- Here at "It's Lit," it could be misconstrued that we are just ivory tower literary elites with great hair.
But the truth is, we are that, but we're nerds too.
In the past few decades, literature has expanded to not only mean the novel, but graphic novels as well.
Today, we're gonna break down how the graphic novel went from the comic book store to the classroom.
Narrative art that tells stories has existed in some form since before civilization, from cave paintings to Egyptian hieroglyphics, to English serialized engravings, and then we got comics.
(upbeat music) But the first big precursor to the graphic novel is thought to be "Histoire de Monsieur Vieux Bois," drawn by Swiss artist and writer Rodolphe Topffer in 1828.
Topffer used sequential imagery accompanied by text to tell the story of the titular Monsieur Vieux Bois' comic misadventures.
In 1841, unauthorized English translations of Topffer's work had made their way to the United States under the title, "The Adventures of Oldbuck."
Topffer, in the note to Mr. Jabot, wrote, "This little book is mixed in nature.
It is made up of a series of pictures, each one of which is accompanied by a line or two of text.
The pictures without the words would only have a very obscure meaning, while the text without the pictures signifies nothing at all.
The whole taken together is a kind of novel, a graphic one."
While mostly forgotten to modern audiences now, comics theorist Scott McCloud has called Topffer "The father of the modern comic, cartooning and panel borders, along with the first interdependent combination of words and pictures seen in Europe."
Broadly speaking, a graphic novel is a collection of related comic strips that form a story and are all published together as one book.
Back in the day, what really separated comics from graphic novels was the higher quality format of the book itself, better paper and being bound rather than stapled.
Surrealist German painter Max Ernst is credited with creating the proto-graphic novel.
In what was called the collage novel, Ernst would take images from other publications and link them together with a narrative.
American cartoonist Milt Gross published a pantomime tale, "He Done Her Wrong: The Great American Novel And Not A Word In It, No Music, Too" in 1930, a wordless novel that is considered another precursor to the graphic novel.
While not super popular, it was impactful in the industry and was a huge influence on Osamu Tezuka, the god of Manga.
So like, super niche.
These wordless novels were part of the German expressionist movement of the early 20th century, that were killed off in its nation of origin following the rise of Nazi censorship in Germany.
However, its influence already gave birth to the artistic idea that would become the graphic novel.
Now, you might be asking, "Princess, why not use the word comic or comic book instead of graphic novel?
It sounds like the same thing to me."
And well, you're not necessarily wrong.
The term graphic novel is a fairly nebulous one that artists, writers, critics, and fans have debated over the last few decades.
The term was originally coined in a 1964 comic fanzine called "Capa-Alpha" by Richard Kyle.
But it didn't take off as a popularized term until Will Eisner wrote "A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories."
As Sara J.
Van Ness shared, when he first proposed the book to a New York publisher, "Eisner recalls, 'A little voice inside of me said, "Hey, stupid, don't tell him it's a comic or he'll hang up on you."
So I said, "It's a graphic novel."'
Eisner's intuitive hesitation in labeling his work as a comic book suggests that he was conscious of some negative implications that the comic book label carried."
This collection of four standalone stories was something that Eisner intended for adults, and he wanted to be published in bookstores.
On the trade paperback of the title, it said "Graphic Novel," making it the first of that mainstream label.
"Contract" was not the first graphic novel.
Many cite Jack Katz's "The First Kingdom," which came out a few years before "Contract" as such.
But what "Contract" did was elevate the term graphic novel and comics as a long form but contained storytelling device into the mainstream.
This was because Eisner worked to get it stocked in actual bookstores, validating its literary value in the eyes of adult readers.
Following "Contract," we had titles like "Saber," by Don McGregor and artist Paul Gulacy, which takes place in the year 2020, where Earth has succumbed to global famine, energy crises, and a plague based on an American government bioweapon, great.
This is when we began to see the prestige division between super-serious graphic novels and comics.
