“I don’t think anyone has written a great graphic novel.” –Ted Rall
So is a picture really worth a thousand words? I’m not so sure, when we’re talking about graphic novels.
I’ve read a number of graphic novels from various genres and enjoyed some of them more than others. The common thread between them, regardless of the genre, was that I felt a little let down by the shortage of words. I understand the concept of graphic novels, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not usually completely carried away by a graphic novel in the same way I am by a traditional book.
I’m sure that part of the reason for this is past conditioning. In the ancient times of my childhood, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, comic books were chipped onto stone tablets, Flintstones’ style. Okay, maybe that’s something of an exaggeration, but the prevailing view was that comics weren’t really worthwhile reading.
Another downside for me is that I find graphic novels challenging to read. My eyes and mind wander to the print, and the illustrations are something of a distraction. For me, the best part of a graphic novel isn’t the graphics, it’s the text. The anguished entries from Rorschach’s journal in the Watchmen or the sarcastic remarks from the dragon in Bone, are what keep me involved with the story, not the illustrations.
All that being said, I’ve been moved to tears by Maus, grown up and asked questions with Marjane and rejoiced in the defeat of many a bad guy. Would I have experienced this without the artwork? Perhaps…but not in the same way. When I slow down, and really take in the artwork, and let the artist tell the story in that way, the graphics do have power, and can pull me into that moment in time in a way words alone cannot.
At the start of this blog, I questioned whether a picture is worth a thousand words. I fully intended to end this entry by saying absolutely not. After going back and re-reading, and, more importantly, re-seeing, the graphic novels I’ve mentioned, I’m not so sure. For me, the words are still the focus, but there’s room for pictures, too. I’m going to continue to read and look at graphic novels. In the end, it’s the story that’s important. So, a thousand words? Maybe not, but at least five hundred or so.