Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Comics-Children's Lit Alliance: Thoughts for Friday's Forum

SDSU's ChildLit Grad Student Association is hoping to see you at the Living Room Cafe this Friday at 7pm for a discussion about comics and graphic novels in children's lit. I'm looking forward to hearing about everyone's favorite graphic novels, and I have tons of questions about comics and graphic novels in this field. For starters, Phil Nel gave a manifesto at this year's ChLA conference calling for an academic alliance between comic and graphic novel studies, and the field of children's literature.While this alliance may seem obvious to some, those that are familiar with the "adult" content of some graphic novels may be alarmed with this manifesto- some graphic novels just aren't appropriate for children. However, the moment something is designated as "not for children," children are all the more determined to get their grubby hands on it! Add to that the way that both children's literature and comics and graphic novels are marginalized and under-appreciated, and perhaps Nel's manifesto isn't so far-fetched. On the other hand, if you're a die-hard advocate for the comic and graphic novel form, wouldn't you be more invested in creating a unique division for this art form in the academy- one that is separate from but related to children's lit?

What characterizes the comic form anyway? Most obviously- panels. But is this always so? Local author Brian Selznick created Caldecott-winning novel, The Adventures of Hugo Cabret. This book features full-page illustrations and contains not one panel, yet due to the heavy interaction between the visual and the written it is often categorized as a graphic novel. By that definition, then, aren't all picture books graphic novels?

Given the popularity of series like Captain Underpants, Bone, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, educators are considering graphic novels only in the way that they hook reluctant readers, and what do we make of well-known titles being converted into graphic novel form? Madeleine L'Engle's  A Wrinkle In Time is now a graphic novel, Eoin Colfer helped create the graphic novel of Artemis Fowl... From a publisher's point of view, is this just another money-making way to hook reluctant readers, or is it an enthused indulgence in the possibilities of the form? Can it be seen as a sort of fan-fiction, since the artist can take liberties with the interpretation of the story? Or how about graphic novels for a YA crowd like American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang? Isn't the explosion in popularity of graphic novels adding to the discussion, in complex ways, about how ethnic minorities are viewed... literally?

Finally: how awesome is Calvin and Hobbes? Ok, that question may be a bit leading. But really, let's talk nostalgia and reverence for comics this Friday. How profound of an affect can a beloved comic have? I've heard friends cite The Far Side in passing conversation (either my friends are serious nerds, or The Far Side is the Seinfeld of the comic world), and I have no shame in admitting that I reach for a Get Fuzzy book after a bad day.

Want to look into more sources about comics and graphic novels in children's literature? Watch this TED Talk by Scott McCloud, or read How Graphic Novels Became the Hottest Section in the Library in Publisher's Weekly. You could also look at Charles Hatfield's "Graphic Novel" entry in Keywords for Children's Literature edited by Phil Nel and Lissa Paul. Or you could read some Peanuts

So much to talk about- see you Friday! (If you can't make it to the forum, feel free to leave a comment!)

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