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Use of Comics for Advancing Literary Skills

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 1996 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Literature Review.

The popularity of comic books and graphic novels is on the rise and have moved from the margins into mainstream culture. When comics were at their most popular in the 1950s, they were considered to be popular culture, at best and dangerous influence on the youth, at the worst. Children who read comic books are not really reading; they are simply looking at pictures as a way to avoid engaging in the complex processes of learning how to read (Jacobs, 2007). Comic books, graphic novels are different types of comics whose definition has been blurred by artists over time and is now a term that is used interchangeably. Comic books like The X-men, The Avengers, and manga like Fullmetal Alchemist, are considered to be some of the greatest comics of all time. Rich in complex stories, loveable characters, and breathtaking artwork, these comic books were once the guilty pleasures of children everywhere. They were smuggled into classrooms and read discreetly behind textbooks or hidden underneath notebooks. With the newfound recognition of comics as literary media, educators are now grasping at the genre to advance literary understanding in students. The graphic novels are an accessible le medium for all students, particularly for struggling students, as the format is light on text and heavy on images (Hughes and Morrison, 2014). This research paper explores the idea of how comic books can help advance literary skills in a student. How do they aid students in the understanding of different languages and cultures with interesting stories and characters? How can multimedia design improve the ‘comic book experience’ while keeping the essence of a comic book intact?

To advance literary learning and understanding.

Students have come to dread the compulsory reading lists that are now part of the school curriculum, in part because of the complex classical literature that are difficult to comprehend. A few educators believe that the solution is to introduce comic books as reading material. (Versaci, 2001) says that the goal is to encourage students to question what constitutes as literary merit by defining reasonable parameters by which to judge creative work, thus helping students to become active, critical and engaged readers.  Comics have a bad reputation for being “disposable” and not real “literature” (Hermes, 1995). While they deviate from the more “traditional” forms of literature, they have proven to be more effective, comic books are able to quite literally “put a human face” on a given subject (Versaci, 2001). By blurring the differentiation between text and illustrations, comic books require significant concentration and participation by the readers. The personification of abstract thoughts allows students to empathize with characters in personal and unique ways. Detailed and intricate artwork, illustrations of the world around us, representation of diverse worlds, stylization of the words and use of onomatopoeia for literary effect stimulates imagination and critical thinking. We are better able to “hear” the narrator’s voice because we can see what words are emphasized by the bold lettering, and we associate particular kinds of voices with the narrative voice, especially emphasized by the shape of the text boxes (Jacobs, 2001). Because their storylines are generally action-oriented, graphic novels and comics are particularly effective in keeping student interest high (Ward, Terrell,2011).

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Young readers are attracted to the timeliness of comic books as their monthly publication allows their creators to react more swiftly to social and cultural changes than is possible for films or trade books. Thus, readers often feel as though what they are reading is cutting edge, making them cognizant of popular culture (Ward, Terrell. 2011). Aside from engagement, comic books also help to develop much needed analytical and critical thinking skills (Versaci, 2001).

Concerns of fictional violence

One of the main concerns of bringing comics into school curriculum is the widespread portrayal of fictional violence. While comics such as “The Amazing Spiderman” and “The Avengers” offers fascinating reading material, they also depict violence and battles between characters. (Buckingham 1996) has noted that, we often underestimate children’s ability to separate fictional violence portrayed in popular media from real violence. Therefore, there need not be a direct connection between reading texts with fictional violence and a sanctioning of real-world violence, especially when critical reading skills are used to mediate the relationship between the two. (Ranker,2007)

Understanding language and culture

Comics are a great way to explore different cultures and ideas. What constitutes as a good piece of literature is work that takes its audience by surprise. It is work that incorporates the author’s ideas, experiences, vision, dreams, and tragedies that remains unique to the author but is open to be experienced by all who read his work. Comic books take this experience a step further by incorporating imagery and visual cues to the reader experience. When masterfully created, they reveal our lives to us, and in doing so they help us to gain some insight into the world around us in surprising ways (Versaci, 2001).

