In the "Hands" of Students, it's so much more!
Recently, Erlynn Kirsch and Amanda Helfrich got in touch with Comics in Education about a fantastic project that their students put together. So here is what they did, in their own words...
Thank you Comics in Education! After reading a great post, the "Cave Art Activity", we came up with a similar activity for our 8th grade Ancient History students. For a final project on Pre-History we had students analyze Paleolithic cave-art and discuss how it could have portrayed humans' daily lives and emotions. Students researched the definitions of graffiti and graphic novels and thought about how it compared to pre-historic cave art. We discussed as a group the ideas of tagging public places, signatures on art, and leaving their mark on the world. Next we had the entire 8th grade create a mural, leaving their "mark" on our school Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church, VA. Students reflected personally upon how they wanted to be remembered and the type of "mark" they want to leave on history.
Below I have attached some pictures of our project and of student work.The worksheet we made is attached below.
Erlynn and Amanda also included work that their students put together while reflecting on this activity. It's clear from what the students wrote that they had a lot to say about it!
If you're interested in trying this wonderful assignment with your own students, Erlynn and Amanda have been kind enough to include the handout that kids worked on.
What a fantastic activity for students to be engaged in. Not only are they working together to produce a piece of beautiful visual art, but they are learning about their connection to ancient cultures and traditions, and the role that visual narratives plays in all of this.
Great job, Erlynn and Amanda!
If you're interested in this activity, you might also be interested in:
Even if you're teaching Maus for the first time, there are more resources out there than you might think...
It can be both an exciting and daunting task for teachers if they're teaching a graphic novel for the first time, and that graphic novel happens to be Art Spiegelman's Maus. Although it is one of the most frequently taught GNs in the high school classroom (along with Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis), there are dozens of resources available to assist you in your preparations. Here are some good ones to get you started with your unit!
These resources should help you to prepare a unit that your students will thoroughly enjoy. If you still have any questions about teaching Maus, don't hesitate to ask us here at Comics in Education!
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Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers Help K-3 Students Learn Math
Math is one of those subjects that students will make judgments about pretty early on in their academic career. It's not so much the math they make a judgment about--it's their ability to do math. It's sad when kids make these kinds of judgments about themselves early on, or when parents makes such judgments for them (e.g. "Don't worry, I wasn't very good at math either").
A great resource for the K-3 math classroom is the Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers series from Rubicon/Oxford. These readers speak directly to the most common curricula found in the primary grades.
What's the Problem, for instance, looks at rudimentary problem solving of the sort that students in Grade 3 would engage in, while Hoop Shot helps to support students doing the measurement unit in Grade 1. Indeed, all of the readers in the series are designed specifically to provide a visual narrative that helps to support a child's development in one of their core subject areas, like mathematics, science, and social studies.
You can find this award-winning series at their official website.
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If you're thinking that comics and graphic novels are only for the English or Social Studies classroom, think again. One of the best graphic novels you can get your hands on is actually about the history of mathematics. In Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papdimitriou examine the life of Bertrand Russell as well as some of the most important and influential mathematicians and thinkers of the 20th century.
The book isn't only about Russell's life as a mathematician and pacifist, however, but of the group of artists and illustrators trying to put it all together, and so the narrative switches back and forth between the actual present, the present of the narrative, and the recollections of Russell's own past, including his work with Alfred North Whitehead on Principia Mathematica.
Of special interest to math educators will no doubt be the part of the story when Russell's attempts to establish a progressive school for young people that does not subscribe to traditional models. Needless to say, things go horribly awry when the students realize that they are not bound by traditional rules!
The book was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for Graphic Novels and received widespread critical praise. Although it plays fast and loose with historical accuracy at times, it is thoroughly engaging, and a great way to show students how the math they are studying didn't just fall out of the sky one day. It came from the likes of the mathematicians and thinkers shown below!
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This is the first in a series of posts that are intended to give English educators some new ways of thinking about how to incorporate graphica into their curriculum. One way of making inroads with colleagues who are resistant to visual narrative in the curriculum is to show them how these works speak to, reinforce, support, augment, and otherwise work well with canonical literature dealing with similar concepts or themes. As you read these posts, please feel free to send me your ideas. I'd love to publish them on our site!
