Page 191

1. Introduction

In literate societies we are used

to thinking of stories in terms of words. Stories told in books, newspapers, blogs or in conversations between friends, are usually verbally transmitted. Images may complement or counteract what is being told through words, but they very rarely appear as the main medium for storytelling. Modern societies have found effective conventional signs to communicate with each other, therefore using pictures or drawings to represent what we want to express may seem like an unnecessary return to a pre-verbal era. Perry Nodelman points out this issue in the very beginning of his study of the narrative art of children’s picturebooks: Our heritage of many centuries of great unillustrated literature makes it clear that stories can be told adequately by words on their own. Why, then, add pictures to them? Or why even create series of pictures that tell stories on their own, without accompanying words? Why are there such picturebooks at all? (1)

We certainly may not “need” such picturebooks in functional terms, but we can probably benefit from them in aesthetical and creative terms. Wordless picturebooks and graphic novels are sophisticated objects that appeal to readers of all ages and develop a different way of reading and relating with worlds of fiction. Visual storytelling can be traced back to rock painting and medieval stained glass windows; it is an old medium of conveying stories that has been used by multiple artists throughout history but that has hardly been recognised as an art form with an essential literary value. Picturebooks in general have held a secondary status following a reasoning where “real” literature is supposed to have nothing to do with pictures, but this closed and fixed idea of what constitutes literature started to expand in the late twentieth century and at the same time “traditional ideas of language, as written and spoken communication based around letters and alphabets, changed to include the multimodal ‘languages’ of images and signs” (Ross Johnston 423). Films, advertising, television, video games and the internet era have probably modified our relationship with the visual, and reactivated our interest and understanding of images as a powerful and creative way to convey meaning. In this cultural scenario where pictures, illustrations, animations and all sort of visual forms are intrinsically related with our daily lives it is not surprising that graphic narratives in form of picturebooks, comics or graphic novels are calling 190

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