Ben Bova disses graphic novels

Science fiction novelist Ben Bova wrote a column on literacy for the Naples Daily News, in which he wonders if literacy itself is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. Bova decries dropping literacy rates (without presenting any evidence that such a thing is happening) and discusses the shrinking space that bookstores give to traditional books, as audiobooks and graphic novels take over.

Take the idea of graphic novels. Essentially, these are comic books for adults. Some of the works are quite striking and even powerful. But War and Peace they’re not. They’re not even Valley of the Dolls.

It’s impossible to reproduce a novel’s deep characterizations and nuances of plot development in a comic book format. I’ve had a couple of my short stories done in graphic style and, while I’m pleased with the results, I don’t see how a novel could be done that way — except by boiling down the novel to a few incidents and characters and tossing away almost all of the depth and plot development.

There are two things wrong with this statement. One is that graphic novels must be based on print novels and the other is that they can't have depth or literary quality of their own. My long list of counterexamples (drawn straight off the top of my head) would include Darwyn Cooke's adaptations of Richard Parker's Hunter novels (which have plenty of depth and characterization and layer onto that a rich visual evocation of urban life in the 1950s); Dash Shaw's Bodyworld; the complex and fascinating Logicomix; and Art Spiegelman's Maus, the book that really got this category started.

(Hat tip: Von Allan.)

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