Its most significant achievement of The Watchmen's inclusion in Time's 100 was best stated by Dr. Terry Harpold of the University of Florida who pointed out, "They didn't say, 'the best graphic novel'.
They just placed it with all the other novels.
They treated it as a form that merited that stature.
This is significant, because, even though they placed it apart from other comics, they still recognized that a work from that medium can rise in achievement to works of the classic novel.
This transition was further articulated to me by Dr. Harpold
who said, "I think we are entering a phase in which people are beginning to attend to comics as an expressive medium that could be seen on equal footing [as novels]".
In other words, we are presently witnessing this transition within the medium, into a form that is garnering wider acceptance.
Time's inclusion of the Watchmen is merely one example of this.
As if to further accentuate Dr. Harpold's
remarks, another graphic novel has recently won a very prestigious literature award.
You may have wondered why Dr. Harpold
was sought as an expert for this article?
The reason is that he
is one of the professors at the University of Florida
who teach a doctorate level study of, "Comics and Visual Rhetoric".
When I learned this, I was fascinated to learn that the University of Florida
was not alone in its treatment of the comics' medium as one deserving of doctorate level study.
I asked Dr. Harpold
to discuss why it is important to study comics as literature.
replied, "Specific things happen in comics.
How stories are told, the events, places and [how] people are represented that don't appear in other media...They have unique properties and characteristics.
It is incumbent to us, as scholars, to pay attention to comics the way we would the specific traits of film, print media and static images."
With my curiosity peaked, I wanted to know about which specific aspects of comics were being studied.
To further extrapolate the concepts being explored in the University's doctorate, Dr Harpold
introduced me to one of his
graduate students who was preparing a doctorate thesis on the "Gotham Sirens".
Who would have thought that these characters existed as useful tools to understand not only female empowerment, but also the means to develop modals on how people cope with trauma.
In Melissa's own words, " I think the popularity of these characters speaks to our own feelings of helplessness resulting from our own psychological and emotional traumas....
The Sirens narrative has a way, as most narratives do, of empowering the reader by allowing him or her
to vicariously beat down the threat of trauma, of fear, of loss, etc., through these characters own battles.
By researching the literary concepts behind these characters and analyzing why they are popular, they help us further understand ourselves.
The logic behind this idea is sound when you consider that these comics, and characters, have endured throughout generations.
As Dr. Harpold
puts it, "[Comics] have emerged primarily as a popular medium....and because they have been cast as a popular medium...they are more symptomatic of our culture's fears and desires.
There is The Walking Dead who Dr. Harpold
offered as a possible representative, "...scenario for dealing with the sense in American culture that somehow we lost control...There would only be individual initiative if everything could be wiped clean...and if I survived, I could remake the world...It is a concept that Bryan Aldiss called the 'Cozy Catastrophe'.
is the moment of crisis.
The quiet desperation in everyone's life, is reduced to an elemental struggle.
For an example of the importance of the text itself as a tool in storytelling, Dr. Harpold
introduced me to the works of Alfred Bester.
To further explain this concept, Dr. Harpold
explained that, "Text does not repeat the image.
explained that he
, "Encourages graduates, who work in comic studies to diversify their portfolio...There are not a lot of comic study jobs out there...We are beginning to see, over the last five years, an increasing number of jobs at universities, that are research and teaching jobs, where people are saying, 'We want people to work in these five areas,' and one of those areas will be comic studies or the analysis of image texts...
The job market is opening up for them.
Now do not take the comment about the lack of comic study jobs out there as a knock on the medium or a sign that the University of Florida's Comic
Studies program is some sort of fringe program.
Due to the current attitude around universities about where to focus their academic and financial attention towards, prospective candidates for hire are being expected to teach courses in English that cover multiple genres, periods and formats.
In other words, most professors now are expected to be a jack of all trades within the umbrella subject of English or literature.
commented that comic studies are being increasingly sought after by universities looking for an expert in 20th century literature.