Sexual Content: Graphic Novels vs. Books

I still remember the day someone took my copy of Watchmen and waved it in front of my math class claiming I was reading pornography. I was lucky to have a teacher who knew what Watchmen was and explained to this student that, no, it wasn’t pornography, it was literature. If it had been another teacher or administrator, I would have gotten in trouble. Yet a year later, I had to read Oryx and Crake which involved drug use and child pornography. It made me wonder, and I still wonder today, why we look at sexual content differently in Graphic Novels.


2733824-tumblr_lottasfkw41qfhre5o10_1280There are a variety of reasons why Dr. Manhattan chooses to be naked, but one theory that makes sense involves some discussions we have in class. Whenever Dr. Manhattan wears clothes, he’s “playing human” in a sense. He wore a costume when he went to Vietnam and he wore a suit to The Comedian’s funeral. Whenever Dr. Manhattan is doing anything that distances him from humans, he’s naked. It’s an effective visual device that gives the readers more of a view into his character, and it gives invasive high schoolers something to yell about.


My reaction when I read what the young businesswoman was doing to her boss
My reaction when I read what the young businesswoman was doing to her boss

Now moving onto the topic of sexual content in literature (or just books, some of the books I’m going to mention aren’t literature at all.) The thing with graphic novels, is that you can look inside them and see the sexual content. It’s not always that way with books. Sometimes when I bought books, my dad would do a quick flip through to make sure they were appropriate and despite those flip throughs, sometimes I would be reading a book only to find I was not reading a novel about young business women, but…something else.


It might just be that we find visual sexual content to be more inappropriate than text. It explains the 50 Shades of Grey phenomena. People were reading porn out in public, but because it was in the form of text instead of pictures (and it was horribly written). The conclusion to this is kind of sad, that we write off a graphic novel on something so simple as a little bit of nudity. But then again, we ban books for stupid reasons as well.

  3 comments for “Sexual Content: Graphic Novels vs. Books

  1. alainazitzmann
    September 28, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    I totally agree with you, that sometimes what is labeled as ‘graphic’ is simply because it is, in fact, Graphic (because font is so much less dirty than actual pictures). Graphic novels and written books should be looked at very separately, and not judged at all on the same principles. Just as nudity in a movie doesn’t immediately make it porn, neither does having nudity in a graphic novel.

  2. knewell2
    October 2, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    This post is so spot on! It is interesting to see how literature seems to get a free pass because it is text instead of an image in our culture. For some reason it reminds me of the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan, which had a pretty graphic sex scene at the beginning. It was a summer reading assignment my sophomore year of high school. After reading your post it makes me wonder if Watchmen would have been approved by my school to assign as summer reading.

  3. October 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    This question also routinely comes up in discussions/arguments about Fun Home, so it’s something we’ll definitely talk about. In that case, it’s not simply that a character happens to be naked, but instead its a frank and graphic (because it’s art) depiction of sexuality at a key part of the novel. Some have argued that it’s pornographic because (again, literally) it’s a graphic depiction of sexuality.

    In Watchmen, while there are a couple of sex scenes, they’re relatively tasteful I guess. Is that what makes it less (or just less obviously) pornographic?

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