Arresting Development Dr.Christopher Pizzino

"All of us adults who have been and still are active comic book readers have run into this problem--especially if you are over the age of fifteen, which I venture to say most of you are--of reading them in public. And inevitably, someone is going to notice, which means they are going to raise their eyebrows and, at best, ask you what on earth you are reading. After years of this happening to me, I always had the perfect narrative up my sleeve, I would tell them..."

"Once upon a time...

When you and I were growing up, comic books were just developing and they weren't worth very much at the time in terms of quality or quantity. But as they have developed they are becoming something more of substance, something nearly literary. And THAT is why I am reading a comic book as a grown adult."

Which is a huge lie. A convenient lie, but a lie nonetheless. And honestly, I wrote this very book because I was just tired of lying.

Arresting Development: Comics at the Boundaries of Literature

"Comics have been despised for a long time because they have been scapegoated and have had to put up with being the 'junk that kids read.' This is a conversation about power."

What these artists do, essentially, is walk the line between the proven respect of a literary work vs. the convenience aspect: in other words, these very raw stories portraying homelessness, being queer, political oppression, these are the ones that need to be heard and seen the most. And these artists have to walk the paradox of knowing that what they are saying is so powerful and so important and yet in their medium, it is less likely to be heard.

Wait. Let's define 'literary' here.

I think we can agree that when I say 'literary' in this context, I'm referencing the classical, canon texts. I'm not excluding comics from literary status, but that's something we can talk about in a moment.

One of the things that we did to make the comic book more "literary" was change its name to "graphic novel." I use those interchangeably, but I prefer "comic." It's because the term "comic" has a status problem in the literature world.
I know, I know, they will try to tell me that there is a difference--that graphic novels are much longer and full of a substantial narrative that spans 200 or 300 or more pages, and that it's a newer genre and so on. And you know, maybe it's true. Maybe comic book artists in the 60's and 70's just never had that ambition of setting out and creating 300 pages of work. These days, artists can churn them out and publishers will slap the "graphic novel" label on the cover and sell, sell, sell.

But let's be honest. A graphic novel is just another way to sell a comic book.

So when I set out to write this book, I originally intended to study the historical arc of comic books. And instead I just found myself really needing to tell the world the amazing come-back story of the century: comics in the literary world. Because comics have been so subjugated in American culture, and because they are especially frowned upon in the adult world.

How does a culture like that of Japan have such a strong relationship with graphic media while American culture so strongly rejects it?

And perhaps a bigger point might be: Japan's literacy scores are some of the highest in the world, so what does that say about where they place their emphasis and the power of the image?

Do you think relationship between teaching graphic novels/comics in schools impacts the cultural "legitimacy" or further perpetuates the idea that they are meant for children?


"More and more I hear of teachers using graphic novels in their classrooms, but I've found that there are two ways that teachers are doing it. The first way is teaching the graphic novel as they would any other book in the classroom, to some purpose of critical analysis. This creates a kind of balance of sorts, especially as students begin to see the graphic novel as a valid source of literary critique.
The other way I see teachers use them is by saying "Oh, my struggling readers love graphic novels!" and so those students are the only ones who are exposed to it. Worse than that, those books are used as a sort of "stepping stone" to "real" books, if you get my drift.

So as long as graphic novels are being used as both this "stepping stone" and this "stumbling block" then of course, they aren't going to become any more legitimate to any of those kids and especially not to the teachers.

Pictured top left: one of the books available for purchase entitled Fun House, which Dr. Pizzino highly recommended along with Batman (pictured top right). Bottom left: Dr. Pizzino signing books and talking with students. Bottom right: a selfie with the literary event closing up behind me.
Created By
Gretchen Hauser


Created with images by mauren veras - "Vintage comics" • Tama66 - "frog king fig" • PublicDomainPictures - "silhouette thumb down" • Marxchivist - "Ghostly Weird Stories #122" • PetLvr - "Action Comics (357)" • Marxchivist - "Detective Comics #431"

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