Monday, July 25, 2011

Captain America: Comic Book or Graphic Novel?

Comic books are just for kids, right? Or are they graphic novels that push the boundaries of illustrating and storytelling? Are we seeing the acceptance of the comics as an art form equal to Shakespeare or is it simply the flavor of the decade, so to speak? 

I saw the new Captain America film in theatres this weekend and it turned out to be a decently entertaining movie, but it got me thinking about the battle in the art world between those who write-off comic books as popular tripe versus those who consider them graphic novels worthy of literature. Originally, comic books sold for a few cents to children wanting to pass the weekend without feeling like they read a grownup book. Today, however, comic books are asserting their role as genuine works of art, styling them “graphic novels” that speak to both kids and adults. 

Oddly enough, sales in comic books are declining, whereas comic book movies keep turning into box office hits. Is calling a comic book a graphic novel just a horse of another color or are we seeing the emergence of a more sophisticated form of expression? Are characters like Captain America, Batman, and the Green Lantern epic archetypes or just Freudian boyhood fantasies on steroids?


  1. I've never really read comic books, but I do enjoy watching the movies, and the cartoons :D But I think for me it's more of a format thing. I like the characters, I like the stories, but I'd rather watch them in real time action than read the stories in the comic books.

  2. Personally, I think there has always been a certain degree of sophistication where comic books are concerned, and the fact that adults collect them is a testament to this.

    They are many ways in which 'child's play' can be appreciated, not the least of which is a grown person responding to archetypal manifestations that don't necessarily have to bear up under the pressure of being more than just boyhood fantasies on steroids.

  3. Mark - This makes me think of one of our greatest sci-fi writers, Ray Bradbury, who was highly influenced by reading comics like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
    My son loves comics and graphic novel, both of which can ignite the love of reading in kids who'd otherwise never pick up a book.
    There are comics that are amazing stories, that have sparked the minds of literary giants, and I don't think the genius or the literary value of comic books should ever be discounted. ;)
    (Thanks for stopping by!)

  4. I do think that comic books have their value. They're still stories that play on events and ideas, as any other sort of book would; and much time and effort must be put in to doing the illustrations.

  5. Hello Mark:
    In an increasingly 'visual' world,we can well imagine that comic books are enjoying a wider appeal than perhaps they have done previously. The debate about comic book versus graphic novel is so very reminiscent in our view to the debate of the 1960s when Roy Lichtenstein spearheaded the case for Pop Art as a Fine Art form. As the decades have rolled on, it is generally agreed that they are both worthy to be called Art. Perhaps in due course, whether it be a comic book or a graphic novel it will become Literature.

  6. I have always appreciated the artwork in comics and graphic novels. It is an artform beyond the written word. So many comics are now available as downloads and apps - I wonder if that is changing the sales of physical comics?

  7. Now hold on there...comic books on an equal plane with Shakespeare? Sir, you go too far.

    I think artistically comic books are great. Can't say I'd go along with them as good literature, though. Then again, I'm not really familiar enough with them to make a judgment. I'm just relying on my book snobbery to get me through this comment. :)

  8. Michelle – Honestly, I never read them much myself. I never quite adjusted to the format and direction in which to read, sometimes getting a headache as a result. That’s part of why I like seeing them on the big screen now.

    Suze – True. I think to a degree all art originates in “child’s play,” and maybe that’s the best art of all.

    Jayne – Ray Bradbury was def awesome, and Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers remain sci-fi icons. I think you have a point that comic books can be a gateway for kids into further reading. Great blog, by the way:)

    Eagle – Quite right, a good story is a good story. BTW, is it okay to call you “Eagle?” I like to shorten names when I can:)

    Jane/Lance – The same old argument of high art vs. low art seems to be the recurring theme. And since one generation’s “low” art becomes the next generation’s “high” art, I think it best to always stay on the side of “low” art when looking for inspiration.

    Alex – Really good point about downloads, I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps, that does describe the discrepancy I mentioned.

    L.G. – Yes, perhaps comparing comic to Shakespeare is a bit much, but truth be told, in his day plays were considered a distant a distant second to poetry and even he had to overcome a stigma. And it’s okay to not consider comics the same as literature, because they are truly different, but still cling to the same tenants of good pot and storyline.

  9. I love comic books for their art first. I had a boyfriend who loved comic books for the stories and so I read quite a few and was impressed. I think they will always have a stigma attached to them, though.

  10. I've never been big on comics, as in reading them, but I also think that they are just as creative as any other type of writing/graphic art. They are just more visual and less wordy than a novel, really. As far as archetypes or boyhood fantasies...maybe a little of both? Comic books have been created due to certain needs of the readers, just as any other art form, really, so they reflect people's fantasies. Who doesn't enjoy a hero who overcomes less spectacular beginnings to make something of themselves? Or someone who can take the dark side of themselves and use it to do good for others? I don't think it's necessarily just boyhood fantasies, either, but fantasies anyone can feel innately.

  11. As a kid I loved comic books. But, its ages since I have read them.

    Congrats Mark, you won the Ebook copy of Guardian Cats on my blog. Please mail me your email address.

  12. Lynda - it's true that they do currently still have a bit of a stigma, but I wonder if that will fade within the next generation or so.

    Shannon - I never read comic much myself, but I certainly like seeing them in film. You're right about the fact that anyone can identify with them, so I think that's telling about their ultimate success.

    Rachna - Gosh, thanks! So glad I won:)