What is included in the literary canon changes every few generations, not only in the works selected by institutions such as schools and universities, but the genres. Until the late nineteenth century, the novel was not considered Literature. Many universities did not consider any American literature worthy of higher education until after the Second World War, yet now it is essential. Theories of the changing literary canon are outlined in John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Creation. It is filled with jargon, but is still readable.
The graphic novel may be reaching the beginning stages of inclusion, but teachers need to understand it better before they include it in the classroom. In the graphic novel, text implies image, image implies text, independent from and dependent on one another. Like white space in the post-modern novel, in the graphic novel the space between the panels contains narrative. The history and criticism of comics have yet to be written in any comprehensive form but they are coming, evidenced by the panel discussion on the canon of comics I attended this morning at New York University, sponsored by The Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art and featuring Rob Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art; John Carlin, editor of Masters of American Comics and curator of a seminal comics exhibition; and Dan Nadel, author of Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969. With a comprehensive history, comics’ past will change, as will their future. I hope we will not leave the writing up to art historians, however, and remember the interdependence of text and image.