Literature is an art that engenders understanding and insight. So comics certainly fit the bill. This idea was professed by Rocco Versaci, an English professor and a comics nerd, California resident, in his book on graphic novels. Comic books were dismissed as lowbrow and juvenile by many for a long time, but the genesis of graphic novels which were undoubtedly born out comics, altered the outlook of readers. Graphic novels are relatively a new concept in the field of literature yet their artistic and narrative dexterity have been considerably conspicuous to several horde of avid readers. Unlike Archie comics which call for a frivolous reading, graphic novels are serious literature. They express ideas, create characters, address issues and tell stories in an inimitable style and format.
Graphic is a language per se; a reminder to those who think novels containing graphics do not command enough attention and mental strain. One has to be equally cognizant while deciphering a picture in a graphic novel as one would while reading mere text in long narrative novels. Infact readers become more imaginative as they are able to understand the sequence of events without the use of words. Their visceral senses are stimulated making them more sensitive and pious as readers.
A picture is equivalent to conveying thousand words; an age old maxim has been validated by ‘Graphic novels’ which hold the key to alluring even those who have an aversion towards purely textual novels containing long prose narratives. They are written in the style of a comic book yet not all the novels come under the genre of leisure reading such as those regarding superheroes and fantasies. Graphic novels have suffused stories from history and classics to captivate the readers. Amar Chitra Katha, the Indian counterpart to western comics has been of significance in imparting cultural values and historical knowledge to not only the young minds but anyone eager to hone their intellect.
The prominence of graphic novels can be seen from their proliferating copies by the publishing book houses as there is has been a rising demand. The novels embedded with pictures have taken an arduous journey in engrossing the readers as they have gone to all lengths to arouse the curiosity of their minds. Amar Chitra Katha added historical topics as for most people, Indian history is a disarray of names, dates. “I just bought my copy of the 3-in-1 book ‘Temples of India’. It was an awesome edition. The illustrations were wonderful and the scripts were crisp. I came to know a lot about the three temples-Konark,Vaishno Devi and Tirupati. As soon as I started reading the book, I got mingled into the ancient world. Truely, the whole book had incredible powers.”, claims Sanket Nayak, a resident of Mumbai, in Amar Chitra Katha fan page on Facebook.
Graphic novels enabled important historical events to come alive as stories. The detailed research of architecture, costumes, regional flavours and facts ensured that the comics gained wide acceptance into the mainstream literature. These graphical books with their homogenized and unbiased character descriptions traversed a long way in promoting national integration and increasing inter-provincial awareness (comics such as Krishnadeva Raya portrayed the Vijayanagara empire) throughout the country.
The notion that graphic novels are too simplistic to be considered as serious reading is outmoded. The excellent graphic novels available today are linguistically appropriate reading material demanding many of the same skills that are needed to comprehend traditional works of prose fiction. Often they actually contain if not more atleast equally laudable vocabulary as traditional novels or books. They too require readers to be proactively engaged in the process of decoding and understanding a range of literary devices, including narrative structures, metaphor and symbolism, point of view and the use of puns and alliteration, context and inference. Reading graphic novels can help people develop skills necessary to read more challenging works such as Classics by Shakespeare. They ease reading and understanding of complex narratives.
Will Eisner initially popularized this form of sequentially art though his book ‘A Contract with God’ and gave an impetus to the graphic novel craze as his work was a primal statement of emotion from a creator who had mastered the art of grammar and acoustics of comics. For him drawing pictures for comic books was akin to calligraphy in its symbolic gesture and imagistic sweep. Graphic novels were created on the basis of how images, illustrations can be employed to support and enliven a story’s narrative. This form of storytelling is not new to the 21st century as when one reminisces the cave paintings of prehistoric ages, Egyptian hieroglyphics and medieval tapestries such as Bayeux Tapestry depicting events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, they are nothing but stories told using pictures.
Graphic novels in the contemporary parlance, unlike regular comic books deal with a more mature theme and have a beginning, middle and end as opposed to the episodic nature of traditional comics. They deal with stark and grim portrayal of real life. Naseer Ahmed’s graphic novel Kashmir Pending is about the story of a reformed militant, why did he do it, anger and passion that drove him to militancy and his eventual decision to surrender to the authorities. The novel highlights militancy in Kashmir yet does it with graphic tour de force. The pictures in the novel help the reader to navigate through the uncomfortable terrain of contemporary Kashmir. The artwork in this graphic novel depicts the many tenebrous images of prisoners sitting in shadowy cells, praying, passing cigarettes to each other, recounting their experiences, their sunken faces only half-visible. The reality has been induced through images to give a palpable effect to the storyline.
All those readers who previously disliked graphic novels, the next time they pass by a book store stacked with graphic novels, they wouldn’t be benighted towards them. Instead they would probably venture out to buy such a novel and challenge their complacency towards this genre. The reinvigorating approach adopted by graphic novels is definitely creditable making them worthy of reading. The previous disregard for graphic novels, if at all any, would metamorphose into regard.