College Paper Slams ‘Persepolis’ Reading Assignment
Not too long ago, I served as editor of a college newspaper, meaning I also headed up the editorial board that oversaw the paper’s opinion pages. More than a few times, the editorial board would be hard-pressed to come up with some topic worthy of bloviating upon.
I can only hope such a desperate lack of material was what spurred the editorial board of The Ithacan, Ithaca College’s (New York) student paper, to lambast the college’s leadership for choosing Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis as the summer reading assignment for incoming freshman. The editorial, in all its glory, is available right here.
The idea of a graphic novel goes against the grain of typical required reading and may be welcomed by the incoming freshmen, who are part of a generation that has grown up in a world of fragmented cultures of television news, video games and the Internet. But by coincidence, the selection of “Persepolis” comes soon after a November study by the National Endowment for the Arts indicating declined reading comprehension levels in young adults.
Perhaps the selection of a graphic novel was an effort to engage members of a generation that seem to have lost an appetite for literature. But at some point, this idea of catering to different tastes only furthers the declining reading comprehension. Graphic novels are little more than advanced comic books. The thematic material of this book is worth broaching but its literary value, in terms of building vocabulary and furthering comprehension, falls short.
I think a lot of us working in comics have seen signs that the medium is making some pretty great strides in terms of general recognition and acceptance, but this editorial serves as a reminder that some people still need convincing. "Graphic novels are little more than advanced comic books"? There’s a lot of ignorance in that statement.
How about, instead of writing angry screeds against these college kids, instead we offer to send them a copy of Persepolis (I’d say it’s a safe wager that whoever wrote this editorial hasn’t read the book) as well as a collection of the numerous recent news articles about schools and libraries using comic books to effectively encourage reading among children.