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Comics in the classroom
July 7, 2009 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Comics in the Classroom: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources for Teachers
posted by Brandon Blatcher (27 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tip number one: use a textbook that is smaller than a standard comic book.

Seriously, though, I am as aware as anyone that comics have a potential for being great literature, but if I think back about it, the worst narrative fiction I have seen was disproportionately comic books.

At least they are not trying to use blogs as classroom resources.
posted by idiopath at 6:57 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


And why shouldn't they use blogs? I believe almost anything can be a tool for learning; it's not what you got, it's what you do with it.

Bring on comics, blogs, yum cha, poodles and even - gawd help me - Twitter: They are of the world, and thus we can learn from them about our world.
posted by smoke at 7:26 PM on July 7, 2009


I imagine a teacher having a curatorial role. What we read or watch has a huge influence on how we think and write.

I had a teacher in highschool who would show us movies: he picked narratively and symbolically dense films, stopping the movie every 30 seconds to one minute or so to lead a far reaching discussion about the various allusions and references that came up (watching Jaws, we talked about the polarization of the '70s cultural landscape surrounding the Vietnam war, social Darwinism, Freudian sublimation and the concept of the monster as punisher of transgression, etc. etc. etc.). At first my mind was totally blown and I thought I had found some completely unknown side to movies. Then I found out that most movies don't really offer much when subjected to that kind of analysis, and even thinking about them that hard was probably a big waste of mental energy.

I am all for applying critical reasoning and analysis to alternate mediums, but at least do the work to make sure it is worth the kind of attention you are giving it.
posted by idiopath at 7:36 PM on July 7, 2009


Comics, nutritional information on cereal boxes, warning labels on medicines: Given the number of people who can't read, or don't want to read, or find it hard to read, why not?

Literacy: by any means necessary.
posted by cogneuro at 7:36 PM on July 7, 2009


I've always wanted to see a textbook of (recent) American history based on Doonesbury. Seriously.
posted by uosuaq at 7:39 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher, you're my hero. I'm actually teaching an ESL course based on comics, focused on vocabulary building, and gathering meaning from context. This page should keep me busy through summer break. With any luck, the course will be even better in the fall. Thank you.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:42 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Personally, I miss the days when the intellectual value of comics was hidden from the masses, and you read them as a form of intellectual rebellion from your teachers and parents who decried them as mind-rotting while you yourself recognized the moments when comics had literary and intellectual qualities.

If you're not feeling vaguely guilty about your comic book habit, then you're missing part of the experience.
posted by deanc at 7:42 PM on July 7, 2009


deanc: we'll always have porn for that. What? I totally saw a porno with a plot once.
posted by idiopath at 7:45 PM on July 7, 2009


If you're not feeling vaguely guilty about your comic book habit, then you're missing part of the experience.

Eh, it's that kinda mentality that has helped keep comics in the US down in the gutter. Comics don't have to be just this or that, it's a medium that can do this and that and other things. Let it grow.

Ghidorah, glad to hear you'll get some use outta the links. I always thought adding comics to the classroom would encourage more reading instead of Shakespeare.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2009


Some useful stuff-thank you! As a math teacher, I unfortunately don't get the chance to use stuff like this very often. I did give my grade 11 college kids (college level = not going to university for anything resembling math) the option of creating a math cartoon as part of their math portfolio this year, and the best ones were pretty impressive. I particularly enjoyed the adventures of Captain Parabola and his trusty sidekick Sohcahtoa. I definitely agree that it's a good idea to use as varied a bag of teaching tricks as possible. Lord knows it's hard enough to keep their squirrelly little brains occupied for very long.
posted by Go Banana at 8:23 PM on July 7, 2009


This is a interesting post about a wonderful topic but the discussion thus far is making my teeth ache. Comics compared to porn and cereal box copy? The vague implication that comics perhaps aren't worth intellectual attention? I fear that says more about the lack of experiences within the speaker than within the medium. Maybe the whole, vast universe of sequential art is only valuable in that we can cry big, salty tears at the ruination of society while choking out "But... at least... they're- they're reading." Sheez. You Guys.

Almost speaking of Shakespeare and comics, there's a handful of "No Fear" Shakespeare comics. Neil Babra's adaptation of Hamlet is the stand out, I think. I would have loved that when I was in junior high, struggling with the weirdo verbiage.
posted by cheap paper at 8:29 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


cheap paper: There are a small selection of comics that I would include as some of the best literature I have ever read. Honestly, though, the quality writing to utter drek ratio in the comics world is horrendous.

