Graphile- Complexity and Graphic Novels

On Monday we held the second Literacy Research Association Netcast. We put together an amazing panel on Grpahic Novels

I, a novice in the world of Graphic Novels, was struck by a few salient points.

First there is a general misconception about the complexity of Graphic Novels. Many teacher erroneously believe that graphic novels step down from the complexity of texts. This belief the panelists argued is cuased by numerous novel adaptations that create the illusion of being less complex. When we examine the body of work that began as graphic novels and not as adaptions the layers of meaning captured both in and out of frame become clear.

The complexity in graphic novels involves three levels. The vocabulary of graphic novels often exceeds other grade level texts. Yet lexile scores use sentence length so they disfavor graphic novels. The second level of complexity involves the art. In fact expert comic book readers pay more attention to the art rather than words when compared to novice readers. The third level of complexity emerges at the intersection of art and words and in the spaces between panels

David Low, a panelist, coined the term graphile to describe this additional qualitative difference. The presenters agreed this where we need to mov in order to support teachers. We do not need to justify the use of graphic novels but understand the challenges of graphile complexities. We need to move past talking about modes in graphic novels but delve into how people use those modes for meaning making. Finally we need to develop a system to evaulate the quality of graphic novels so we can make recommendations to teachers.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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