IS IT LITERATURE? Andrew Hoberek Presentation by Aylar Abbasiazam

Comic over comic? Comic about comics? Or a comic within a comic?

       When I first started reading Watchmen, it reminded me of Ulysses by James Joyce. They are both similar in a way because you had to first understand The Odyssey by Homer. Ulysses is considered high (modernist) literature. Likewise, in order to better interpret Watchmen’s meaning, readers have to also analyze “The Black Freighter” comic because it is there for a reason. There are several points and visual images that are positioned intentionally so that readers can foreshadow the ending. So, is it literature?

       Hoberek is questioning if Watchmen is considered a work of literature. Moore and Gibbon’s work is different than other graphic novels, complicating its superhero genre and rebelling against comic book codes. For instance, it is about a book that interrogates the definition of heroism. Moore and Gibbons challenge the comic book code by inserting police files, a poem, excerpts, papers, quotes at the end of each chapter and even quotes from the book of Genesis. Also, the reader is confused because of the different perspectives and constant flashbacks that represents and symbolizes Watchmen’s complex world. The author is psychologically placing that effect on our minds to confuse its readers. So, the question is that if this novel includes the same literary elements as a work of literature, then is it equated with any work of literature?

       Van Ness is a critic who wrote about Watchmen in her book however, she doesn’t ask “how the nonverbal elements of the graphic novel complicate a definition of literature formulated with reference to print fiction, or how popular or journalistic counts of Watchmen as literature might differ from academic ones” (4). In relation to the “déclassé genre of the superhero story”(8), it makes critics question where this novel should be positioned and compared to other works. All in all, Hoberek believes that Watchmen is not literature. In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, Moore stated that his book is a comic book. “Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book” (25). But,Hoberek argues that it is a graphic novel because it can not be read in one sitting as he suggested in his interview.

Reasons for discussing Watchman as a work of literature:

  • #1: (historical) “a time dominated by the domestic realism of the minimalist school, and at the most nonrealistic end of the spectrum, by the magical realism of a few other authors” (11).

  • #2: “historically significant role in this transition from serialized comics to the graphic novel” (12).

  • #3: It’s “self-conscious relationships to the literary traditions of realist representation and the formal experimentation celebrated by modernism” (14).

  • #4: “uses the literary as a way of modeling his own creative agency and ownership in an industry structured around the work-for-hire employment of creative talent” (25).


  1. Hoberek’s introduction is from his novel titled, “Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics. Even though Hoberek wrote this book on Watchmen and believes in its influence on other writers and works such as Junot Diaz, he still questions why it is considered literature. Why do you think it is a hard question for Hoberek to answer?

  2. Hoberek believes that Watchmen is not conventionally literature. Do you agree with his view? Which genre would Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s masterpiece belong to? Why? Are they challenging the concept of literature? How? Provide examples from the book.

  3. Last week, we discussed Klock depicting Watchmen as a “revisionary superhero narrative.” With this concept in mind, do you agree that Watchmen, the only graphic novel on Time magazine’s list, is accurate or a category mistake as Hoberek suggests?

  4. Charles Hatfield states that “the study of comics must be truly multidisciplinary.” How can we as readers analyze Watchmen according to this statement?

P.S: Watchmen was revised for a children’s Saturday cartoon show. If interested definitely watch it!!!


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8 thoughts on “IS IT LITERATURE? Andrew Hoberek Presentation by Aylar Abbasiazam

