Saturday, February 7, 2009


By Chris Wilson

What are we doing?
Why are we doing it?
What do we call it?

Instinctively, I think most of us who use comics inside our classrooms know what we are doing and why we are doing it. Certainly, the research supports the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom – the bulk of which can be found in my graduate seminar paper, the chapter in a literacy textbook I am writing, during Michael’s and my presentation at the GIE conference, and in the textbooks by Dr. James Bucky Carter and Terry Thompson.

What we do not seem to know – and have heretofore not settled upon – is what to call this thing of ours. As a collective, the members of the comics in the classroom movement are debating the issue right now, and significant time was given to the subject at the GIE conference.

The titles thus far include: Graphica (which was the name of the conference), Sequential Art Narratives in Education (SANE) offered by author/educator Bucky Carter, and Illiterature (Illustrated Literature) jokingly offered by comic creator Jimmy Gownley. What we have been using around here is the term comic literature.

Why Comic Literature?
I choose the term comic literature in March 2007 when I started The Graphic Classroom mostly for simplicity’s sake than anything else. Comic literature accurately describes our movement in no uncertain or confusing terms. It is a term that Joe Q. Public and academia can both understand immediately, allowing us to discuss and debate the real issue: How does comic literature affect our students, their reading motivation, and their learning?

My objection to graphica is two-fold. Firstly, the term is convoluted and requires further explanation to the public and to academia. Lastly, the term graphica plays directly into one of the major stereotypes that surround comics: They are adult-oriented materials filled with over-sexualized women and violent scenarios geared toward horny, 20-something boys still living in adolescence. One conference-goer even mentioned that the word graphica sounds like erotica.

Dr. Carter prefers the term sequential art narrative in education (SANE), which is a strong nod to Scott McCloud and his incredible work in comics. Those of us who are familiar with McCloud’s first book, Understanding Comics, find solace in this term as it accurately defines what comics are. I am inclined, however, to use this term as part of our definition rather than the title of the movement. In the words of a different conference-goer “it is too clunky.” I think I agree as most elementary and secondary teachers are going to find sequential art narrative cumbersome and those outside academia are not going to be properly equipped to make sense of the term.

Regardless of the term we settle upon, we are going to battle the stereotypes of comics that currently exist. It will take time. However, keeping our words simple, concise and accurate allows us to concentrate on the reasoning behind the use of comic literature in the classroom. Research supports the use of comic literature, students respond enthusiastically, and comic literature can be connected to and used to achieve goals set forth by standardized tests.

I respectfully submit my preference for comic literature as the accepted term to define this incredible movement that is making a significant difference in the education of elementary, secondary and even post secondary students.

Please feel free to weigh-in with your thoughts, comments and discussion. We can have a healthy debate right here in the comments section.


Jim McClain said...

Graphic literature?

Anonymous said...

I love the post and it has me thinking. I have to say: Comic Literature doesn't quite do it for me, either. Neither does Graphica. But I am stumped with some term that captures all of the many aspects of graphic novels and the ways they use so many multiple medias (for the reader/for the writer).
I'll keep thinking, though.

Bucky C. said...

Comic literature without the "s" on the ned of "comics?" You don't want people thinking you're talking about comedians, do you? ;)

I use "comics," "graphic novels," and "sequential art narratives" pretty much interchangeably. You make a good point about SAN being a way to describe a broader form, but I like it because it also allows me to talk about proto-comics under the same umbrella.

Not sure if you knew this or not, but the term "graphic novel" has been in use since the 1950s.

The problem of naming is partly that as new people come to the table, they start to consider the naming issue without learning the history of the terms we already have.

I've read that Art Spiegelman says he likes a revised signification of the word "comics" as something that "co-mixes" words and images, so I like that as a catch-all for most of the texts we're considering as well. Hard to argue with that logic from someone like Spiegelman.

But, please not illiterature!! :)

admin said...


I did not know that "graphic novel" has been used that long. I have never considered people confusing "comic literature" for comedian.

We have work ahead of us, including what is considered a comic and what is not. Something that was also discussed at the GIE. Do we consider picture books as comics? I don't know. Perhaps we should.

Great discussion. I hope we keep it up.

Ben Villarreal said...

I, personally, like "comics." It's simple, and almost anyone can relate to it immediately. However, I can understand the desire to change it, as the first association most people make with it is a negative one.

Still, it was this desire that has lead to the widely used "graphic novel" for any comic. Eisner coined it with A Contract with God, I believe, because his comic was not a strip or a serial. It was a complete narrative presented as such.

Then the term went on to mean any comic that was not a serial or strip (whether it was a collected anthology or not). And now I'm beginning to hear it associated with any comic (serial, non-fiction, or otherwise)!

But perhaps I just like to keep things simple. I don't even like Spiegelman's "comix" too much :-)

AlanBrody said...

How about Visual Books or Visual Literature?