That any medium at all can be used to express something profound is a no-brainer, but whether it is a question of the way the industry is set up or some kind of self-selection for mediocrity the world of comics on a whole violates sturgeon's law by a few orders of magnitude.
posted by idiopath at 8:38 PM on July 7, 2009


At least they are not trying to use blogs as classroom resources.

Ain't you read your Andrea Lunsford?
posted by ford and the prefects at 8:57 PM on July 7, 2009


Idiopath: I'm the first to admit that there's an absence of phenomenal, earth-shaking material (in any medium) but the world isn't lacking in comics that have value. I particularly like this post in that it hopefully excites a new group of people who are willing to look for that value.

You raise a really interesting point tho'. You mention the writing as being the determinate in a comic book being good or bad. I think the far and away bulk of younger readers would point to the images as to being the determinate. I know that's how it worked for me as a child. It was only as I got around 15 or so that I figured out that the words held the same importance as the art. I wonder how teachers using comics are preparing for that "linguistic" shift.
posted by cheap paper at 9:55 PM on July 7, 2009


I would like to see comics studied as COMICS. Not as a "teaching tool", not as "literature" but as COMICS. Kids should have the same glancing acquaintance with George Herriman and Will Eisner as they do with Stephen Crane and Emily Dickinson.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:58 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


cheap paper: I talked about the writing because they were talking about comics being a tool for teaching literacy. In a broader sense I always saw writing (not just dialog, mind you, but the script, which would incorporate sequential graphic narrative as well) as being at least as important as the art, even as a young child. I was one of those kids who read for fun though, so I could be an outlier there.

Maybe my criticism was kneejerk though, maybe I would feel differently about comics today if I had teachers in school who would help me develop skills in figuring out what the good comics were, and gave a proper introduction to the classics (a-la BitterOldPunk's suggestion above).

I have had a long-standing policy with movies where for every new movie I see, I have to re-watch one of those films I consider "rewatchable". Otherwise I just get fed up with movies altogether and forget why they were any good. But even Transformers 2, Revenge of the Fallen was better put together than most comics I have read.
posted by idiopath at 10:16 PM on July 7, 2009


of course there's a load of drek in the comics world. Same as in 'real' books. Think of all of the books out there (the forest that died to print Danielle Steele will have it's revenge, and of course, Michener by the pound, anyone?), compared to the absolute sliver of texts presented in any literature course. That doesn't mean we shouldn't study lit, does it?

And BitterOldPunk, that's essentially what my class is. We study some of the basic tropes of comics of different kinds, figure drawing to framing the panel, different forms of text in used, as well as developing English skills. It's challenging, but I think the students enjoy it.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:46 PM on July 7, 2009


I remember my 10th grade English teacher telling the class about a study done on comics, that people who read them had bigger vocabularies than those who didn't, thus teachers should encourage the reading of comic books rather than condemning them as mindless fodder.

He was a bit of a rebel, though... this is the same teacher who showed the "newer" version of the Lord of the Flies film (which others shied away from because of swearing) and spent half a class period talking about Survivor (which was just about to premiere for the first time) and its being inspired by Lord of the Flies. Sadly, he got replaced after winter break-- officially, he quit to go teach college-level English, but from what I gathered the administration didn't care for his methods compared to the more traditional/conservative teachers. *le sigh*

But that statement about comics = bigger vocabulary seemed to have taken with other teachers, since more of them became more tolerant of my bringing in manga for the school-wide daily silent reading event.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 10:53 PM on July 7, 2009


Most of comics are poorly illustrated adolescent fantasies of power, stylized hypersexuality and violence. When I grew out of being a teenager I grew out of most comics. Yes, there is great art out there published as comics, but that is emphatically not where the money is in the comics industry and it is not what the world of comics fandom is looking for. The mainstream of comics is shallow, sexist, homophobic, and has a neo-fascist worship of physical power, violence, and revenge. Say what you will about other artforms also being mostly dreck, but as I said before, comics violate sturgeon's law by a couple of orders of magnitude; in the rest of the world 90% of everything may be dreck, but in the world of comics it is closer to 99.999%
posted by idiopath at 11:09 PM on July 7, 2009


idiopath, what I was talking about was lit classes, the canon, if you will. Most Contemporary Lit classes won't be featuring anything that's been on a bestseller list. Most books sold are exactly that: crap. Romance novels sell ridiculous numbers. Da Vinci Code, anyone? These are what people read.