  1. I agree with the idea of “the comic book as its own distinct medium” (Hoberek 6) and am surprised at attempts to compare it to traditional, prose novels or films. A prose novel and a graphic novel do not use the same strategies to convey information; for example, when Doctor Manhattan enters an underground club by orders of the government (Moore and Gibbons 124), there is much to be seen that cannot be read: that his blue body is in stark contrast to the mostly orange coloring of the party-goers; the anger and fear on the faces of these party-goers as juxtaposed with Doctor Manhattan’s calm demeanor; the way in which various actions – an attempted shooting, panic, card playing, Doctor Manhattan’s murder of one man – seem to happen all at once, creating a feeling of chaos; the use of blue text boxes to represent Doctor Manhattan’s voice. Each of these visual elements (and more, of course, that I’m not delineating) works like prose in that a message is conveyed, but the narrative relies so significantly on images that to compare the two (graphic and prose novels) will do a disservice to both. Similarly, comparisons to film are flawed; when the reader first looks at page 134, for example, five separate moments in time are depicted on one page. The reader turns to the page and is immediately confronted with the reality of Doctor Manhattan’s perspective on time – that what we understand as the past, present, and future are occurring simultaneously. This is possible because of the immediacy of the collection of images, which cannot happen with either film or prose. Just as it would be unrealistic to expect either of these mediums to do what a graphic novel can do, it is unrealistic to expect the same experience reading a graphic novel as one would have reading prose or watching a film.

  2. Hey Aylar, good job. Between the readings and both Tabish and your responses, I’ve got to thinking. And frankly, it’s getting tedious. I’d like to respond to your question:

    Hoberek believes that Watchmen is not conventionally literature. Do you agree with his view? Which genre would Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s masterpiece belong to? Why? Are they challenging the concept of literature? How? Provide examples from the book.

    This is the eternal, unavoidable conversation that can’t seem to go away with regard to not only Watchmen, but all graphic narratives. Comics are entirely, eternally on the defensive. I’m tired of it. I DON’T CARE if something is ‘considered literature’ or not. In fact, the hierarchical oppressive labeling of the word is dated and boring to debate. We’re discussing the text. People have been since the damn thing came out. The end. I think we need to retire the term ‘literature.’ Of course I can’t offer up a better single word to replace it.
    Or at the very least, end the damn dispute. It’s needless and masturbatory. I think once we move on from whether Watchmen is or isn’t, we can have a more interesting, less-limiting discussion outside of whether its merit worthy to even be discussed.

  3. To answer your question “How can we as readers analyze Watchmen according to this statement?” In the reading by Hoberek he states that “In watchmen case by both a commitment to realistic ugliness and an open-endedness that permits the possibility of change. By expanding the potential of the superhero story as both a literary adjunct of realism and an element of the coming of age tale.” Pg 33. I believe readers should read it with that mentality in mind. The mentality that Watchmen is different than comics they know of or have previously read because unlike other comics that don’t focus on a revisionary superhero narrative the Watchmen as well as the batman both focus on the realism of what it means to bring in their own sense of justice birthed of what they have been through in their own lives and in this way will get children to understand that it’s not just about getting the bad guy but it’s about how these heroes go about doing it, and the struggles they face in their own lives. Thus that change, that realism, that element of coming of age should be able to help the reader understand the depth of these stories.

  4. Charles Hatfield states that “the study of comics must be truly multidisciplinary.” How can we as readers analyze Watchmen according to this statement?
    Hey Aylar, your analysis is really good. After reading the article and your blog post, I have the opportunity to understand and comprehend certain aspects of Watchmen. Comics are a conglomerate of different types/genre of literature, and therefore, it should be studied taking into consideration each one of these types/genres. By that I mean that the reader needs to identify each aspect of the comic so the overall theme of it can make sense. One of the most important aspects that separates Watchmen from other comics is the frame narrative in which is created. The fact that most of the readers feel somewhat lost the first time reading Watchmen is prove of the need to have this important piece of information. The frame narrative of this particular comic helps to see each character and his/her nuances with vividly detail. This gives the opportunity to explore and analyze each character’s development. For that reason, I think Hatfield’s statements are pretty on point regarding the approach of analysis concerning comics.

  5. It seems like the question of whether or not Watchmen can be literature is hard for Hoberek to answer (or not hard) because it is a hard question for society/critics to answer as well. As you point out, Hoberek does indeed say that “Watchmen is not…literature,” has he points out the “multiply and corporately authored” nature of the work (26, 28). I think part of what Hoberek is arguing is that Watchmen does not exactly fit into any particular genre, except perhaps as a new kind of comic book (or perhaps as a graphic novel or graphic narrative as some might contend) because of the way it challenges concepts behind literature. On the one hand, Hoberek addresses the ways which the 1980s shift to direct market sales of comic books changed the ways in which the medium functioned, so perhaps Watchmen is also changing the ways in which comic books function. In the comparison to literature, you could also say that because of the amount of work that goes into a comic book like Watchmen (a writer, an artist, a colorist, and sometimes even, an inker, a letterer, etc.), there is a “multiple” sense of authorship — directly contrasting novel and graphic memoirs’ single-person authorship.