Comics are made all around the world and are heavily influenced by its culture, people and history. The American comics of “Archie” and “Jughead”, to the French comics of “The Adventures of Tintin”, to the popular subculture of Japanese manga graphic novels, are just some of the examples that possess a plethora of knowledge and facilitate in learning about diversity and inclusion. Graphic novels have been excellent classroom tools with which to build cultural awareness and with which to explore difficult social, political and economic issues (Hughes and Morrison, 2014). Educators are cautious about one genre of graphic novels in particular, manga, possibly due to the fact that it raises many cultural and linguistic barriers. To many first-timers, it may be overwhelming. Manga has proven to be useful in teaching neurotypical and neurodivergent youngsters. Manga can be incorporated into a

secondary English curriculum as independent reading, manga can raise interesting questions

of translation, call sociocultural norms into question, and offer new takes on old mythologies. Its diversity of genres assures that every reader can find an appealing series, while simultaneously prompting students to think critically about genre conventions and audience expectations (Rozema, 2015).

Digitization of comic books

At the turn of the century, the gross digitization of print media began. Artists and authors began publishing their work online, which opened up a number of possibilities for artists. There was now a way to combine digital media and print media.

Artists began creating artwork and using software for the layout of comic books. This revolutionized the creative process and the distribution of books. Not only has the digital artwork used in digitally published comics become dynamic and 3D, but the new format used to create them will allow readers to manipulate and decide the outcome of the story.

One new format, D2, includes sound effects, moving images and does not require the user to ‘turn the page’, but rather, tap on the screen of their tablet or smartphone, to view the next part of the story. The D2 format will be used to publish ‘Batman ’66’, created by Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case (Digital meets culture, 2013). Music for graphic novels and comics needs to be as rubbery, as versatile and as unpredictable as the medium of comics itself. It must combine the invention of the film score composer with the shape-shifting of the comics/ graphic artist (Johnston,2016).


Students often find traditional literary works, like novels, to limit their abilities to share and express thoughts and knowledge. The introduction of comic books as an alternative can help in dissolving barriers and motivate students in participation in classroom learning. Graphic novels provided segues for the students to express “their views and ideas in unique ways” using a combination of image and text (Hughes and Morrison, 2014). Comics have also proven to be a stepping stone for students who have difficulty learning, and has improved not only their ability to read but also in deeper understating of literature, culture, and language. Graphic novels are an engaging and popular form, and undoubtedly this has made the learning process that much more meaningful for the students. Graphic novelist Svetlana Chmakova explains the power of the graphic novel to resonate with readers by using the example of an author “rendering a charged silent moment that speaks volumes about the character’s inner state just through their moven1ents. If done right, a scene like that can hit home deeper than a text paragraph ever could.” (Hughes and Morrison, 2014).

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With digital media now taking over, it is only a matter of time that comic books are incorporated into multi-media, to make the experience more engaging and enthralling. The essence of the comic book consists of two things, beautiful artwork, and a spectacular story. While keeping this in mind it is possible to revolutionize comic books, without crossing the border over to animated motion pictures.


  • Buckingham, D. “Moving images: Understanding children’s emotional responses to television.” (1996). Manchester, England:Manchester University Press
  • Hermes. “Drawing the line: A new wave of censorship hits comics” Utne Reader (November – December 1995): 22-24
    DIGITAL MEETS CULTURE Official registered magazine. Digital comics go interactive: Changing the way readers interact with traditional story-telling. Posted on: 7 June 2013 (https://www.digitalmeetsculture.net/article/digital-comics-go-interactive/)
  • Hughes, Janette, and Laura Morrison. “The Evolution of Teaching with Graphic Novels.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 6, no. 2 (2014): 116-27.
  • Jacobs, Dale. “More Than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies.” English Journal 96, no. 3 (2007): 19-25.
  • Johnston, Phillip. “Wordless! Music for Comics and Graphic Novels Turns Time into Space (and Back Again).” Southerly 76, no. 1 (2016): 95-110.
  • Ranker, Jason. “Using Comic Books as Read-alouds: Insights on Reading Instruction from an English as a Second Language Classroom: Using Comic Books to Teach Lessons about Text Helps Young English-language Learners with Reading and Writing.(Report).” The Reading Teacher 61, no. 4 (2007): 296-305.
  • Rozema, Robert. “Manga and the Autistic Mind.” 105, no. 1 (2015): 60-68.
  • Versaci, Rocco. “How Comic Books Can Change the Way Our Students See Literature: One Teacher’s Perspective.” English Journal 91, no. 2 (2001): 61-67.
  • Ward, Barbara, and Terrell Young. “Reading Graphically: Comics and Graphic Novels for Readers from Kindergarten through High School.” Reading Horizons 50, no. 4 (2011): 283-96.


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