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Comics - Reaching the Parts Other Literature Can't Reach

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As a comics practitioner, I've learnt the expression that crosses people's faces that requires the immediate response "but comics are as good as prose". It comes naturally, like a kind of reflex. Like retching.

Fortunately, little by little, comics are creeping into national consciousness. It's accepted that the comic format can and regularly does have the same depth as a prose novel. It can have the same level of subtlety, ingenuity, maturity, characterisation, passion, wit, poignancy; and though tensions are still high in places, the graphic novel at least is broadly accepted as an equal citizen in the literary world.

So now that that's settled, I'm going to twang the frayed cord of tense co-habitation: sometimes, comics are better than prose.

It's a bold statement. Clearly comics and prose are two very different modes of storytelling, but there is one very important way in which comics communicate more than prose:

Comics use pictures.

Honestly. If you happen to have one near to you, you can check this for yourself. And rather than simple words propped up by pictures, comics feature two harmonious languages - one written, one visual. The power of art and words combined.

I've written before about visual language being universally recognisable. We can all read a picture, and give or take a few cultural differences we will all glean a similar meaning from it. Of course, not all pictures have to be direct: they can be ambiguous, or subtle, or give mixed signals entirely. Some pictures make us work harder than others.

Pictures have the ability to define those things that are without definition - those indescribable emotions for which we have no name, that can't be adequately described with words. Meanwhile, pauses for thought run through comics in rich seams. Words are noisy things, demanding attention, and at times they get in the way. They trip your thought processes. They can be used to lull and to hypnotise, but when you want to step back and have a moment to reflect, you need to physically close the book to stop the words.

I don't mean to underplay the power of language or the joy of words, of course - I delight in my firm yet playful grasp of the Queen's myself. But words are so clearly defined and, as with all things so clearly defined, there are gaps. Choosing words can sometimes be a limiting endeavour.

I don't want you to take just my word (or my picture) for any of this. Booktrust and Comica Festival are teaming up to host a night of discussions, appropriately titled 'Comics: Reaching the Parts Other Literature Can't Reach' on Monday 19th November at the Free Word Centre. There will be wealth of talent present to throw their thoughts around, including Dave McKean, Simone Lia, Sarah McIntyre, Karrie Fransman, Glyn Dillon and Paul Gravett. Plus myself, of course. Come along and hear their thoughts on the matter!

The revolution will be illustrated.