Titles like "Batman: Year One," "Sandman," and "The 'Nam" all served to elevate the way readers saw the medium.
"Sandman" is especially notable because as Joe Sutliff Sanders, a specialist in children's media at the University of Cambridge explains, "'Sandman' did not create the market for ongoing graphic novel series, did not even exactly drive it, but it did demonstrate to readers, vendors, distributors, publishers, and writers that the future of comics lay not in monthly serials, but in bound collections."
Look, as a nerd who loves comics, I don't view graphic novels as inherently superior.
But anyone who's read "Fables" or "Saga" can tell you how good a long comic book run can just nourish the soul.
Yes, it's cool when one artist team creates a powerful standalone story, but just because it's long doesn't mean it's good, which is good advice in general.
The major moment for graphic novels came in 1992, when I was born, and when Art Spiegelman's "Maus" became the first and is still the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer.
Noted for using postmodernism expression by representing Jews as mice and Germans as cats, the story depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.
Professor of German and Jewish studies Erin McGlothlin explains that, "Within the field of Holocaust studies, 'Maus' is considered a key literary text by the scholarship on testimony and trauma.
In the cultural sphere of comics, on the other hand, it is celebrated chiefly on account of its format, narrative, and graphic innovation and its inventive approach to subject matter previously deemed unsuitable for the comics medium."
"Maus" is now taught in schools along with titles like "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi, which depicts her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.
"Persepolis" has been subsequently praised as a post-colonial text.
As Matthew P. McAllister and Stephanie Orme wrote in "Cinema's Discovery of the Graphic Novel: Mainstream and Independent Adaptations" for Cambridge Press, "Instead of depicting Iranian women as universally oppressed and as in need of Western liberation, 'Persepolis' offers a more complete, nuanced view of Iranian women's lives as actively resisting what they consider 'oppressive' on their own terms."
Through this, we began to see the memoir graphic novel really emerge as a powerful storytelling device for coming of age narratives.
Craig Thompson explores his upbringing in an evangelical Christian family and eventually leaving Christianity in "Blankets."
2006's "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel details her childhood struggles with gender identity and childhood abuse.
It was later turned into a musical that ended up taking home the Tony Award for Best Musical, which we agree with.
Justin Hall explains, "'Fun Home' was an important moment for the queer graphic novels, both because of its reception by the mainstream literary, academic, and cultural establishments, and because of how it helped push the comics industry to pay more attention to LGBTQ material."
These stories created the foundation for many younger cartoonists and illustrators to tell their stories using longer comic book form, especially now with independent comic publications outside of the big two, DC and Marvel.
Places like First Second Books and others have really allowed these stories to shine.
Queer creators like Noelle Stevenson, known for "Lumberjanes," and Tillie Walden, known for "Spinning," have used the format to tell engaging stories that highlight that comics are not and have never solely been a format for CIS white hetero dude.
Jen Wang, writer of "Stargazing" and "The Prince and the Dressmaker," and the works by Raina Telgemeier have entered schools as well, which gives students new avenues to explore literature made for them.
Reducing graphic novels and comics in general to a inferior art form because its primary audience isn't always adults is just baseless snobbery.
Storytelling doesn't belong to any one format, and what makes a book literary isn't just that there are words on a page.
It is what stories are being told and how it speaks to the human experience.
For some of us, its Grant Morrison's "All-Star Superman" instead of "Infinite Jest."
So for certain authors who think graphic novels aren't books, well, you're wrong.
Kathryn Strong Hansen writes in defense of graphic novels, "Many teachers have shown how graphic novels can help energize students whose interests are hard to capture, can aid low-level and non-native English speaking readers through the twinning of words with images, and can help higher-level readers to expand their analytical skills to include consideration of visual elements."
The only people who are still dismissing graphic novels are frankly out of touch, and maybe the issue is your own limited idea of what literature is, not that Superman is in it.
What are you gonna do, tell students not to read "Maus"?