Appreciation of the Comic Book as an Art Form

Comics on display for sale at the convention, in Portland, during the first day of the 2013 Rose City Comic, on Sept. 21, 2013. Photo: Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA (Newscom TagID: sipaphotosfour343349.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Hello Interwebs! I love comics. I might not have grown up on them but I’ve come to admire the medium in adulthood. Though comic books are still seen by many as throw-away children’s entertainment (or those things hardcore nerds like), they are much more than that. Comic books are a wholly unique brand of entertainment which don’t get enough credit. Read on if you want to know why comic books are worth your time.

Variety of Stories

I want to put this up top because I’m not entirely sure this is common knowledge but not ALL comic books are about superheroes. While that genre is undoubtedly the predominant one in the American comics industry, there’s a great variety of stories to choose from. Superhuman books not your thing? Read another type of fantasy/ sci-fi graphic novel like Saga; or maybe high-concept tales like Sandman are more your speed; perhaps you’d prefer a series about your favourite popular franchises, such as the Star Wars line of books (everything you love has probably received a comic adaptation at some point), etc. There’s something for everybody. If you’ve written off comic books as a one-trick pony for children, you’re missing out. 

Marriage of Art and Literature

Comic books/ graphic novels are, in essence, the marriage between art and literature, though sadly respected less than either. In this medium, art and words combine to tell a story. Each aspect does an adequate job on its own, but their union creates something new and unique to both.

Art in place of prose allows clarity of expressive vision from the writer’s mind to the reader’s eyes. While novels dedicate valuable page-space to descriptions and setting, graphic novels efficiently convey the same things through imagery. Not that I’m aiming to put down novel format, but reading long pages of text isn’t for everyone. Even if you do enjoy books, I guarantee everyone pictures settings differently. Well-drawn art in conjunction with dialogue results in pages which will be read by everyone the exact same way. Does this uniformity take away some of the pleasure derived from literature? Maybe. But comic books aren’t literature– they’re comics. They operate differently. My point is that comics are more efficient than novels and are easier to digest. For those who absorb information better through visuals, comics are an ideal way to read a story. 

A classic Marvel origin. So much iconography on one page.

All that said– I don’t want to be misunderstood–: stories in comics can easily rival and even surpass the best novels. Just because comic books are easier to read does not make them a lesser medium. Character building and exposition comes largely through dialogue. Even in a bad film, a good actor can make rotten lines work. Comic books don’t have that kind of crutch. Their characters’ dialogue and inner thoughts are laid bare for us to judge without the benefit of good delivery. And a well-paced/ constructed story is vital to maintaining a reader’s interest. The art can be gorgeous but, if the story were weak, the book would be no more than a collection of loosely related drawings.

Essentially, art and literature combine in a way which strengthens certain aspects of each (like visualization) whilst sacrificing other pieces of themselves (like prose and perhaps some artistic license from work to work). This allows the two mediums to unify and create a new one with its own set of rules and conventions. Neither drawings nor words have any inherent advantage over the other. They exist as equals and must work together to create an ideal product.

Visual Appeal

I believe the artistry in comics is more appealing than the visuals in other mediums, such as TV and film. CGI in particular has trouble overcoming what’s known as the “uncanny valley”. In essence, no matter how good a subject is rendered, our brains recognize it as something artificial. This effect has the unfortunate tendency to break immersion. The visuals of comics play differently, however (at least, they do to me). Perhaps it’s because the entire work is overtly unrealistic from the start, but I find comics more easy to immerse in than special effects heavy movies.

Beyond immersion, comics offer endless potential for visual storytelling. The only limits of comic art are the ideas of the writer, the skills of the artist/ colourist, and the time devoted to perfecting each page. Film, video games, animation, and basically any other heavily produced visual work are only as good as the budget allows. Even then, the best comic art will be revered well past its contemporaries in other fields. Great artwork stands the test of time; great visual effects will eventually date themselves. That’s a proven fact. I don’t care how advanced VFX and production techniques have gotten. In 10 years people will probably look at “cutting edge” work today and laugh at it. Meanwhile we’re still revering the work of comic artists from 60 years ago, such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. 

Here’s some work by the amazing Alex Ross. How can this art ever go out of date?


This doesn’t apply to all comics books (superhero stories are the main draw here) but I appreciate the serialized nature of long-running titles. For example, Superman has been going strong since Action Comics #1 in 1938. As of a few years ago, DC has printed over 1000 issues of Action Comics! Not even counting the myriad of other titles Superman has appeared in these last 8 decades, that’s a LOT of stories. And that’s just one of many narratives which have continued non-stop for a long time.

Is this dense history a barrier to new readers? Probably, yeah. But it’s really not as intimidating as you might think. The status quo doesn’t change often enough for you to get terribly lost in any book. Just dive right in, maybe check out some internet forums or talk to friends in the know and you’ll be fine. Major comic companies tend to dole out stories over 6-7 issues. So if you want to begin a title you can wait a few months ’til a new story starts or you can purchase some back issues and get caught up (or buy the trade paper backs, which collect previous stories, for even more catching up).

The hardest part is getting started. Once you’re hooked, there’s a HUGE backlog of comics to dig through. A character like Batman was in comics when your grandparents were children! If you like those stories there’s no shortage of content. It’s not like film, or TV, or video games, or a good book series, which all release periodically and then eventually die out. Popular comics have been releasing regularly for a long time with no end in sight. 

Keeping up the fight 82 years and counting. Sounds exhausting…


Branching off my last point: a great thing about comics is the nostalgia associated with them. If you’re new to comics or have never read one in your life, you probably won’t relate to this, but bear with me. This point is crucial to explaining why many people are lifelong fans of the medium.

For a number of folks around the world, comics are the thing which helped them to read, or instilled lifelong ideals. In some cases they are the basis for cultural iconography you can’t avoid (who do you know that doesn’t know the basic premise of Spider-Man at this point?). Comics have been around for nearly 100 years, so maybe they’re something you shared with your parents and grandparents.

My mother recently told me how, when she grew up, the only entertainment geared towards her generation were Saturday morning cartoons and comic books. That was entertainment for her. She fondly remembers picking out books from week to week at the store, then sneaking a peak at the books my uncle chose when he was done. I imagine the choice of what to read, small as it was, meant a lot to a kid. People carry all these memories and more into adulthood (Mom still wants to read Archie’s Double Digest on occasion).

SIDE NOTE: One nice thing about comics since the 70s is that many of them are made for all ages, so a lot of your childhood favourites ought to still hold up in some capacity once you grow.

See? Not all popular comics star superheroes

Comic books might seem intimidating, or childish, or nerdy, or whatever else, but I promise they have value. I can’t promise they’re a medium for you; I do, however, encourage you to try one out. It can be a single issue for a couple bucks, a full-on graphic novel you’ve heard is good, or anything else. Read for the stories; admire the art; enjoy both. It’s your choice. As the late great Stan Lee used to sign off: Excelsior!

Do you read any comics? If so what? I’d like suggestions. Do comics seem too daunting to begin? Why? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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