In a film course, you're not likely going to show Transformers 2, even if more people saw that film than all of your film course choices combined. You sift through the dreck in any field to find the art. By discounting comics so furiously, (mainstream in particular) you're dismissing, perhaps too quickly, some fascinating work. What most quickly comes to mind is Iron Man's Demon in Bottle storyline, where you've got the archetype of

shallow, sexist, homophobic, and has a neo-fascist worship of physical power, violence, and revenge

telling a story about the crippling effects of alcoholism, in a way that reached, more than likely, a wider audience than any after school special/movie of the week ever did.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:26 PM on July 7, 2009


I failed highschool chemistry because I read comics in it.

Hell, Allan Moore was still on Swamp Thing and Watchmen had just come out. I needed to really read that shit over and over again. Fuck Avogadro's Number, those comics were way more important to me.
posted by GavinR at 11:32 PM on July 7, 2009


"...poorly illustrated adolescent fantasies of power, stylized hypersexuality and violence... shallow, sexist, homophobic, and... neo-fascist worship of physical power, violence, and revenge. comics violate sturgeon's law by a couple of orders of magnitude; in the rest of the world 90% of everything may be dreck, but in the world of comics it is closer to 99.999%"

This sounds less like a real argument and more like something that would spew out of the mouth of a one dimensional strawman in a shitty Frank Miller polemic. I'm picturing a bespectacled postmodern woman's lib professor who says something about fascism or chauvinism in every comment she makes. Naturally she either ends up becoming a leather clad dominatrix-esque villain, or falls for the hero after he beats some people up in front of her.

Also:
But even Transformers 2, Revenge of the Fallen was better put together than most comics I have read.


Really? I mean really? Even the shittiest comics usually have story arcs that can hold together for at least 3-4 issues. Where one event leads to another. I assume you're exaggerating or purposefully read really shitty comics.
posted by Telf at 12:20 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it'd be great to have comics in the classroom, to provide that bridging experience between the tv and movies that kids can't avoid being immersed in, and the literature we'd like them to read.

None of the linked articles from the posted list suggested completely replacing books with comics, they're intended as a supplement or assistance. And in that case, even if idiopath is right about how many of them are crap (which I doubt), it doesn't matter anyway because you don't need the entire medium to be good. You just need enough of them to bridge the gap between visual and verbal storytelling.

Looking again at the resources in the posted list, they've also included comics that are solely educational, not just commercial. You'd still need to vet them for quality and accuracy, but that's true of any classroom resource, and at least you wouldn't be worried about fascist superheroes or women with the world's most common superpower sending the wrong message to impressionable minds.
posted by harriet vane at 3:21 AM on July 8, 2009


When readers lag behind their grade level it gets harder and harder to find material that is both interesting and accessible. I think comics could fit the bill. Thanks for the link, I will forward it to the special ed teacher I know who will probably find some use for it (after summer, of course)
posted by kathrineg at 6:41 AM on July 8, 2009


Yes, there is great art out there published as comics, but that is emphatically not where the money is in the comics industry and it is not what the world of comics fandom is looking for.

The money in most industries is from the mass-market drek. Yes, a lot of film noir and other classic films are amazing, but the movie industry was producing those with the money they were making from forgettable mass-market westerns. But you're right, Sturgeon's Law probably operates at a different ratio for comics.

A lot of focus on comics seems to be as a way to get slower readers more interested in reading. But I can't help but thing that comics in the classroom are analogous the use of film in the classroom: supplemental material that illuminates the way literature is adapted.
posted by deanc at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2009


Most of comics are poorly illustrated adolescent fantasies of power, stylized hypersexuality and violence. When I grew out of being a teenager I grew out of most comics. Yes, there is great art out there published as comics, but that is emphatically not where the money is in the comics industry and it is not what the world of comics fandom is looking for. The mainstream of comics is shallow, sexist, homophobic, and has a neo-fascist worship of physical power, violence, and revenge. Say what you will about other artforms also being mostly dreck, but as I said before, comics violate sturgeon's law by a couple of orders of magnitude; in the rest of the world 90% of everything may be dreck, but in the world of comics it is closer to 99.999%
posted by idiopath at 11:09


I just wanted to see that again because it's completely hilarious!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2009


Comics are really easy to make compared to most other forms of mass media. Following the creators rather than the titles helps as a filter of crap.

I picture idiopath visiting a bookstore & calling every category but his favorite as proof that Sturgeon was a starry-eyed optimist.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:11 AM on July 9, 2009


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