If one were to ask an English professor if a graphic novel were to be counted as capital-L Literature, many would scoff at the very idea. While graphic novels are becoming more and more popular in today's culture, they have yet to obtain a firm spot in the literary canon of must-read classics. Urban Dictionary claims that graphic novel "is the term mainly used by adults to make comics seem less childish" and doesn't seem to have much else nice to say.
Despite its popularity the graphic novel has yet to truly permeate pop culture, let alone academia. What many are missing, however, is the beauty that comes in the ways these novels subvert literary tropes to create their own high art. The real power and beauty of the graphic novel lies in three things: artwork, dialogue, and reader response. The artwork and dialogue go hand in hand to create the reader's response to the work on a much deeper level.
By pulling the reader in through their eyes to engage the senses in creating a lavish worldview, the experience of the story comes alive on the paper through more than just words painting an image in the brain. Emotion is drawn out of the reader based on the emotions that went into creating the pieces. Art has the power to express what critics and psychologists have referred to as meta-emotion: emotion about emotions. This reaction goes deeper than the technical aspects of the artwork. It "give[s] humans a higher satisfaction in emotional release than simply managing emotions on their own. Art allows people to have a cathartic release of pent-up emotions either by creating work or by witnessing and pseudo-experiencing what they see in front of them. Instead of being passive recipients of actions and images, art is intended for people to challenge themselves and work through the emotions they see presented in the artistic message" (Noy).
The artwork of these novels functions in lieu of narrative descriptions that tie together the dialogue of the characters in the process of creating a story. Instead of spelling out the emotion behind the words spoken by each character, the lack of these narrative elements propels the reader into making their own value judgments of the reliability of each separate voice. The artwork fills these gaps and engages the reader as if they too were witnessing the events unfolding.
It takes a kind of spirit to evoke these reactions that is not always found in the so-called classics of the literary canon. Perhaps in twenty or thirty years the graphic novel will have earned its rightful place and even be taught widely in classrooms. It takes a distinct authorial power to be able to create the kinds of universes that graphic novels employ, and more children should be taught to possess that kind of imagination.