Saturday, December 12, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne recently conducted a study on comic literature, determining that comics are a legitimate and sophisticated form of literature on par with other types of literature.

You can read the article here.

The story does identify a trait that we at The Graphic Classroom have also noticed: Books that take on comic-like aspects. Where we would disagree is that the adoption of speech bubbles, narration bubbles, motion lines and panels does not qualify a book as a comic, although the story implies such. Several books have crossed our desk that were marketed as comics. However, they were nothing more than children's picture books that used a speech bubble here and there, a framed image, and they called it a comic.

The definition of comics as researched and written about by people smarter than we, have conclusively demonstrated that the complexity of the comic is much more than a few mere aesthetic features. A text bubble does not a comic make. To assume otherwise is to continue the comics-are-not-real-literature stereotypes. We have discussed this issue with our colleague, Dr. James Bucky Carter, over at ENSANE. He has plenty to say on the subject.

It is Carter who first proposed the idea to us that the argument over whether or not comics are legitimate has been won. I agree with him. The research is clear. The field has a significant academic backbone and it is time to move on toward more substantial research into how we can best use comics in the classroom to support our educational goals.

That leads me to another point of concern in the article, as the writer implied that comics are being left out of curricula because the format does not really support the state or national standards. There is no foundation for any such view as comics are literature and literature is a strong foundation for our educational goals.

I use comics to support my state standards for all grades K-4. I often tie my lesson plans in the Technology Lab to align with the concepts being taught in the grade level classrooms. I have said repeatedly that comics cover every genre traditional books cover. The content can be used to achieve the goals set by our state and national government. Comics often do so while keeping children interested and engaged.

I reject any notion that comics are anything but a unique and complex form of literature. My experience working directly with elementary students is that comics are a strong catalyst for increasing reading motivation and comprehension. Comics can be used in the classroom to meet any state or national standard that traditional books are used for. It's simply a different format.

I am thankful for any research done on the subject; however, I am concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on the antiquated argument of comics as legitimate rather than focusing on the higher order skills inherent in comics.

Part of any movement is the change from the basic foundation to those higher ideals. We've all been there, at the bottom of the movement I mean, and it takes time to establish one's feet firmly. We all go through some shedding of old ideas and stereotypes in our journey. I'm glad to see that the comics movement is gaining more steam everyday, with newcomers emerging and talking and sharing. So it's good to have articles like this, even if they may accidentally promote or insinuate old stereotypes. It is a slow process, that change business.

1 comment:

Kevin Hodgson said...

I think the fact that so many hybrid picture books are on the market (ie, taking elements of comics but working them into the picture book format) shows, as you and Bucky say, that the argument has been won over the legitimacy of comics and graphic novels as literature.