I like this roster of text choices, not only because the two novels and the choreopoem are written by women, but because the list will present students with engaging and challenging material. This is especially true of both Beloved and For Colored Girls and teachers would be well advised to ensure in advance that their students can handle the issues presented in these works.
I love the addition of The Silence of Our Friends, a semi-autobiographical work that looks at race relations in Texas circa 1967, with a white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood befriending a black family living in one of the the city's poorest wards. They come together when five black students are unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.
The other graphic title I've included here was written in 2013 and was accorded numerous honors that included consideration for Graphic Novel of the Year. That's March, Book 1, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, who also happens to have illustrated The Silence of Our Friends!
Of course, the amount of time that you have with your students and the specific demands of your curriculum will decide whether you can take an approach as suggested by the above list. However, we shouldn't underestimate the extent to which 21st-century students appreciate a curriculum that makes sense to them, and seems to be put together with the express purpose of fully and authentically developing their understanding of a particular issue or theme.
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The 10 is a series of books that use a Top-10 countdown format and graphical text to explore fascinating topics from sports, science, history, pop-culture, and a wide variety of other subjects. Whether they’re exploring the ten smartest animals or the ten greatest sports showdowns, students are encouraged to engage in inquiry-based learning tasks that extend learning and discussion outside the classroom. In 2009, the series received the Teachers' Choice Award for Children’s Books from Learning magazine. Here are many of the titles that I wrote for the series.
THE 10 SMARTEST ANIMALS
by Glen Downey
Think you're smarter than your pet dog, Fido? Think again! From monkeys that do math to pigs that play video games -- you'll be shocked at just how smart some animals are.
What do you think it takes to win the title of world's smartest animal?
MOST DECISIVE BATTLES
by Glen Downey
History, as they say, is written by the victors. When the future of a nation and even the fate of the world can be decided on the battlefield, it's no wonder armies will do anything to come out on top.
What decisive battles would you put on the list?
HOTTEST HOLLYWOOD CARS
by Glen Downey and Maria Malara
Nothing makes more of a statement than an amazing car. From cool gadgets to luxury accessories to superhero drivers, these cars all stand out from the rest of the pack.
Which car do you think is Hollywood's hottest ride?
MOST SIGNIFICANT DOCUMENTS IN HISTORY
by Glen Downey
Whether they were carved in stone, written on bamboo, or woven into a belt, each of the documents in this book has played an important role in shaping our world.
What do you think is the most significant document of all time?
GREATEST HOCKEY TEAMS OF ALL TIME
by Glen Downey and Kirsten Tenebaum
Many great hockey teams have been assembled over the years. From the innovators to the trail blazers to the record breakers, there have been many teams throughout hockey's history that have stood out from the rest.
How do you pick hockey's most outstanding teams of all time?
COOLEST FLYING MACHINES
by Glen Downey and Sandie Cond
Ever since humans figured out how to fly, people have come up with all sorts of ways to take to the skies. The fastest jet in the world, the fanciest jetliner ever built, the stealthiest spy plane service -- these are some of the coolest ways to fly!
Which do you think is the coolest?
MOST REVOLUTIONARY MILITARY INVENTIONS
by Glen Downey
From giant bomber planes to invisible chemical and biological weapons, military inventions come in all shapes and sizes. Take a trip through time as we investigate which weapons have had the biggest impact.
Which military invention really was the most revolutionary... and deadliest?
MOST MEMORABLE TV MOMENTS
by Glen Downey
From a heroic sports finale to the debut of educational programming for kids, you'll be amazed at the way TV has allowed us to experience memorable moments. Find out why these moments had people around the world on the edge of their seats.
What do you think is the most memorable moment in television?
MOST UNFORGETTABLE NASCAR MOMENTS
by Glen Downey
High speeds, skilled drivers, and big prizes -- that's what NASCAR is all about. From a million-dollar prize to an unexpected crash, you'll find out what makes auto racing fans so passionate about this exciting sport.
What is it about a NASCAR race that makes it so memorable?
MOST SHOCKING SPORTS SCANDALS
by Glen Downey
Welcome to the wild world of sports! From cheating in games to bribing judges in competitions, this book ranks the shocking scandals that ruined some of the biggest names in the game.
