Defining the Graphic Era

If you wondered whether graphic novel means a larger work of comics you would be correct. But life isn’t always so simple.








First, let’s redefine the graphic “novel” and rather refer to these collections of narrative images as graphic books. The word novel implies that the work in question is fiction, which is not always the case (Dr. Rebecca Barnhouse, author of The Book of the Maidservant). Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a cleverly illustrated memoir of her own childhood. Wheres as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is entirely fantasy.

Graphic books are either intended narratives that extend beyond the typical page number of a comic book and bound using a method other than the typical stapling, or they can also be a collection of comic books that form a sequence of a story and are also bound in a way other than stapling. The difference between comics and graphic books are relatively simple somewhat arbitrary.

The name comic book refers to a collection of picture panels that form a narrative. Therefor, what right do we have to call graphic books anything if not collections of comic books? This becomes problematic when we examine that I define a graphic book in two ways. In the sense that a graphic book is a collection of comic books bound in a different way, it is a comic collection. A book originally intended to be and published as a larger work extending beyond the scope of the typical comic book is still a comic book.

Unfortunately the word comic is associated with a number of juvenile ideas. The largest demographic for the purchasing of comic books are adolescent boys. Therefor we are hesitant to use the word comic to describe more serious works.

But each panel of art is in itself a comic. And each collection of panels is a comic book. And regardless of how it is bound they are a mutually exclusive idea. In the attempt to mature the world of graphic story-telling, we have evolved to use words that are exclusive to adults. You wouldn’t give your child a graphic movie or a graphic video game. The word graphic doesn’t just imply a picture of some sort. It implies that the content of what you are handling is somehow reserved for the eyes of an adult.

To embrace the new trend of the graphic book we usher ourselves into a new graphic era of literature. While some may be hesitant to accept the legitimacy of the graphic book they will very soon be quieted. We no longer live in a world wholly tolerant of information that isn’t quick and easy to access. We are a visually glutinous population of consumers. Literature, as everything else, must evolve as we do if it is to survive. Instead of holding this concept of literary evolution at arms length, we should embrace it as humanity once embraced the advent of the printing press. Sometime in the future, our quibbles will seem like archaic qualms to our descendants.

The case against entitlement

You will reap from life what you sow. You will be a professor if you work diligently to understand what that means and requires. You will be a doctor for the same reason.

Obtaining a degree does not entitle you to a job. It does not entitle you to status or money or wealth. It does not entitle you to anything.

I come to you after reading One Case Against Removing The Liberal Arts From Universities, an article that was particularly motivating.

The basis of this article was to refute claims that the Liberal Arts are an irrelevant part of the University. This is a hilarious sentiment. Universities were founded on the basis of teaching specialized areas of knowledge, most notably to the clergy and officers of the government. You were educated if you had status and a job the required you to be educated.

The perception is most often that the liberal arts are an ancient tradition of hoo-haw that spoils our brains and doesn’t promote practical thinking. It isn’t as valuable as math or science.

And yes, math and science are what men of the first universities would have learned. They needed to be able to calculate measurements and formulate opinions based on those calculations. This would have been more accurately considered as learning new technology than learning math and science.

Scholars also would have been taught philosophy, as philosophy of more than a hundred years wasn’t such seemingly a frivolous pursuit. It was considered the same as today’s psychologists speculating behavioral problems or meteorologists predicting the weather. The difference is, we understand these concepts better. We understand them differently, and therefor they become archaic.

Truthfully, literature is a relatively new concept compared to mathematics. We measured before we wrote. We needed writing to record those measurements. Writing of language begins in many cultures as a means of recording labor and quantity. Literature as we know it doesn’t emerge until much later, after its inception. The oldest manuscript in our possession is Beowulf, but between the writing of Beowulf and the fifteenth century, surviving manuscripts can be more rare than a white Bengal tiger walking an American beach. It is from the 15th century on that the invention of the printing press and the resurgence of classical thought form the body of work we study today.

I can talk about this until my face turns blue. So I’ll stop.

The reality is that my experience at a university is only relevant because of the amount of work I put in and the opportunities I took to gain experience. What mattered wasn’t my A in 20th Century British Literature. My experiences with organizations on campus mattered.

Therefor without my humanities degree, I might not be anyone special. I might not have any valuable skills.

Tell me, English major, what do you do all day?

Sometimes I wonder if other human beings believe that all I do is sit in a classroom of five or six other fellow English scholars and discuss why curtains are blue in chapter six of x story. I have been outright scoffed at when it was revealed that my degree will be in English. To practical human beings, we are the lazy facet of society, not quite crazy enough to be artists but still very much of a similar caliber. Artists are the shot guns and we English people are the pistols.

People argue the value of art, but no one denies the value of beauty. We care so much about beauty that we’ve dedicated entire empires of commerce to it. We complain about the altering of it in the media. We obsess over the lives of those able to achieve it. But more often is Kim Kardashian discussed in the news than Margaret Atwood. If Atwood had Kim’s ass, how much do you want to bet more people in the media would pay attention to her? But Atwood is still pretty sexy in that picture, isn’t she?

What is the value of the English degree?

If you have absolutely no imagination or drive, there is absolutely no value in an English degree. But the same is true for an entrepreneur. A business doesn’t thrive without diligence and innovation. Neither does the literary community. I won’t tell you to get any sort of degree if you are incapable of imagining a path for yourself that requires it.

The value of the English degree for myself is the first stepping stone to my future. I want to be a writer. But being a writer is not a good day job. I don’t enjoy poverty, as I suspect most people don’t. Therefor it was the closest I could come to my dream career without starving. This first stone was one of several in a series.

So we come back to what it is I do all day.

I read. I really do read alllllllllllllll day. Some of us write too. Some of us play dungeons and dragons. The truth is, we are a diverse bunch. And we spend an ostensibly long time learning about how to read rather than what to read. The purpose of our education isn’t just to have read the most classics offered on Amazon. The purpose of our education is to require us to comprehend what we read, and then to funnel our eureka moments into a feasible argument that supports our theories.

Even English majors complain about having to write papers. Unfortunately, I have no sympathy for these particular people. Becoming an English major is a guarantee that you are going to spend a good portion of your time theorizing ways to not have to write six 20-page papers all due on the same day. I knew this well when I signed up for this major.

As I come to the close of my undergraduate education, I see it as a whole entity. I don’t just sit around reading books all day. I sit around imagining. I read. I think. I connect. I imagine. I stimulate my mind with the possibilities of all of the information I am capable of obtaining. The only difference between myself and a medical student is, I can pretend to be a doctor in my books and get away with it. All I need is knowledge.

And therefor, to be whatever I choose to be, I need knowledge.

I don’t write in a vacuum. I don’t have an exclusively placed cabin in the woods where I can escape to. I don’t sit with a pipe in front of a fireplace reciting Shakespeare to myself.

I imagine.