Imagine having a conversation about quality literature. You hear the same titles again and again; the classics are tossed around and everyone agrees that literature was better 100 years ago. Suddenly, a dissenting voice breaks into the conversation. He says, "Have you read Watchmen by Alan Moore? Great stuff, and it made Time's Best 100 Books of All Time list. It really dives into human psychology and morality." The conversation halts. Did someone seriously just mention a comic book as serious literature?
Over the past decade, the graphic novel has stepped out of its place in pulp fiction and moved into the category of legitimate literature. Since 2007, the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) division of the ALA (American Library Association) has been publishing an annual list of great graphic novels, specifically targeted towards teens. More and more schools are including graphic novels in their curriculum, such as Maus and Persepolis. Summer reading lists tend to see at least one graphic novel featured. Why the increase?
There could be a lot of reasons. For starters, reluctant readers tend to shy away from lengthy tomes but a graphic novel has pictures. That alone helps motivate them to consider reading it. In addition, graphic novels can help readers envision certain ideas that do not show up as effectively in text. This explains graphic novel versions of Shakespeare's plays or classic novels. Another example would be a nonfiction graphic novel about a location or period in history that may seem alien to students. Now they have images aligned with the words and can picture what they are studying. The appeal to visual learners is obvious. There is also the fact that literacy skills are not relegated to text; a graphic novel can help readers understand various inputs and expressions of ideas, which is helpful in other subject areas. Finally, some of the artwork is beautiful and graphic novels can link literature and art in a way that only scholars seemed to put together in the past.
Whatever the reason, graphic novels are a form of art, no different than a book or a painting. They are just two forms combined into one and have much to offer inside a classroom or in a discussion of quality literature. A greater number of book lists are starting to include graphic novels are equals to traditional novels and rightfully so.