Once dismissed as "kids' stuff," the graphic novel has emerged as one of our most provocative and socially engaged literary genres. ♦
From Abirached’s A Game for Swallows, courtesy of The Rumpus
|From Sacco’s Palestine, courtesy of airshipdaily.com|
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis, published just last year in 2015, is both a graphic narrative and a treatise on the subject
|From Sousanis’s Unflattening, courtesy of The Paris Review|
In a society marked by seemingly constant technological innovations attempting to streamline so many aspects of our daily lives—innovations which have made the image as ubiquitous and powerful a means of communication as text—it would seem to make sense that the wholly textual manner in which reality is typically transmitted and received through literature might gradually lose its appeal. One might argue, however, that graphic narratives (especially those that concern the topic of war) are less about streamlining the experience of reading and more about augmenting and further complicating the reading experience through hauntingly vivid images that disquiet the psyche while simultaneously cultivating the imagination. Sousanis touches on this idea in an interview with The Paris Review wherein he mentions the exceptional capacity of images, relative to that of plain text, to encapsulate the subtleties of human emotion; he goes on to explain how this heightens a reader’s consciousness of the reality that the author intends to convey.
But could the complexity of the graphic form actually hinder one’s ability to grasp the reality a literary work aims to portray? While it’s true that one could become lost in the sheer density of detail that fills the pages of a graphic narrative—especially a book as ambitious as Unflattening—it’s equally true that reality itself is complex, and not easily reduced to a simplified means of understanding. An author who strives to approximate reality through text alone therefore has a difficult task ahead of her, while one who attempts to represent reality through images supplemented by bits of text may manage to mimic, to some extent, the reader’s position in relation to reality. And this is the ultimate beauty of graphic storytelling. The reader interacts with the images of a graphic narrative in the same way one bears witness to reality itself: as it transpires before the naked eye.