It has often been remarked that “higher education” these days does more to prolong adolescence than to help young people mature. A pretty good piece of evidence in support of that case is the fact that colleges and universities now have for-credit courses on comic books (or as they’re now called, “graphic novels”), sometimes fulfilling a literature requirement.
Shannon Watkins examines this disturbing trend in her Martin Center article, “Graphic Novels are Trending in English Departments, and That’s a Problem.”
Exactly what is the problem?
First, there’s the evident dumbing down of the college curriculum. The level of reading and thinking called for when the subject is a comic book is far lower than the level called for when the subject is, say, The Iliad. Watkins writes, “Texts without pictures require students to exercise abstract reasoning in comprehending the meaning of the text, leaving the accompanying visualizations to their own imagination. The images found in graphic novels, on the other hand, remove much of the need for students to exercise their intellects in order to process the main ideas.”
And second, the “graphic novels” chosen for these courses tend to have a leftist slant. They are another way for professors to promote their views through their choice of course material. According to a professor at UNC, graphic novels are a “unique . . . medium for the marginal and oppressed in the 21st century.” Just what college students need — more class time spent on the oppressed (as viewed by “progressive” profs).
I think Watkins is right on target in her conclusion:
Graphic novels should not substitute written texts in satisfying students’ literary arts requirements, especially when the motive behind the assignments is often political in nature. Universities should instead present students with works of literature that will truly challenge their minds and strengthen their ability to reason. Graphic novels can complement, but cannot replace, the canon in fulfilling this role.