slow down when reading graphic novels? — I have one answer that excites me most. I’m interested in McCloud’s concept of the gutter, as many of us are, and I think a great way to get students to move through what is basically a picture book at a slower pace is to ask them to fill in those gutters (in words). Choose a few scenes (/pages) and ask them to write the parts that are missing in between the frames. Then an interesting in-class activity might be to have some students share their “gutter text” — are they similar? are any wildly different? why might that be?

This would be a good way to show students that though graphic novels may seem too simple to some (and maybe less like literature), they actually leave themselves open to interpretation the same way a well-written story/novel/poem/play does. And isn’t this the crux of literature? An interpretable work of art that is specific, yet indirect; suggestive, yet subtle; and generally memorable? It seems to me that the guts of any literary work are often found in these “gutters.”

To bring things full circle, it might also be interesting to then show students some short stories, &c., with meaningful section breaks and talk about how we “fill in the gutters” in “regular” textual literature, too (as I think Susanna was saying). And I do not say this as though we should try to convince our students that graphic novels are Literature with a capital “L” — instead of fighting that battle, I think showing students the value in graphic novels, their intricacies and subtleties, would be far more more powerful and useful when introducing the genre.

Via the exercise I outlined above, students would also get real practice in quite literally rewriting a story, which we’ve learned this semester is a way of reading. Graphic novels seem to hold lots of teaching opportunities.