It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s art?

Adam Quinn – Opinion Columnist |

You’ve all heard the story of the man who walks into a modern art museum, sees a Jackson Pollock, and says, “My eight-year-old kid could do that!” Watch out, because next year he may walk into the same museum, only to see his 8-year-old kid’s collection of comics books featured in their own special exhibit.

Comic books (graphic novels for the literary elite) have exploded into the forefront of mainstream culture, becoming the new backbone of summer blockbusters and Sunday-night television. However, comic books are also making their way into the sacred ranks of literature and art.

By combining dialogue and narration with illustrated panels, comics are able to tell stories in ways that no one has been able to tell them before. Comic books become a collaborative effort between the author, illustrator and, in many cases, the reader. For those against innovation in art, keep in mind that the word “novel” originally meant “something new.” Every novel Charles Dickens ever wrote was written chapter-by-chapter and published month-by-month, much like modern comic books. Comics, however, are in a position to surpass even novels as the dominant form of literature in our generation.

Comic books have a vast influence on other media. We have all seen superhero movies from the world of comics, some shockingly good (“The Avengers”) and some painfully bad (“Green Lantern”). Just as many movies without traditional superheroes are based on comic books, including “V for Vendetta,” “300,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and even “Men in Black.”

Christopher Nolan cited specific comic series as the inspiration for each movie in his Batman trilogy. “Batman Begins” draws from Gotham’s mobster mythology created by Frank Miller in “Batman: Year One.” Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight” practically saunters and snickers off the pages of Alan Moore’s “Batman: The Killing Joke.” Finally, “The Dark Knight Rises” borrows the character of Bane and the famous breaking of Batman from the “Batman: Knightfall” story arc.

Surprisingly, an argument for comic books as an art form is quite easy to make. In 2005, Time magazine compiled a list of the 100 best novels published since 1923 (the beginning of Time M=magazine). For the first time, “Watchmen,” a graphic novel created by Alan Moore, made the list, beside literary stalwarts such as “The Great Gatsby,” “Animal Farm,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Four years later, Time put out another list titled the “Top 10 Graphic Novels.” The list went on to name “Maus,” “Sandman,” and “The Dark Knight Returns,” among others, making a case for graphic novels as the newest innovation in art and literature.

Even Samford has jumped on the trend. Browse through the University Bookstore and you will find “Maus,” a graphic novel about a Holocaust survivor, being sold as required reading for a class. Graphic novels are already being taught in elementary and high schools across the country.

In the end, the most interesting question about comics books is not whether they should be accepted as art, but where they are going next. 

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