Have we made winning the only thing that matters?
MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS SHOWDOWNS
by Glen Downey
The stakes are high, the crowd is pumped, and tension fills the air. The arena is about to turn into a battlefield as we relive the 10 greatest sports showdowns.
Are you ready to face some of the fiercest competitors in sports history?
MOST REMARKABLE WRITERS
by Glen Downey and Jayn Arnold
From tales of Middle-Earth to moving poems, exceptional writers have wowed us with their incredible talents. Find out how each of these 10 remarkable writers made their mark on the literary world.
Who is the most remarkable writer?
For more information on "The 10" click the button below!
Books that Provide Teachers with the Ideas and Activities for Teaching Visual Narrative in the K-12 Classroom
Once teachers have read a few comics for their own enjoyment, done some additional reading about the genre, and found a good graphic novel to use with their students, only one thing remains. They need to do some reading about how to teach the genre to young people. Below are four excellent resources that teachers can use when they want to bring visual narrative to the K-12 classroom.
When people ask me how I started writing graphic novels, my answer is usually one word:
When they ask me how I was inspired to write for the Rubicon / Scholastic series, my answer is always two words:
When my son was very young he was fascinated by Ancient Pompeii...not just the fateful events of August 24-25, 79 CE, but the vibrant city bustling with life that preceded it. He was similarly fascinated by gladiators and fullers and senators and emperors, and he was so interested in the people, places, sights, and sounds of the ancient city that we had to do something about it.
So, we decided to take a trip to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa/Hull, where the plaster casts were being exhibited. These were the same plaster casts that were created by archaeologists who injected plaster into the air pockets of the volcanic debris that had hardened over the course of more than 1600 years. By doing so, the archaeologists were able to bring to life the forms of those who perished in one of the worst pyroclastic surges in the history of Volcanic eruptions.
When we got back home from our trip, we watched videos and read books and talked about what we had seen. When I asked my son what more we should do about it, he said, "You should write a graphic novel about Pompeii."
So that's what I did.
What follows, then, are the books I wrote for the Timeline series, entirely inspired by my son's self-directed learning. Writing them was tremendous fun and I could always count on a certain someone to provide me with an endless assortment of ideas about how these stories should be told.
With adventures that take place throughout history—and into the future, Timeline is packed with heroes and villains that will capture the imaginations of both boys and girls. Students love them because they are cool and teachers love them because they are motivational and packed with non-fiction learning. Each title blends a fictional protagonist with real historical characters in a unique story that teaches children about an important moment, time period, or event from the past. The series is also available in the United Kingdom under Oxford's Treetops Graphic Novels brand. For a review of the series have a look at Jared Robinson's review, "Rubicon's Timeline Series...Timeless!"
In the End, There Are Five Books You Need...
It is incumbent upon teachers wanting to incorporate comics into their classroom practice to familiarize themselves with the resources below. These are among the finest books about the genre of visual narrative and will help to provide a foundation for educators wishing to explore comics and graphic novels with their students.
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
There are lots of great books written about comics, their history, and the world of visual narrative. Perhaps nowhere else, however, does an author make these things more accessible and engaging than Scott McCloud does in Understanding Comics. McCloud makes the case for looking at comics as part of a historical tradition, examines why the genre speaks to us, and provides readers with the kind of insight into visual storytelling that is difficult to findelsewhere. Understanding Comics has been consistently regarded since its publication as the preeminent work of its kind, and is often the only or among the few works on comics to be found on the bookshelves of K-12 educators.
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
It's always great when you can get a look into the mind of a genius, regardless of what genre you happen to be exploring. This is what happens in Comics and Sequential Art by the late Will Eisner. Taking us through the principles of graphic storytelling by drawing upon his own work, Eisner not only reveals essential principles of the genre, but at the same time shows us the peerless talent that would give us works like The Spirit and A Contract with God. There's a reason why the most esteemed awards in the field of visual narrative are called the Eisner's, and this insightful look at comics helps in no small measure to show why this is.
