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Graphic Novels - An Exclusive Club

aseidman's picture

We were talking in class about the different forms of "reading" and how reading experiences can differe from listening experiences. That's all quite valid. The thing we didn't really talk about, however, was how very versatile somethign like a book is. For example, the fact that you can read, listen to, or even perform the text of a book is very impressive. Novels, poetry, and other fictional texts are very inclusive - they allow anyone, even those with audio or visual disabilities, to be part of the experience.

Graphic novels, bless them, are not inclusive. Not even a little. You cannot record a graphic novel on tape, and play it to a visually disabled invidual. Sure, graphic novels contain text, which is important to the story. The pictures, however, cannot be recorded, and a graphic novel can't be experienced through it's text alone.

You cannot create a braille version of a graphic novel. I'm sure that people have tried, and perhaps we'll develop, in the future, a way of translating pictures into text, and text into braille, but for the moment, that's not an option. (I've done a little research, but if you can contradict me on this last claim, I'd love to see what you found. That's not sarcasm - I'd be delighted.)

I'm not saying that graphic novels aren't valuable in their own right. We can all read them, and we can all enjoy them. That's excellent. I'm fond of the idea that a reading experience should be available to everyone, however, which is why I hope that graphic novels are not the novels of the future.


aseidman's picture

The following is a response

The following is a response from Danny Fingeroth, of the same email group

Some random thoughts on the topic:

When there was a newspaper strike in the '30s or '40s, New York Mayor
LaGuardia read the funnies over the radio so people wouldn't have to miss
them.  Since listeners were familiar with the characters from having read
the  strips, then they could imagine the new adventures as LaGuaradia read
the text and  described the panels. So for someone who has lost vision
later in life,  this might be a solution of sorts. If they're familiar
with Spider-Man or some  iconic independent figure, then imagining new
adventures spurred by  descriptions of the art and readings of the
captions and word balloons might be  useful.

Even for someone who has never been able to see the comics claearly or at
all, a well-written (well-described) and excitingly-read books-on-tape
type  type format might be a satisfactory hybrid medium to enjoy the
comics or  graphic novels in question. This could be especially true if
the reading was  done by the original writers and/or artists (or
writer-artists, as the case may  be) of the work.

And I suppose someone reading/describing the adventures of blind superhero
 Daredevil (I think there are a couple of others, as well--the Shroud
comes  to mind) might at least have thematic interest to a visually
impaired person.  It'd then be a question of whether the listener thought
the character  inspiring or condescending or some of both.

Hope the above is useful in some way, if just in sparking more discussion
and thought on the topic.

--Danny Fingeroth

aseidman's picture

The following is a response

The following is a response to this post which Teresa Tensuan elicited from Franny Howes, on Ms. Tensuan's group, "COMIXSCHOLARS-L."

This is something I've been thinking about lately--I am a comics scholar
and currently teach some comics in my writing class, but I also am
interested in Universal Design for Learning and having an accessible
I think this is one way webcomics are ahead of print-based comics--they
have begun to harness the power of user-generated content to generate
text-only transcriptions.
There's a service called "Oh No Robot" ( created
by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics that allows webcomics creators to add an
option to their webpages that lets readers transcribe the comic,
ostensibly for the purposes of making them searchable.  But there's
potential for making comics accessible to screen-reading devices throught
his service as well.
I don't know what such a thing would look like for print comics--in this
case, people are writing short descriptions of one-page comics, in a
distributed manner, so lots of people are each doing a small amount of
 More capital would have to be invested in doing any given book, or a large
number of books.
As far as a graphic novel not being able to be experienced through text
alone, this may be true, but we still transcribe works into other media
for accessibility purposes.  For example, my school's accessibility
standards require that if you show a film in class, there be a transcript
available for visually impaired students.  These may not be ideal
representations of the work, but there are many cases where they have to
be made.
Anyway, this issue has been on the surface of my brain lately because of a
conference I went to recently, and I'd be interested in other people's
experiences with the matter.

Franny Howes

jrf's picture

just another medium

I don't think graphic novels are "the novels of the future" any more than movies are the novels of the future, or novels are the plays of the future. I think what you're saying ties back to what we discussed in class about whether transposing a novel into another medium (we talked about audiobooks and online text, but I think Braille books apply too) makes it into something other than a novel. Someone who cannot read a print-on-paper novel, for whatever reason-- because they don't have access to a library, because they're blind, because they can't read the language the book is printed in-- will not be able to have the experience of "reading" (in a very limited sense) that book. What difference that makes (if any) is, I think, what we were discussing.

If, as you suggest, to "read, listen to, or even perform the text of a book" can be included in a broad definition of "reading" that book, graphic novels that are made into radio plays or movies (or novels, although I've heard of the opposite happening more often) are also translations of their stories into other mediums, with the effect of making them accessible to audiences without access to one or more aspects of graphic novels.

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