I find your standards for Literary Merit rather retrograde in their inherent preference for realism. This does point to the general state of comics narrative as stuck in a mostly pre-modernist narrative paradigm. This is the 21st century and your literary values are mostly taken from the 19th century and early 20th.
The first question we ask in the case of narrative is: is there a moral or intellectual argument? Without a moral argument, there is no literary merit.
Must all stories be moral? (or have a "moral argument"). That alone is a very narrow way to consider literature of any form. Why must there be a moral argument? Or an intellectual argument? Cannot great art exist without these things?
Is the story about something we can relate to? The reader doesn't necessarily have to relate to the specifics, but the emotions and learning experiences of the main character(s) must reflect true human emotions.
Here is a fine argument for a canon of psychological realism, but that does not exhaust the range of types of literature.
Does it stand on its own over time? Is it unique? Well-executed?
All very good qualities for a canon.
Does it play by the rules of story? Telling a story has very specific rules. They may be applied directly and consciously or by instinct, but they are there and cannot be challenged.
I would like to hear more about these "rules" you gloss over them as if they were obvious and known to all, but I'm not sure that is the case.
The rules for literary merit are pretty simple--the story must contain depth of plot, character, and theme and there must be a moral argument. What is the protagonist's moral need? Is it reflected in his actions and interwoven within the plot and theme? Does he or she learn? Or do we as readers learn through his or her ability or inability to?
Again, fine for psychological realism, but not necessary for many other styles. Depth of character is an often discuseed necessity for literature, but a cursory glance at the literary canon (that is novels, short stories, etc) shows a great number of characters that are not "deep" in the sense that most people mean it.
The story should, but isn't required to, offer a unique point of view. In conjunction with the above, using comics as a lens to another culture or perspective, and doing it well, is a great way to rise above the average and meet the Standard.
Ah, "another culture or perspective" is a good combo with the "moral", but is not necessarily any more meritorous than "tell a good yarn".
The story must work. That is tantamount. A writer can put their own unique spin on anything, juxtaposing sets of images with one another in any sort of fancy derivation, but it doesn't mean jack if they can't string two words together in a coherent story structure.
This is going fine until you get to "coherent story structure". What does that mean? Is it old Freytag's method of rising action, climax, denouement? Or is there more to it than that?
It seems a closer attention should be paid to modern narrative traditions from modernism (Joyce, Woolf, Queneau, etc) through various shades of postmodernism (Robbe-Grillet, Pynchon, Barth, etc). Literary merit changes over time and thus the canon changes.
Suggestions: One could go on for quite a while but: Krazy Kat, Peanuts, something by Tezuka (many things), Love and Rockets (I'm preferential to Jaime's work), Cerebus, a good start.
p.s. I'd second Tim's recommendation of the Groensteen book. You can read my review of it here: http://madinkbeard.com/blog/archives...bande-dessinee
An English translation is forthcoming in February.