The comic or graphic narrative has always been a unique form of literature that usually combines both text and image. This form of literature is now gaining scholarly recognition for its ability to breathe new life into old stories and represent stories in a nuanced form. Traditional stories or novels put writing on paper and have the reader interpret the words given to them whereas graphic narratives, allow image and text to have, not only a collaborative relationship, but a relationship in which text and image are having constant conversation. Novels are not to be excluded from the realm of images as some do included visual stimuli however, the integral part these images play in graphic narratives are deemphasized in a novel containing illustration. For example, Alice and Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has several adaptations. There have been novel interpretations, graphic narratives, children’s books, and a myriad of films. The novel form of this piece of literature simply includes images whose purpose is to facilitate imagery in the reader’s mind. Images represented in the graphic narrative version guide the entire storyline making them essential for that particular adaptation. Comic books are a primarily visual way of interpreting information meaning that the reader can depend less on word technicality and more on the actual graphics to bring you into a story.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll adapted to graphic narrative form by Lewis Helfand

The limitations of the graphic narrative are clear, where novels usually allow the reader the free-range to imagine whole worlds, characters, and plotlines graphic narratives restrict the reader to particularly set dimensions of these same story elements. In essence, graphic narratives, one could argue, give readers less agency and input in the story. Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics argues otherwise saying that the concept of closure allows the reader to take a step into the graphic narrative in order to make the reader an active participant in the story. Closure is defined as observing the parts and perceiving the whole; essentially completing, that which is incomplete (63). Closure allows readers to interpret how the story should continue through their own lens in graphic narratives however the limitations still remain. With a character and a world so clearly depicted in images it is difficult as a reader to stray away from thinking of the particular narrative as having any other imagined world or character. Graphic narratives do take away the reader’s agency in terms of imagination and creation during reading. However, this is not necessarily a disadvantage to the reader. Some readers may find it helpful to have their stories played out directly in front of them as a film or a television series would provide. Furthermore, the author of the graphic narrative has greater control of their work making it easier for them to get across the story they intended.

Batman vs. Dickens

Overall, the graphic narrative has changed the way the public and the scholarly world thinks of literature. Not only do graphic narratives provide an impeccable dynamic between image and text but they do so without one giving way to the other. Both are equally as important in the form of a graphic narrative. Graphic narratives also do things that traditional novels simply cannot such as introduce multiple plotlines at once and have the reader keep track whole teams of characters without losing them completely. There are some aspects of literature that novels do better than graphic narratives and vice-versa; thankfully their strengths and weaknesses make them both essential to read.