by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins devotes a Martin Center column to the growing trend of college English departments using comic books.
Many English departments are now beginning to offer courses on graphic novels, which integrate text and visual imagery. Graphic novels are increasingly studied alongside traditional literature, in some cases supplanting more standard text-based curricula.
For example, one course at UNC Chapel Hill titled “The Visual and Graphic Narrative” can be taken to satisfy the literary appreciation part of a student’s general education requirements. (Students are only required to take one literary appreciation class.) The university also offers a course titled “Comics as Literature” as a first-year seminar.
Given these courses’ rising popularity among students, administrators and instructors may view them in terms of their ability to renew student interest in the humanities. But while graphic novels do have artistic merit, and are of aesthetic interest, the rise of undergraduate courses on graphic novels is problematic.
One reason is that the majority of graphic novels tend to advance political agendas. The graphic novels found on course syllabi and on reading lists often deal with controversial political issues such as social justice, immigration, gay rights, etc. This is part of a larger trend in the humanities, where focus often is on oppression and identity politics. …
… In addition to the fact that graphic novels often are used to further a political agenda, it seems that they don’t possess the same merit as traditional literature. Given students’ limited time in college, it is pressing that they be presented with more intellectually demanding readings. This is especially true when a student’s general education course may be the only exposure to literature that he or she receives during college.
Part of the problem with substituting graphic novels for text-based books lies in the medium itself. Grappling with a text to understand its meaning is a more intellectually demanding task, and requires a greater use of one’s reasoning skills.