When I was in elementary school, the teachers permitted us to pick our books for an upcoming book report. I asked the teachers if I could write my report on the graphic novel Bone: Out From Boneville, the first in the Bone Chronicles written by Jeff Smith. After mulling the book over, my teachers decided that I would not be allowed to use Out From Boneville because it was primarily pictures.
At the time, I knew that this was unfair, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. The important part of the report was to analyze a story. Out From Boneville had a story, right? Besides, it still counted as reading, didn’t it?
Later, in high school, I found out that there was an entire course offered on graphic novels. Intrigued, I took it, and it ended up being my favorite class of my high school career. The very first thing we learned? Reasons to read comics and graphic novels. Turns out, the teacher had fought to make the course an option on the curriculum, and I’m very grateful he did.
I would like to relay to you the various reasons you should read more comics and graphic novels. This way, you can refute any arguments with teachers should they try and shoot down your book report ideas. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be using the abbreviation C&GN from now on in this article.
1. They engage reluctant readers.
Remember how the reason I was denied the usage of Out From Boneville was because it was primarily pictures? The logic works both ways. Sure, it might be an “easier read” because of all the pictures, but if somebody struggles to find books engaging, then a text with lots of pictures might be a good starting point.
Even if you are an avid reader, sometimes pages and pages of word after word seems daunting. C&GN can give you a break from monotonous pages while still providing you with stimulating material.
2. They’ll help you build vocabulary.
A study from the University of Oregon found that on average, graphic novels featured more extensive vocabulary and “rare” words than traditional novels. According to this study, the average for children’s books is 30.9 rare words per 1000 words, while adult’s literature averaged 52.7 per 1000 words. C&GN beat both of these out with an average of 53.5 rare words per 1000.
Just because pictures make up a portion of the page doesn’t mean the work is juvenile. People sometimes mistake C&GN for longer picture books, but this isn’t true. If anything, a picture book is a form of C&GN, not the other way around. The language can still be poetic and sophisticated in a C&GN.
3. C&GN engage both hemispheres of the brain.
The left side of your brain is linked primarily to more logical functions, while the right brain engages the imaginative and creative functions. Since C&GN utilize both words and images simultaneously, you engage both the left and right brain in the reading process. The left brain interprets the words, the right brain processes the pictures, and the two work together to tell the story.
In addition, your left brain controls linear sequencing and logical reasoning. C&GN, also referred to as “sequential art”, relies on sequencing to tell the story. The panels must be placed in the proper order for the timeline of the narrative to make sense. What’s more, your right brain handles non-verbal cues, so any facial expressions a comic character makes will be interpreted by the right brain.
4. Shows use them for source material.
Amidst the streaming wars, platforms like Netflix, HBOMax, and Amazon Prime have turned to C&GN for inspiration. Netflix shows like The Umbrella Academy, Sweet Tooth, Jupiter’s Legacy, and the upcoming Sandman series are all based on C&GN. Amazon Prime created Invincible and The Boys, and HBOMax features a plethora of DC Comics content. Other TV shows based on C&GN include The Walking Dead, The Flash, Supergirl, Riverdale, and Lucifer. And of course, C&GN dominate the movie industry.
It might seem like C&GN oversaturate the market, but this provides an opportunity to study storytelling. By reading the source material for a show or movie, you can compare and contrast the two, and figure out what elements make each medium effective. Does one character work better on the screen, or the page? How does the portrayal of time work? What can we take away from the comic versus the movie in terms of plot?
5. They allow for experimentation and unique storytelling.
Some stories simply work best as a C&GN due to their experimental elements. One that comes to mind is Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which recounts the author’s father’s experience as a Jewish man during the Holocaust, but with anthropomorphised characters (the Jewish characters are mice, the Nazis are cats, etc.).
Other influential works include Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (which is on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Novels), Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (a graphic memoir about growing up in Iran), Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn (an allegory for the United States involvement in the Middle East told from the point of view of zoo lions), Blankets by Craig Thompson (a coming of age story addressing the conflicting feelings of first love and religious upbringings), and so on.
I could continue listing recommendations and graphic novels that everyone should read. If you’re skeptical, take a look around at the C&GN in your local bookstore or library. With so many writers and artists out there, you’re sure to find something that grabs your attention.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.