    I think in considering Klock’s statements about both The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, Hoberek’s claim of Time magazine’s list’s mistake is both true and not true. It’s true in the sense that I would certainly argue for Watchmen’s qualifications as literature (both as a teacher and as a fan), but for Hoberek, in order to make his claims, he is using the Time’s list as a way to ground his theories and analysis.

    As a teacher, the word “multidisciplinary” has a knack for showing up in my lesson planning as both something to plan for and an occasional pain during observations, but I agree with Hatfield’s sentiments. To truly appreciate a work like Watchmen, one has to have prior knowledge of the comic book field itself, historical/contextual knowledge, knowledge of basic literary elements, as well as knowledge of artistic modes and terms; however, that being said, there is also an opportunity for enjoying the graphic novel as stand-alone, or as something that might inspire venturing into the “multidisciplines” one needs to analyze and study Watchmen.

  6. Hoberek’s introduction is from his novel titled, “Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics. Even though Hoberek wrote this book on Watchmen and believes in its influence on other writers and works such as Junot Diaz, he still questions why it is considered literature. Why do you think it is a hard question for Hoberek to answer?

    I think it is a hard question to answer because the definition of literature is very hard to pin down. If literature is writing on a page to give the reader information, then would something like an informational pamphlet on say a medical condition be considered literature? What is inherently different between that and say Jane Eyre? If literature is something that tells a story then a painting like Picasso’s Guernica can be considered literature, but most people would not agree that a painting can be literature. Comics straddle the in between and as Hatfield suggests is built on tension. Is it art? Is it literature? Is it both? One of the greatest strengths of comics is that central question and it answers it with defiance to adhere to one concrete identity.

  7. Great job Aylar.

    I’d say it’s accurate to think of Watchmen as a revisionary superhero narrative. The characters are supposed to be different perspectives on real DC heroes. Like Dr. Manhattan is supposed to be Superman and Rorschach is supposed to the be the Question, with a hint of Batman. After the release of this series, fans started to look at their favorite heroes differently and demanding more of them. For instance, I feel that fans analyzed Superman again after Watchman came out and they saw him more of a cosmic character that’s outside of human understanding (in regards to the depths of their powers). He made fans rethink how a super being that has to act like he lives in a world of cardboard to keep the peace would go about his live—what kind of incidents could occur. Rorschach similarly led to the deconstruction of non-powered, detective vigilantes. These characters are so set in their ways and radical in their beliefs that the next logical step was a character like Rorschach. A character like that in the real world would be the perfect picture of utter lunacy.

    So I think this comic changed the course of how superheroes were thought of. They were given more debilitating, current flaws.

  8. What is literature? According to the dictionary, literature is “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” I know the superhero genre often gets this debate: is it literature or is it not? I can see both sides of the argument. I mean, look at pages 14-16 for a minute. On 3 pages of this piece of literature, there are three words: “hurm,” “ehh,” and “hunh.” Sounds like my high schoolers. This must drive traditionalist, canonical English majors crazy! Wouldn’t, they may argue, this just be seen as art? Cartooning? Meager, compared to greater works! However, they miss the 2nd part of this definition of literature that I’m using, “lasting artistic merit.” The mere fact that we have this debate makes it a work of literature. That, and the fact that, as you point out, it made the Time list! Is it easy to pin down? No, but then again, neither is the main character. He’s a revolutionary hero because he makes us rethink what it means to be a hero. I mean, he begins by saying “will look up and shout ‘save us’ and I’ll look down and whisper ‘no.”’ He is a hero who openly suggests that there is no good in humanity and suggests he will refuse to help them. Very different than any other hero. This is a piece of literature because of its lasting effect and the way it makes readers rethink the genre itself.

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