Illustration and literature: Can they mix?

We are studying the genre of memoir in my four-person capstone class currently. The course began with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home—the title ironically encapsulates the story of a dysfunctional family and its funeral home business. The graphic novel is something I have had very little exposure to before reading Fun Home. Perhaps it is due to my constant inclination toward words, but I found myself skimming and sometimes wholly ignoring the illustrations that ran through and around the text.  The multidimensional technique behind Fun Home as well as Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby is no doubt laudably crafted and intriguing. The illustrations, however, distract me. They too often make it so that the words are not presented on the page in a discernable order. Dialogue jumps around ambiguously, and there are sometimes a dozen frames of pictures to comprehend. How close of attention should the reader pay to studying the succession of illustrations? What is a good ratio of time spent on the words versus the visual?

As is true of every term as an upper-level English major, my classes have intersected in their content and conversation. In one of our Shenandoah intern meetings we discussed the Virginia Quarterly Review and some of its peculiar facets. What struck me was its incorporation of lots of color, more modern and “hip” typography, pictures, and even comics. A few of my peers voiced opposition to the comics, saying things like they cheapened the review and made it less serious or less academic. I tend to agree with this view. When I read a novel or a literary review, I primarily want words. Occasional photographs and art are wonderful, and can even help transition, set the tone, or change the pace. But I have found I do not mesh well with comics or graphic novels. Maybe a reader like my brother and his Calvin-and-Hobbes-filled childhood would have a different opinion. Or maybe I need more practice and exposure.

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One Response to Illustration and literature: Can they mix?

  1. Jim Groom says:

    It is good practice to link to the journals you are talking about so they know you are talking about them. That is how the ecosystem of the web gets fostered, particularly amongst literary journals.

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