Graphic novel viewed as contemporary literature, professor says

Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 8:30 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Using the traditional three rows of three panels, the comic book has become more than a pastime for the socially awkward. It is now considered contemporary literature — even art, says Andrew Hoberek, associate professor of English and director of Graduate Studies at MU.  

While it usually takes time to judge if something has become a part of the contemporary world, it looks like the comic book — or graphic novel — has already secured its place, Hoberek said during a lecture Wednesday night at Stephens College.

"(Graphic novels) sort of seem to have some of the characteristics (of contemporary literature)," Hoberek said. "They get written about as though they are literature. They get taught in classrooms."

All incoming students to Stephens College had to read the graphic memoir "Persepolis" over the summer. "Persepolis," by Marjane Satrapi, uses pictures and text to tell Satrapi's story of her life.

Hoberek said that part of what makes graphic novels, specifically graphic memoirs, so popular is their constant association with superheroes.

"Part of why these memoirs are so interesting is it's actually a way of communicating that people associate with superheroes," Hoberek said, "so there is kind of automatically tension if you are describing details of everyday life. It is so completely un-heroic that it makes it interesting."

Making the graphic novel even more complex is the challenge of balancing the text and the picture, said Judith Clark, English department chairwoman at Stephens.    

Hoberek suggests reading the graphic novel at a slower pace than you would a regular novel.  

"You have to study the picture, and sometimes the words are contradicting the picture," Hoberek said.  "It is slowed down a bit because in part what you are doing is contemplating the pictures the way you would a painting."  

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