The Comic Book History of Comics, by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey tell the remarkable history of graphic novels in comic book form. With an introduction by Tom Spurgeon, The Comic Book History of Comics looks at the work of some of the quintessential figures in the history of visual narrative, including Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Fredric Wertham, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Spiegelman, Herge, and Osamu Tezuka. The authors cover a wide range of topics, but the strength of the book is its ability to provide a comprehensive overview with engaging details in an economy of space. Reviewers have noted that both the concept and execution of what Van Lente and Dunlavey undertake are nothing short of remarkable.
Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, by Paul Gravett
This reader-friendly, highly visual history of graphic novels by Paul Gravett does a great job of looking at the language of the comics medium, the history of the form, and the work of some of its greatest practitioners. The book also looks at the impact of Japanese manga on North American comics, as well as the influence of European comics in translation. Of special interest to educators will be Gravett's examination of the wealth of themes explored in contemporary graphic novels and the trials the genre has had to undergo in achieving recognition.
Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud opens up the reader's eyes to the world of visual narrative, but in Making Comics he focuses on writing and illustrating--everything from the broadest conceptual considerations needed in planning a visual narrative to the finest details. Indeed, McCloud's explorations include not just the necessary tools of the trade, but an examination of the various ways in which people become involved in the comics industry. Once again, McCloud returns as his cartoon self and uses his wonderful sense of humour and genuine insight into the medium to show readers how they might undertake to become a maker of comics. All in all, it is a more than worthy successor to both Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.
Over the course of the next few months, I'll be sharing a number of graphic novels that I consider must-reads for those educators wanting to give serious treatment to the genre in the contemporary classroom. These works may not always be at the top of everyone's reading list, but each will have the capacity to make a very real impact on teaching and learning in the 21st-century classroom.
Of the books I read in 2013, this one had the most to say to teachers.
Though written a few years ago now, the English translation was published this past year, and we should be nothing short of thankful for it. In this critically-acclaimed work, Davodeau recalls the experience of learning the craft of wine making in the Loire Valley from vintner, Richard Leroy. At the same time, Davodeau gets Leroy to learn the art of writing, drawing, and publishing graphic novels. The story is brilliantly told, and from it we come away with a genuine understanding of how much people from different backgrounds and occupations can learn from one another by seeing what is actually involved in what they do.
I would strongly encourage teachers to read this graphic novel. It strikes me that Davodeau and Leroy engage in precisely the kind of authentic learning we want for our students. For instance, it's one thing to know that winemakers use barrels and that barrels are made by coopers. It's another thing to watch as Leroy pays a visit to the cooper's and hangs out there all day making sure the barrels are made just so while Davodeau looks on nonplussed. Indeed, both men learn from one another how passionate they are about their respective professions and how this is a fundamental quality they both share.
Talking with students about this graphic novel and sharing it with them is important, I think, in preparing them to be initiates for the world of lived experience.
For more information on The Initiates, have a look at the following links:
We're Blushing for Goodness Sake...
We wanted to take a moment to thank you once again for your support of this site. We have only been in operation for a very short time, but we've already made connections with some wonderful educators out there. Receiving 50,000 visits in little more than two weeks is very flattering, but here at Comics in Education we'd like to think it has to do with one basic idea.
We want to foster and develop a love and appreciation for visual narrative in the K-12 classroom. We want educators--all educators--to see that comics and graphic novels represent a genre worthy of study, that they have a tradition, and that they can open up a young person's mind to different ways of seeing and interpreting the world around them. They can encourage a reluctant reader to read. They can encourage a second language learner to acquire a new understanding of the language they are learning. And they can help students to make connections among a wide variety of texts, whether literary, artistic, or cultural.
So many of you out there are doing wonderful things in comics and in education. We can't wait to see what you do next!
Having Students Take Notes in Their Own Way is the Key
In a couple of previous posts, I showed you examples of Grade 12 students doing a comparative analysis of Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire using a Visual Brainstorming technique that saw them employ a combination of words, images and symbols to represent their thinking. Although the examples I showed featured students with excellent artistic skills, it's important to remember that Visual Brainstorming and Visual Note-Taking are not simply exercises in illustration.
They are exercises in brain-dumping.
Think of the activity as less about drawing and more about freewriting, but with some license to use the visual and without the need to avoid lifting the pen from the page. Here, Kailey has amassed an excellent amount of information about the opening scene of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Her only direction was to think about a few basic concepts: character development, staging, humour, and dialogue. She was also encouraged to ask questions right on the paper about things that were happening in the scene that she might not fully understand.
