Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk to you about an issue that has irritated me this week, but first it requires a little context.
As part of my degree we have to do two dissertations, one which I handed in during January and another which we started this week. Or shall I say were supposed to start this week. You see, I deliberated for a while about what to do my second dissertation on, wondering what would be entertaining to write while also being a topic which I knew a fair amount about already. I finally settled on writing about comics (both printed and web) feeling that I could explore how they maintain their readership and develop storylines, characters and various other devices that contribute to the form. So I handed in my proposal last June and went about my merry way until Christmas where I began gathering various books and resources that I would need.
Then I went to my first dissertation meeting for this semester.
Apparently comics aren’t suitable for an academic dissertation and I have to do graphic novels instead.
Now, this is irksome for two main reasons. One: There have been at least two dissertations in my year group that I would class as being much less academic that what I proposed. A girl in my group is writing about erotic fiction (the other type of graphic novel. Hohohohoho.) which, while I’m sure will certainly be an interesting thing to look into the history of, more power to her and everything, is not exactly what you’d consider to be the most scholarly topic. My housemate too wrote her last dissertation about fanfiction. A work of Fanfiction is seen as more academic than the in depth storylines that can be found in a comic book? You’re allowed to write about a fan’s slash perception of Iron Man and Captain America but not Iron Man and Captain America in their original forms? Really?
The other thing is that ‘graphic novel’ is a somewhat contentious term mostly used as a way to try and lift certain parts of the form away from the slightly ‘common’ reputation of comic books. Neil Gaiman, the writer of Sandman should you need reminding, has compared calling comic books graphic novels to a prostitute being informed that ‘she was not a hooker, she was in fact a lady of the evening’. And Neil Gaiman knows what he’s talking about.
If there actually is a difference between graphic novels and comic books then it is surely such a minor trait that it would make no impact on the content of a piece of academic writing written about the form as a whole? Pictures are pictures, words are words and stories are stories. Combine them all and you get a comic book. Clearly the guy that made the decision to restrict my dissertation topic to ‘graphic novels only’ didn’t do his research. And judging by how I was told this information during the week when we were supposed to start, even though I handed in the proposal months ago, suggests to me that this was a last minute decision brought about with little consideration.
I’d be tempted to write an email arguing my case, but I’m afraid that the guy wouldn’t consider it worthy of his time unless it was a full epistolary novel.