Are comic books considered literature? A generation or so ago, the answer to this would have often been a resounding and almost unanimous no, by many who might be asked. However, things have changed. No longer are comic books considered just the realm of nerds or cult fans. Comic books have not only become socially acceptable but actually quite desirable.
A lot of this has to do with their success at the movies. While the late 1970s and early 1980s saw several Superman films come to the big screen with success, the real turning point may have been Tim Burton’s Batman movie of the late 1980s, which became a number one movie for that year and was still playing in some theaters after twelve months and the movie was on television by then.
The following decade saw Hollywood paying more attention to superhero movies, often inspired by comic books, and as the turn of the century passed, multi-installment franchises were born. The Fantastic Four and the X-Men each saw more than one film, with The Fantastic Four recently rebooted and X-Men films continuing to come out.
The real dominance has been with Marvel films surrounding the Avengers and its related characters. Now, DC is trying to get into the game with Superman movies leading into Justice League movies. So, comic books have definitely translated well into the movie medium, as have many books.
However, if literature and comic books share space on movie screens, are they equals in the eyes of academics? There was a time that many academics viewed comic books as a disposable or even “throw away” form of art or entertainment. However, a growing number of college professors are taking a different tack and are treating comic books with far more respect than they have traditionally been given.
In fact, a country like the United Kingdom has around a hundred and fifty actual comic book scholars, who study and review comic books and graphic novels for a number of factors. These include the explorations of subjects like feminism, history, and gender. There is also analysis of the portrayals of the social, mental, and physical health of superheroes, their villains, and other characters involved in the story.
It’s not shocking that Britain would be a place that has a small community of comic book scholars, as it was a trio of British writers that possibly helped the genre “mature.” This was in the 1980s and was a result of work from writers such as Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Bryan Talbot.
Dialog vs Prose
Even aside from impact on the movie genre and the academic regard comic books and traditional literature are both regarded through, an honest look just compares regular books to comic books. Here, it is easy to see that both mediums have far more similarities than differences.
Both are read in the hands, flipping through pages to read through the story. Both have antagonists and protagonists, plot, themes, world-building, conflict, and tension. The only real difference is that comic books have far more imagery and pictures, relying more on dialog than prose.
It’s hard to convince young adults and children these days that there’s any real difference between comic books and traditional literature. In fact, the lines blur a lot in regards to children’s books, which are considered literature, but heavily involve pictures and imagery like comic books do. In truth, the answer to the question of whether or not comic books are considered literature is much like how beauty rests in the eye of the beholder. Given the growing prevalence of graphic novels blurring the lines between comics and literature, it’s possibly more accurate to view all as just sections of a bigger artistic spectrum.