The results are so staggering that I'll likely be transferring this to the exemplars section of the website so that I can generate a slightly larger illustration to show you what she came up with.
Please try these exercises with your students! You may be quite pleasantly surprised not just with their artistic skills, but by how much knowledge and understanding they are able to articulate when given the freedom to express their ideas in this manner.
Activities Inspired by the Visual Can Yield Amazing Results
This one I just had to share with you.
In the lead up to teaching Persepolis this year, I wanted to give my students as many opportunities as possible of working with the visual. If you read my blog post about the "Cave Art" activity, you'll recall that it required students to depict a day in their life, a challenging encounter, or their best moment on the planet, etc. as a cave art montage. In effect, the Cave Art activity is a kind of visual brainstorming about a moment in the student's own life. The above collage by Marwa is fantastic, looking like it sprang to life out of the Futurist movement in Western art.
There's a very cool variation on this activity that I alluded to last time. It has the following steps:
What are some neat results?
Perhaps the coolest thing about the activity is that regardless of whether they feel their collage does or does not represent them, the students are really only tasked with making a judgment and defending it. It's not a failure if it doesn't represent them nor is it an overwhelming success if it does. However, when I did this with my students this year there were some unexpected insights that resulted, one of which came from a student who suggested that although his collage didn't represent him, what did was the process he went through to put it together. These are the kinds of insights we want from our students.
As a side note, I did my own collage to see what I would come up with. The result is below:
As this site grows and develops, I guess you'll be the best judge as to whether or not this represents me. It's just crazy enough that it might...
Filmic language can be useful in terms of understanding and expressing the relative distance between the reader/viewer and a given subject in a graphic story (see Filmic Language, Part 1). However, it can also help us understand our angle of view with regards to the subject, which in itself can have an impact on how we perceive what we are seeing.
A bird's-eye view in a comic allows us to view the contents of a panel from overhead, helping us to do one of a number of different things, including seeing the context of a scene with greater clarity or giving us a clear sense of a character's predicament. When a graphic storyteller shows us a character from a bird's-eye view, they can seem smaller, weaker, or more insignificant than when shown from a different angle. They can look physically smaller and less imposing, and therefore more vulnerable.
In this type of shot in a graphic story, the camera looks up at the subject from below. This can make the subject itself seem much larger, more imposing, or even more physically intimidating, especially as the bug's-eye shot moves closer to the actual subject and the angle gets closer to 90 degrees.
In this shot, a character is typically shown in the immediate foreground of the panel with another character further away. The action of the panel is sometimes literally framed bythe head and shoulders of the character in the foreground, thus giving the shot its name. It is a commonly used shot in the exchange of dialogue since it gives the reader an opportunity to perceive the character (or object, scene, etc.) in the distance from the general point of view of the character in the foreground.
For the POV shot, the viewer takes a small step forward from the over-the-shoulder shot to become, in effect, the character in the foreground. Comics and films from the horror genre use this shot frequently since it can develop great anxiety and anticipation in the reader/viewer. It can allow him or her to walk in the shoes of a killer or potential victim, seeing only what this character sees. Its use, however, is not limited to the horror genre, and a POV shot has wide applications in visual narrative.
Shot / Reverse Shot
This is a common technique in graphic storytelling that has been inherited from classic Hollywood films that sought to de-emphasize transitions from one scene to the next . Often, a shot / reverse shot in a panel sequence involves a medium over-the-shouldershot of two characters in conversation followed by a panel in which the characters' positions are reversed. This allows for a fairly seamless conversation.
Understanding the language of storyboarding and film enables a reader to talk about comics and graphic stories with a greater degree of accuracy and sophistication. It is especially useful to a writer who must try to give direction to the artist illustrating his or her story. Of special importance are terms referring to the way in which particular filmic shots in a graphic story are framed.
This is a shot that "establishes" a sense of the place where a given action in a story is happening. We know of these kinds of shots from film when, at the beginning of a romantic comedy, for instance, the camera swoops across the city where the action of the story will take place, accompanied by music that attempts to establish the appropriate mood. We find much the same in a graphic story, with a long or overhead shot of a given place giving the reader a clear understanding of the time, place, and sometimes even the circumstances of a particular scene.
