Why Educators need to consider the value of graphic novels in the curriculum.
What Are Comics?
Scott McCloud, comics writer and artist, defines comics this way:
comics (kom'iks) n. plural in form, used with a singular verb. Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.
(Understanding Comics, pg. 9)
Aren’t Comics Just About People in Tights? NO! Comics tackle a wide range of issues and topics. Complexity in comics has been increasing since the 1980’s. There is a Comic out there to reach every student.
So what are comics about these days? Historical Events: Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi Interpersonal Relationships: Blankets by Craig Thompson International Cultures: Manga titles from Japan, European Comics (Moebius, Herge’)
What are the classroom benefits of Comics?
Comic Books have a motivational power that many researchers have commented on. Hutchinson questioned teachers in a 1949 study and received responses that comic books were “helpful for motivation” and they “made learning too easy” (pg 244)
Kay Haugaard states in a 1973 study that comics were the only way to convince her son to read at all. She also reports similar findings for other students
Comics are composed of both images and words, and both are needed to convey the story. This format can be used to great advantage with reluctant or lower-level readers.
These benefits can also extend to ESL learners.
The interaction of both picture and word cater to teaching to multiple intelligences. Spatial, visual and textual learners benefit from using comics.
One of the advantages of the comic strip is that the story is always there for students to refer to or look back on. Unlike movies, the learner can move through the story at his or her own pace.
Text shares this quality, but not the visual element. Visual elements help to provide context to students who may have problems decoding text.
The Stepping Stone Approach
Comics can be used as a “stepping stone” to advanced concepts.
A University of Pittsburgh study found that comics can lead to the reading of plain text (Yes, that means books!) (Sones, 1944)
Scaffolding can be applied to comics, using them as a basis for design courses, art concepts, and even cinematic studies.
More Benefits, whew!
Comics provide a bridge to the popular culture that most students are a part of.
This is a page from the comic Pedro and Me by Judd Winnick, chronicling the relationship between the author and Pedro Zamora, who died of AIDS. They met on MTV’s The Real World.
So what if I’m not teaching an English class?
Well, there are plenty of comics that fit into your subject area! Here are just some examples:
Science: The Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler
Darwin explains natural selection to the follicle mite that lives in his eyebrow!
More Subject Area Comics!
Comics introducing mathematical concepts to students through the comic Factoring With Mr. Yang and Mosely the Alien!
Even More Subject Area Comics!
Well, there’s always Maus by Art Spiegelman.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi also offers an interesting perspective on recent Middle Eastern History
There are Comics on the Library of Congress Website?!
Yes! The Library of Congress has several comic related online exhibitions. One of the most powerful is the 9-11 exhibition. These works could be used in a unit on current events.
Comics can be a very effective tool for teaching in any classroom. They work perfectly in English classrooms, but are just as useful in any classroom! Just remember that students have many different ways of learning and comics can address this.
Haugaard, K. (1973). Comic books: Conduits to culture? Reading Teacher, 27, 54-55.
Hutchinson, K. (1949) An experiment in the use of comics as instructional material. Journal of Educational Sociology, 23, 236-245 .
Sones, W. (1944). The comics and instructional method. Journal of Educational Sociology, 18, 232-240.
"Witness and Response." The Library of Congress . 16 Dec. 2002. Library of Congress. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/911/911-comics.html>.
Yang, Gene. "Comics in Education." 2003. 25 Apr. 2006 <http://www.geocities.com/misteryang/comicsedu/>.