Novels vs Graphic Novels: End of debate. For me.

20 Apr

Some years back, maybe 4 or 5, I discovered Graphic novels. And I have  spent quite some time reading them and more money buying them since then.
A quick specimen on graphic novels or comics or sequential art that I read during this time ( and this is what is top of mind)…
Sandman (12 volumes followed by all books of Neil Gaiman in all forms), Maus (2 volumes), Persepolis (2 volumes), Lone Wolf & Cub (28 volumes), Samurai Executioner (10 volumes), From Hell, Watchmen, Promethea (5 volumes), League of Extra-ordinary gentlemen (3 volumes), Sin City (7 volumes), Ronin, Identity Crisis, Berlin (2 volumes), Buddha (8 volumes), Dark Knight Returns, Year One, Dark Knights Strikes Again, The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, Arkham Asylum, Epileptic, Bone (9 volumes),Palestine, Fax from Sarajevo, Road to Gorazade, Escapist, David Boring, The Fountain, Midnight Nation and more,many more. Comics are excluded from this list or the fact that Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes are work of literature worthy of Nobel Prize is a separate topic of discussion
Some very famous movies I discovered have been made from Graphic novels like,  A History of Violence, Road to Perdition, Ghost World, American Splendour (though this is more of pictorial memoir rather than a GN). I fell so much in love with this form that I invested time understanding the form and its meaning and read non-fiction books that explain this form, like, Understanding Comics, Comics & Sequentia Art, Reading Comics, Comic Book Nation, Articles by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Frank Miller and again many, many more.
I guess point I am trying to make, if you have not guessed, is I was a convert and obsessed with this form. Then yesterday finally realization dawned on me. I have believed and debated about superiority of  GN over traditional novels since I converted. But yesterday I discovered I was wrong but then I also found that I was absolutely right.
Let me start with how I was wrong, there is nothing new here, except the process of discovery. I discovered, which even a blind man could see, the concept of abstraction. Superiority of human mind lies in its capacity to understand and appreciate abstraction. between a picture of an eye and word eye, difference is level of abstraction, while one is an object, written word is a concept which needs maximum imagination of human mind both to write in a manner that a person reading is able to visualize, and the maximum abstraction is with reader who has not imagined that abstraction. And in this order of  abstraction lowest are movies, followed by Visual devices (GN included), then comes oral communication and at the top is the written word. So easy to see and understand yet I could not. So today I stand humbled and corrected about my false impressions and arguments.
But then never to give up, is there any area where GN scores over a novel. I have not developed this argument fully yet butfor sake of discussion, there are some things which human mind cannot imagine and this lack of imagination stems from lack or no expereince for that particular experience. Now question would be what kind of thing/concept/experience would that be, if it is pure imagination, I assume it can be captured in words, so obviously such a concept cannot just be a creation. I say, then it must be an actual experience. It must reality. I believe while where our mind can take the flights to fancy it struggles to grasp the simplest concepts of reality. It is easier for mind to think in abstract (all abstract then gets translated in frame of reference concrete for understanding) than see concrete. GNs score better in capturing reality and showcasing reality than novels can ever do. And obviously movies probably even better than GNs. GN can show a street in Berlin during World War 1 times, which I as Indian would never be able to imagine being never been to Germany or having never seen these pictures just from written descriptions. India on that day of 1947, i can smell in a written form but with a GN, I can touch it, taste it and live it. In my mind GN works best where it brings simplicity and concrete alive, and that does not include emotions. 
To end a post with no real closure, let me ask a question, when is understanding and appreciation of God  highest, when it is seen pictorially or heard or said or  read or written or thought?
Answers and arguments in every form would be appreciated.

3 Responses to “Novels vs Graphic Novels: End of debate. For me.”

  1. Gauri April 21, 2009 at 1:18 am #

    I have only just discovered graphic novels. Read Persepolis (1 and 2) and have got myself Maus.

    Simply on the basis of Persepolis, I have this to say:
    1)Words get a solid support of imagery. (Like in Persepolis, Marjane talks about how she imagined God lying buried under a tomb. The words would not have meant much, but for the simple, amazingly powerful drawing she supplied in the box.)
    2) It is much more fluid.
    3) It takes creativity on a more complex level on part of the author.
    4) A flip-side of point 3 is that it demands much less creativity or abstraction from the reader. Going by your own example of imagining streets in Nazi Germany, I would rate an author who describes scenes on the strength of his words much more. Like Ayn Rand’s ‘We the Living’. From whatever I read, I have a face for Kira, Leo, her cousin, the apartment they lived in and a million other tragic details of the landscape..

  2. fictitioustruth April 22, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    First things first, I think you have started with the best books this medium can offer.

    Now taking the points raised-

    1. Agreed,ofcourse they do, but point I tried to make was around evolution of human mind & its strength. Visual makes it to easy to understand, imagine strength of your mind if you could have conceptualized same image on your own from mere words, higher abstraction.

    2. Yes it is. Movies are even more.

    3. I donot demean the medium, it is a brilliant medium, very challenging, at its peak when writer,illustrator,inker etc all are same person. the post is not from point of view of writer, it is from perspective of reader. I imagine imagining and then giving definite shape to that imagination in terms of visuals is much evolved than having an imagination in words which can be open to individual interpretation. In GN fear of failure is higher as writer’simagination need to correspond to reader’simagination for same concept.

    4. Amazing, haven’t read the book, but would read it soon. But when we do not have visuals, one is never sure that reality was the way you imagined in words. A seed to doubt remains, visuals remove that ambiguity and paint reality and make it real for the reader.

  3. baruk May 3, 2009 at 3:59 am #

    [please expect more thinking aloud than reasoned argument]

    “Superiority of human mind lies in its capacity to understand and appreciate abstraction.”

    1.could it be argued that ‘superiority’ is also in the ability of the mind to overcome barriers? can GN/movies act as the barrier that the mind needs to work its muscle against and therefore stretch?

    2. i have always found it horribly difficult to visualise-i get totally taken up by the words themselves. the sandman, for example, would likely be incomprehensible to me without the images. by incomprehensible, here, i mean an inability to understand event sequence or references to previous events. i tend to get lost in the words themselves, and after an hour or two’s delightful reading, realise i cannot for the life of me say what *happened. the images give me a more rounded experience, though, so the next book is not entirely ‘new’, and i have mental signposts i can refer to. (lol, when i read this, i realise this may actually be an argument in support of ‘reading’ being superior.)

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