A Comic is a Story, Right?

by at 28 February 2012

Is the novel dead?

Even as early as 1930 the debate has been raging as to whether or not the novel is dead. It could perhaps be suggested that the novel is a rather outmoded method of communication, especially in the age of apps and androids. As new forms of media have evolved, the question of whether or not printed media in general is still as relevant as it was is a tricky one to answer.

Could the same be said of printed comics as of novels? They have long been written off as children’s entertainment, and are now being ignored in favour of web-based communication. In a world of IPad apps that can create a personalised comic strip, and an increasing engagement with web comics, what now for the word, comic or otherwise, in print? Yes, it could be said that it’s just as easy to relax on your recliner sofa and enjoy a comic on your eReader or tablet just as easily as as you a paper version but is the enjoyment factor the same?

In basic terms, comics can be described as a method of telling a story using both illustrations and text, which one could suggest can range from the printed strip comics in newspapers, to comic magazines, and onward to bound, paperback illustrated narratives, often referred to as graphic novels.

Graphic novels

It is suggested that the tapestries and illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages might be some of the earliest forms of the graphic novel: the evolution of the form demonstrates in one sense how far the human race has come in their methods of storytelling, but in another, it shows how little the human desire to tell stories has changed. The method of printing may have become more sophisticated, but the telling of a story is just as ‘big’ today, as it was then.


Yet there is something to be said for evolution. Without it, we might still be telling stories on tapestries.  The web comic, and other associated web media, even blogs, could be a natural progression from the world of print media. They both achieve the same end, that is, to get a story across.

Web comics offer a novel way of combining art and literature in an uninhibited environment. There are several IPad apps available that allow the user to make their own comic strips in their own style, adding writing, and even their own pictures, to the strips. The user can play around with the format of the comics, to produce anything, including an online graphic novel, without the usual print restrictions. This means that more people can become involved in the world of storytelling, using web comics to broaden their imaginative horizons.

Print media

If there is a chance the novel is on its way out, the printed medium as a whole is certainly not dead: there is something to be said for the solidity of a story in print. Graphic novels and comic magazines alike have a fluidity and presence that web comics cannot manage.

Even the differences between print media demonstrate how essential it is to both comic book lovers and novelists alike: comic book writers make the illustrations themselves, and novel writers employ the reader’s imagination to do a little of the work. The way of telling may be different, but it is in the telling that the heart of the matter lies.

Uses of comic style

Comics generally have a far reaching impact on media at large. In the art world, comics have contributed to movements such as pop art: comic-style pictures can be found in copy on posters, mugs, and even coasters.

Comic superheroes have blasted into the cinema with blockbusters such as Superman, Spiderman and the X-Men bringing the world of the comic onto the screen.

Perhaps the question is not print vs. web, but the gradual decline in the celebration of storytelling, in any format. The desire is to have the art, but not always to appreciate it- and to see the film, without always knowing what it’s all about, and perhaps, just because it’s there.

Some may say that the hype for superheroes and comic book-style art is a hysteria that does not appreciate the element of storytelling behind the comic book, and the use of text and illustrations to create a work of art in its own right. For those people, printed media will never die, as there is something about the form that just can’t be created on a screen.

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