Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Words Vs. Graphics

rchauhan's picture

There has been alot of debate, in class, about whether words or pictures are a better form toexpress a story. Before I drew my own graphic scenes of Breast-Giver, by Mahasweta Devi, I enjoyed reading, or better yetseeing, Persepolis expressed in a graphic novel. In the online forum ofthat week, I posted,

I like the idea thatshe uses a graphic novel to tell her story. She talks about serious topics likewar, religion, and Iraq's history, but by telling it through a comic like way,she makes these topics easier to read. There's something about comics thatmakes the story humorous and almost relatable. If this were a novel, thematerial would be serious and would have a different effect on the reader.Also, by showing pictures, the author shows the reader what she wants toconvey. I could see the Marji's and the other character's feelings through thepictures. The reader gets the exact meaning. I remember someone in classmentioning that she does not know much about Marji's culture, and she would'vehad a different understanding of the story if this were a novel instead of agraphic novel.


However, after drawing my graphicscenes, I am a little skeptical whether graphics are a better form. I stillbelieve it is a useful genre that still has a lot to, but I also see theimportance of words. Both genres convey different things that the other mightnot be able to offer to the reader.

Oneof the first things I noticed about the words genre is that they offer morefreedom when it comes to descriptions. Pictures only convey what is beingshown, but in a text format the reader can read, in detail, about what thecharacters are thinking and the background history. For example, in the firstscene of my graphic scenes, in box 9 the picture shows the reader that the sonis talking to his mother about his idea, with the help of the caption; however,in the story, the author is able to describe that scene and tell the reader theimportance of the son’s idea in more detail. The author says, “Daughters-in-lawwill be mothers. When they aremothers, they will suckle their children…If Jashoda becomes the infants’suckling-mother, her daily meals, clothes on feast days, and some monthly paywill be enough…There Jashoda can act as the fruitful Brahmin wife” (Devi227-228). The author is able to express the thought of the idea without havingto express it in a dialogue format that a graphic novel is accustomed to. This technique is very useful when one wantsto explain an idea or thought-process because it directly connects to thereader. The author is telling the reader without telling it through thecharacters. Also, the words genre is able to describe different things bydrawing attention to different senses. Words can tell the reader what somethingsmells or how something sounds; yet, in pictures only sight is being used. Thereader cannot see what something smells like, unless there is a caption.

Thereason I like graphic novels is because the reader can see what the authorwants to explain. In pictures, there is no confusion because it is shown rightin front of the reader. In the first scene, the reader can see how long Jashodasuckled the infant because of the repetition continued for three consecutivescenes. Also, the reader can see the gossip happening between the husbands andwives. In my second scene, the reader can see Jashoda’s breasts stinking in theshower. The reader is not left with much room for imagination of how acharacter or the setting of the scene looks, like in the words genre. This ishelpful when the author wants to make sure the reader is thinking exactly whatthe author wants to convey. Another great element of the graphic genre is thatmultiple things can be shown simultaneously. In the second scene, the readercan see Jashoda taking a shower, the stinking of her breasts, and her thinkingabout how she used to keep her breasts clean is expressed simultaneously, whichis more realistic. The graphic genre caters to time; whereas, in the wordsgenre, it would have to be explained in a sequence.

InPersepolis, the graphic novel is in black and white. I wanted toexperiment with color and see if it had a different affect. This is why onescene is in color while the other is in black and white. Earlier, I mentionedthat the graphic genre leaves little room for imagination. The black and whitepictures allow some imagination for the reader because the reader can thinkabout the story in color. In the colored scene, there really is no room forimagination since everything is shown. The color scenes help differentiate andemphasize little details. For example, in the second scene, the reader sees thecolors of the sores on Jashoda’s breasts, whereas, in the first scene, all thepictures are similar and there is no detail popping out.

Ibelieve that the graphic genre could represent feminism. My feminism, overall,is about equal opportunity for all, not just only women. I truly believe thatgraphic novels are relatable to a wider audience. It reminds me of my childhoodbecause it is similar to comics, which is common to the majority of people.Also, cartoons are another form of the graphic genre, and cartoons arerelatable to all ages, not just children. I believe the graphic genre is justmore fun to read.

Afterfinishing this project, I realized that words are great for detaileddescriptions and catering to more senses, and pictures are good for gettingone’s exact message and vision across to the reader.


Mahasweta Devi. “Breast-Giver.”Trans. Gayatri Spivak. In Other Worlds.New York:

Routledge, 1988. 222-240.




Anne Dalke's picture

The Didactic Imagination


I'm delighted that you took this opportunity to be more creative, and even more delighted that the process led you to revise some of your own earlier thinking about the differences between words and images. Actually doing some drawing yourself (of a text you'd recently analyzed in words) let you experiment with your ideas, to test them out experientially.

What I hear you saying here, first, is that words "offer more freedom" (is this about surface vs. depth? simplicity vs. complexity?). If wordsmiths can "express the thought of the idea without having to express it in dialogue," does the key difference have to do with their increased ability to represent thinking/what's happening "on the inside"?

When you say that "the author is telling the reader without telling it through the characters," it sounds like you are describing a more "direct" process--or at least the illusion of directness, a transferal from the brain of the author to that of the reader, without an intermediary. Is that really the case, or is the medium of representation just altered--with a broader sensory range, for instance, but a less-time-responsive one? (Graphics, you say strikingly, "cater to time," allowing for a fuller expression of simultaneous activity.)

Your central idea seems to be that words allow (invite? insist on?) more imagination on the part of the reader, than images do. I wonder what an art historian might say about that? For one of the most intriguing descriptions of the education into that field that I know, see James Elkins, "The Ivory Tower of Tearlessness." The Chronicle Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education. November 9, 2001--it's all about being educated OUT of an imaginative, emotional response.

Graphics, in your account (and experience, in drawing!), are more directive, more instructive, more didactic...which really doesn't explain (does it?) "why" graphics are "just more fun to read"?

What follows from this central claim of yours is the notion that graphics are helpful "when the author wants to make sure the reader is thinking exactly what the author wants to convey." Do you really think that one can control the thoughts of another? Can you script what my brain will do with your ideas, however represented?

How might you pursue this project further?



skumar's picture

Words as Textual Images?


You didn't think I would go without commenting on your paper did you? We've talked about this before, but I wanted to bring up a point that you did not discuss in your paper.

What about reading words as "textual graphics" ? In the case of Woman's World, a book with cut outs of words from different places, don't words serve as images? I just don't see it. What is provoked in an image that is inadequate in words? color? Words can be colorful and entirely descriptive. expression and emotion? Words can provoke facial expressions. Hmph. I just don't see what all the fuss is about. Words prevail images.


Additionally, you mentioned how color in your scenes of Jashoda's sore breasts accentuates the wounds. I think that is a matter of shading--like black, grey, and white--that can show the same thing a color picture can.I guess I am still unclear about how BW differs from color?