“Wait, that’s the book you were talking about?” Said a friend when she saw The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore sitting on my desk. “That’s not a book; that’s a comic.”
“It’s a graphic nov” I managed to say, before she cut me off—“Tell me when you have some real reading for class.”
Graphic novels aren’t widely accepted as scholarly work. They are usually seen as picture books for kids, or as comics for “nerds” without value. I’m here to tell you that great graphic novels are as substantive and worthwhile as great novels, the same way a a movie can be. Below is a single panel from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The attention to minute details, and the plethora of fantastic allusions made in this graphic novel truly set it apart from a mere comic book.
This is one of four small panels, next to a large, page and a half panel. In this almost inconsequential panel, Moore gives the reader so much.
In the foreground there is a ragged, obviously poor gentlemen and a few boys dressed similarly. The details incorporated immerse the reader—the fingerless gloves, the cigarettes, the wart on his nose, and so much more. His low class and that of his young companions is affirmed from the way they talk. In the mid-ground there is a burning building and smoke. And In the background a flying ship can be seen bombing the buildings of London (the cause of the building fire.) This is what is understood at face value.
Now, onto the good stuff. In this panel on of the young boys refer to the older, ragged gentleman as Mr. Dodger. In the panel above this, the same boy tells Mr. Dodger that he has stole Mr. Quartermain’s purse (or “is tart’s purse.”) This automatically reminds any of us who have read Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. This Mr. Dodger, is none other then the skillful and cunning Artful Dodger grown up. It seems he has started a gang of pickpocket children as well.
Moore also included another quick allusion. Mr. Dodger refers to one the boys as “Mitchell,” and the other as “Watts.” A quick google search of “Mitchell and Watts London” brought up the EastEnders Wikipedia page. Having never seen the show, I do not fully understand the reference, but the show, taking place in the East End of London, is about the Mitchell and Watts family. Although a bit anachronistic, it makes sense that these two would be in the east end, the sight of the bombings. Maybe these two are the ancestors the two families.
Finally, the flying ship in the background is the quintessential representation of steampunk technology. This great advancement which has the power for so much good, is also the source of so much destruction. This theme of the duality of technology is prominent throughout many steampunk novels.
The above was one panel. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is full of allusions and symbolism that makes it worthy of being called a a true graphic novel.