What is Literature?

I ask this because I am moderately, although apprehensively, excited about the prospect of the Watchmen movie. As you may or may not know, this is based on a comic. What’s that, Sir? A comic? What, one of those four-colour, spandex-clad, brainless slugfests aimed squarely at 8-14 year olds? Are you seriously trying to tell me that that’s literature?

click through for more…

Well, yes. And no. Not all comic books are literature – or rather, not all comic books are literary. And why should they be? The comic exists in an entirely different medium to the novel, or the play, or the poem. There are things that you can do in a comic that are impossible in film or television, and vice versa. However, the medium doesn’t necessarily preclude it being intelligent, thought provoking, and a valid work of art. the original Watchmen comic (Graphic Novel, if you want to make it seem acceptable to adults) was one of the works credited with making the comic into an acceptable artform. It was certainly not aimed at children (although, of course, that is no guarantee of literary merit or otherwise. Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll are proof of that), but at an adult audience. It is many things – a fiendishly complex detective story, a work of striking imagination, a biting commentary on Reaganism and the atomic age, to name but three. It is, whatever your considered status of the medium of comics as literature, most definitely a literary work.

It will be interesting to see if the movie enhances or damages its reputation. Otherwise, if anyone is interested in the comic as a serious medium, let me know. I’d be happy to steer you in the direction of some of the masters of the genre.

Oh, and if you would like to get some background, head over to Neil Gaiman’s blog. He was, at one point, a journalist, and there’s a scan of an old, fascinating article from a number of years ago documenting the fall and rise of the comic, and an interview with the great, crazy Alan Moore himself, writer of V for Vendetta and Watchmen.

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~ by mrprestney on February 28, 2009.

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