This picture, and the others in this post, come from the popular manga Full Metal Alchemist, starring the young man with the metal arm, Edward Elric. The series is widely acclaimed for dealing with issues about the line between science and religion, the value of faith and life, as well as the moral implications of scientific experimentation. In Edward’s world, “alchemy” is the science, an art which allows the manipulation of elemental material in seemingly supernatural ways.
How can you explain what’s depicted in these panels? How many words would it take? Would describing Edward Elric’s mechanical prosthetic really be as effective as seeing him transmute it into a blade? Well, after several reviews, some historical research, and a thousand comic panels, I think our brief foray into graphic novels is coming to a close. Elizabeth has provided unparalleled academic context and ground-breaking research into the educational merits of graphic novels. John contributed his own erudite and rare perspective, a unique and necessary one for understanding the reader-response portion of our inquiry. Darlene gave us insightful and moving commentary and voracious curiosity toward a normally passed over genre. And I hope I facilitated understanding of the more semantic, syntactic, and prosodic methods used in these graphic novels, as I attempted to give the novels the structural attention their unique medium deserves.
As for my conclusions about graphic novels, they are legion. Through my research, I have come to the conclusion that graphic novels have a history as long and colorful as the modern novel, film, or artistic movement. Through my reviews, I have discovered that graphic novels convey all of the same information as prose, but by a different method. Prose utilizes the varied, deep, and rich vocabulary at our disposal as writers to convey meaning, narrative, theme, and character purely linguistically. Graphic novels are a shift in that paradigm, relying on illustrations to mimic the massive amount of non-verbal communication we take for granted every day.
In a novel, the facial expression of a character may be described holistically (“A look of terror passed across her face.”), comparatively (“He looked more excited than he felt.”) or even literally (“Her left eyebrow and lip both kinked in the corner, belying the bemused disbelief she felt”). However, none of those sentences will tell a reader the same nuanced information as a detailed illustration of a person feeling those same emotions. We have been hardwired to read other people in this manner, a manner that graphic novels take advantage of to tell stories with just as much literary merit as Melville and Tolstoy. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case so is a panel. Graphic novels have the unique opportunity to take advantage of our natural proficiency in nonverbal communication (intentional or not) to give readers the same important information Dickens spent hundreds of pages of text on.
This is a fantastic way to depict actions, emotions, and characters in ways that would take pages of text to accomplish. The hubbub in the second row of panels is a fantastic visual way to depict the commotion in the room, and Edward Elric’s sweating face in the last panel characterizes his amazement, confusion, and frustration better than a page of dialogue.
Some may warn that the overthrow of classic literature is nigh, and the next generations will be raised nearly illiterate if all of their reading happens a sentence (or fragment) at a time: I am inclined to agree. Too much research has shown the links between rampant reading and intelligence, academic success (even in unrelated areas) and all around life improvement to allow prose to quietly die.
I foresee an eventual merging of the genres; a hybrid graphic novel, which combines the inherent narrative ability of comic frames with the beauty and power of language. I’m imagining author-illustrators using comics as illustrations alongside a page of text, to clarify and intensify the action described there.
Just a thought!