In graphic storytelling, a long shot is typically one in which a character's entire body is at a far enough distance away from the perceived camera that it can fit entirely within the panel. A long shot can be used for a variety of purposes, such as reinforcing the vastness of a given location, a particular character's isolation or aloneness (because of his or her lack of close proximity to the viewer), the physical distance a character has traveled or will travel, as well as a variety of other uses.
A medium shot is an oft-recurring shot in a graphic story, and generally occurs when characters are shown from somewhere between the knees to the waist up. It is a very natural type of shot to depict a conversation between two characters since it allows the reader a kind of intimacy with the dialogue exchange that the long shot does not afford.
Once characters get within the distance of the medium shot described above, they are generally acknowledged to be in close up. This shot brings the reader/viewer and subject being looked at in close proximity to one another and can therefore have an increased intensity. Such a shot gives the reader a clearer depiction of a character's emotions or even intentions while also preventing us from seeing contextual clues that would be visible in a medium or long shot. Just as a long shot can have an impact by virtue of the significant physical distance it puts between viewer and subject, so too can a close up have an impact by putting them in close quarters.
Extreme Close Up
When a close up begins to close the distance from a head and shoulders type of shot to something closer still, we find ourselves looking at an extreme close-up. These can be among the most intense types of shots because the object of our gaze typically fills the panel. We cannot look somewhere else in the panel t o avoid the subject because, for all intents and purposes, the panel is the subject.
There are terms specific to comics which don't have corollaries in traditional print narratives and which may not have direct filmic equivalents. However, understanding these terms is central to understanding the genre.
A geometric shape that contains a scene from a visual narrative. It can occupy the whole or a part of a page. Panels are the organizational framework of comics--the moments of action--and the reader must stitch the sequence of panels together to derive meaning from the work.
The gutters are the areas between panels that are sometimes referred to as the breaks or white space that separate the action of a visual narrative. Their importance cannot be underestimated though it is sometimes challenging to conceptualize this. It is in the gutters of a graphic story that the reader makes meaning of the transition from one panel to the next. They can represent the passage of time, a change of place, or no discernible movement at all.
Narrative / Caption Box
These boxes are often located at the corners of panels and provide narration to accompany the dialogue in a graphic story. These boxes are often at their most effective when they are characterized by narrative economy, quickly setting a scene, indicating a transition, or otherwise establishing the time, place, and/or circumstances that a reader must understand before making meaning of an individual panel or panel sequence.
Dialogue Balloon / Bubble
Characters in a graphic novel or comic use dialogue balloons to talk to one another. Often these balloons are oblate (flattened) ellipses that allow typewritten dialogue to fit within them while avoiding an overabundance of white space. Whispers can sometimes be conveyed through dialogue balloons that are formed from dashed lines while dialogue "bubbles" that look like miniature clouds are almost always reserved for things that a character is thinking rather than saying aloud.
Another characteristic of graphic stories that is unique to visual narrative is the use of onomatopoeic sound effects, typically written as highly stylized words across a page in a form that serves as an echo to the sense. Hence, an artist attempting to depict an explosion might use a thick, sans serif font to construct the word "BOOM!" across a panel. These sound effects provide an aural accompaniment to a narrative sequence or individual moment in a graphic story and help the reader more fully understand and process what is happening.
One of the most confusing things about comics is the plethora of terms that is used to describe it. I think it’s fair that if we are teaching our students about comics, graphic novels, or visual narratives, we should be clear what we mean by these terms. In English, we’ve traditionally chosen a “funny” word to describe what we’re discussing: comic. The word “comic” has an etymology that goes back to the ancient Greek word for “revel,” and which we use interchangeably either for someone who makes their living telling jokes or for sequential art. Below is a chart that can help us come to terms with some of the basic definitions of the genre.
A visual story told as sequence of drawings or images, either in color or black and white, relating a comic incident, adventure, mystery, or some other manner of narrative. It isoften published in serial form as a sequence of panels and gutters, having dialogue printed in balloons and narration in boxes.
