The most unique aspect of comic books?

This might have been covered before, but I’ve never stumbled on the discussion, so bear with me. The other day a unique, if not the most unique aspect of comic books (sequential art as storytelling) hit me.

The comic book is the only storytelling medium which does not work as a social experience.

Meaning: Experiencing the story in comic books can only be done individually. It can’t be shared socially at the same time.

Comic books, as conveyors of stories, are the lonesome readers’ medium.

Films and TV are experienced socially. Literature can be socially enjoyed by reading aloud. Games can be played together with a friend. Looking at galleries/paintings is a shared experience. Theater is a social event. Verbal stories are the cornerstone of social storytelling.

But the comic book, sequential art with pictures and words combined to create a story, is the individual’s medium. It can’t be shared socially and simultaneously with the same effect, as all other storytelling mediums.

Comics is a medium to be enjoyed individually. It is a private experience, not a social one. Read a comic book out loud and showing the pictures to someone does not work, as they are not experiencing the story, you are dictating the story – like explaining a joke.

Comic books is the only true individual storytelling medium.


Captain Obvious to the rescue, or have you not thought about this before? Agree? Disagree?


  1. Courtland Funke · September 22, 2013

    I read comics to my daughter all the time. Also the creation of comics is far more collaborative than some of the other art forms you mention. I think comics are far more social than you think.

    • Magnus Aspli · September 23, 2013

      Yes, the creation is usually a collaborative effort. But I’m talking about the reading experience.

      How do you read comics to your kids? Point at the pictures and read the balloons?

      • Courtland Funke · September 23, 2013

        It started with pointing but she’s starting to take cues from the images and figure out where I’m reading as we go along. Sometimes she’ll ask where we are but for the most part she figures it out.

      • Magnus Aspli · September 23, 2013

        That’s great. I’m looking forward to my son getting a bit older and showing him comics. Still, I stand by what I said. The duality of the reading experience of comics is individual. Your daughter now does almost half the job, but it’s still not the same as if you two watch a movie or a play or you reading a novel to her. Then you are experiencing it simultaneously, socially. (Disregarding the fact kids are slower than adults as to the understanding of the story, of course.)

      • Courtland Funke · September 23, 2013

        I think you’re really stretching here to cling to your point. I’d argue that comics are more a social experience than novels. They can, and have been read socially for decades. They are created socially. They are talked about socially on a weekly basis. How many people do you know who go the book store every week and talk to the clerk/owner about what they’re reading?

      • Magnus Aspli · September 23, 2013

        You’re confusing my statement with two things. That I’m saying it is an individual reading experience as if it’s negative. It’s neither or. And that I’m talking about Comics with a big C. I’m talking about the actual digestion of the story presented in comic books.

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