The History of Graphic Novels and Why They Are Not Well Respected

Will Eisner was the man who came up with the term “graphic novel,” which referred to novels that include both pictures and words to tell a story. From that points the market saw an increase in the production of graphic novels

Will Eisner was the man who came up with the term “graphic novel,” which referred to novels that include both pictures and words to tell a story. From that points the market saw an increase in the production of graphic novels

Lancy Shi, Photojournalist

In 1896, a comic strip by the name of “The Yellow Kid” made its debut in The New York World newspaper. The comic featured a young boy wearing an oversized yellow shirt, and influenced the term “yellow journalism.” This comic made a huge impact not only to the art community, but also the newspaper industry and marketing history, as this peculiar child caught many’s attention. Additionally, it sparked the beginning of comics being featured in newspapers and propelled the comic industry. Knowing all of this, one would think that comics and graphic novels would be respected by critics because of how much influence they had in the early days, but that is actually not the case.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or maybe you have read the Garfield comics as a kid, or you have recently gotten into Japanese manga and have already collected a huge stash.  In any case, you have probably come across a comic or graphic novel at some point in your life. When asked for his opinion on graphic novels, Yoonchul Shin (12) praises them by saying, “I think they are drawn well and have distinct styles.” These colorful books with fancy dialogue bubbles and cute character designs are eye candies for the public because they are presented in a way that is easily digestible. Most of the time there are only a few words per page, so people with short attention spans wouldn’t get bored of the long description texts that are usually presented in typical novels. This is the reason why authors and traditional artists view comics almost like the fast food of art and literature. They believe that because having few words and simple pictures is easily digestible, comics don’t hold as much merit and meaning as full length books or oil paintings. 

So, the simple questions lie: can graphic novels be just as deep and meaningful as other forms of art and storytelling? Will graphic novels ever be seen as more than just stupid entertainment? Before answering this question, it is important to mention that there is a difference between something being popular versus well respected. Even though comics are loved by the general audience, they are still being looked down upon. The same thing applies to pop music, as people wouldn’t review it the same as classic rock or jazz. This is a problem because the writers and artists who work on these graphic novels are putting just as much thought and effort into their works as anyone else would, yet most of their works are seen as something only little kids can enjoy. Obviously, there are graphic novels designed specifically for the younger audience, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are.

A good example of a deep graphic novel is a Japanese coming of age manga titled “Goodnight Punpun.” The story follows a boy by the name of Onodera Punpun and his experiences with love, abuse, and depression as he grows into a man. Even though everyone in the story is human, some of them are portrayed as other creatures to add to their character. The series is extremely dark and portrays human nature in such a subtle yet horrific way that it deserves just as much respect as a novel written about depression. By using imagery and selective colors, the author is able to illustrate such a depressing, yet somehow beautiful story of a boy growing up. The saddest thing is that if this book was published as a wordy novel, it probably would have gotten more praise, at least in the west. 

Another example of an adult graphic novel is “Maus,” written by Art Spiegelman. Just like his first name, Art created art by using animals to paint the picture of his father’s experience in the Holocaust as a Polish Jew. Even though it isn’t first hand experience, Spiegelman paints it in such a terrifying and creative way that the reader almost forgets that Art has never seen the things he has drawn out. He merely listened to his father’s stories and promised to portray it as horrific and meaningful as possible by drawing the groups of people as animals. 

The topic of graphic novels is very open to debate, and depending on someone’s age or field of study, their opinions might be drastically different. Most YLHS students probably have their own graphic novel recommendations as well as thoughts on them in general. In our school library, there is actually a shelf of great graphic novels that anyone can pick up. In any case, there is no debate that comics will become more and more popular as times go on. Whether or not the critical opinion of them will ever change, they will always be a staple in art and literature and will always create beautiful memories for readers all around the world.