Graphic Novel *
A book made up of comics content that usually features a longer narrative than that found in a comic book. The term is often intended to include fiction, non-fiction, and anthologized collections of single issue comics . It is distinguished from the term "comic book", which is used for comics periodicals.
A story that is told primarily through the use of visual media, including still photography, illustration, or video, and which can be enhanced with graphics, music, voice and other audio.
A term used for art that tells a story or narrative through a sequence or series of images, so a form of art rather than a style. Graphic novels, comics, and cartoons are all sequential art.
A term reserved for Franco-Belgian comics that have their own unique style and history. Literally deriving their name from the idea of “drawn strips,” they do not linguistically contain the idea of something humorous or funny as North American “comics” do.
A genre of cartoons and comic books originating in Japan and popularized by Osamu Tezuka and others whose style and form go back to the 19th century and ultimately derive from traditions in Japanese art.
* Some writers and illustrators of comics take great umbrage at the use of the term “graphic novel,” suggesting that it’s simply a way of dressing up “comics” and making them seem more pretentious than they need to be. Others prefer the term, believing that it specifically refers to comics collected in a longer format with a more literary sensibility akin to what we often find in manga. The important idea, however, is that these terms often contain, touch upon, or overlap one another. Both bande dessinée (like Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, etc.) and manga have their own distinctive styles, with the latter drawing inspiration for its characters from the exaggerated, wide-eyed characters of early 20th century American comic book characters, like Betty Boop.
Film, literature, Graphica, and How They Can Teach Us that Sometimes, the Less Said, the Better
I was reminded this past week that comics, indeed any sort of wordless visual narrative, can teach us how important it is when something is not being said. Now don't get me wrong. I love a good long story. The nearly one thousand pages of Dickens' Bleak House was enthralling for me as a graduate student. The twelve hours or so of the Lord of the Rings trilogy's extended edition was great fun. And I've watched a great number of musicals and plays with a pretty substantial running time and found myself amused, engaged, bewitched, and otherwise entertained from start to finish.
But I'm also reminded of one of my favourite examples of flash fiction--attributed to Ernest Hemmingway though the connection is tenuous at best--that consists of but six words:
Now I don't know if this story has the same impact on you as it had on me the first time I read it, but there is an economy about it that is startling, and so much of the story has been left unsaid that this economy has a profound effect on the reader.
A couple of years ago I had a similar experience when a colleague showed me the short film below. It had won the Phillips Cinema "Tell It Your Way" Competition's Grand Prize. The rules of the competition dictated that the films being submitted could consist of no more than six lines of dialogue, and this submission, The Gift, took home the prize.
If you've never seen this short film before and have now composed yourself after breaking down in tears at the end, we probably have quite a bit in common. This film only needs six lines of dialogue because the visual component of the narrative is so powerful. It is such a clever, well executed, and--as a result--profound piece of film-making.
So what actually got me thinking about narrative economy? Well, not surprisingly, it was a wordless comic book panel drawn by none other than writer and artist, Francesco Francavilla. He was sending it around yesterday and it brought back to mind how powerful an image can be--how much it can actually say--in the absence of words telling me how to interpret it. Here's what he tweeted.
I don't know about you, but this image just sort of sends chills through me. That's usually my reaction to things Francesco draws, but this one is especially so. It reminded me when I saw it of what an economy of words can do, and it should remind educators that those who would suggest that comics and graphic novels are a way of "dumbing down" the reading experiences we give to our students should, if anything, be pitied.
After all, think about what they're missing....
Perhaps you were a comics fan when you were a kid and haven't read them in a while. Things have probably changed a bit since then. Or maybe you'd like to use them in the classroom with your students but feel like you don't have a great background in reading them. The following list should help get you started on the road to becoming an expert on the hottest and most exciting genre on the market!
The Mysterious Underground Men (1948), by Osamu Tezuka
A Contract with God (1978), by Will Eisner
Maus (1986), by Art Spiegelman
The Dark Knight Returns (1986), by Frank Miller
Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Finder (1996-present), by Carla Speed McNeil
Transmetropolitan, Volume 1 (1997), by Warren Ellis and Darcik Robertson
Persepolis (2004), by Marjane Satrapi
Building Stories (2012), by Chris Ware
Boxers & Saints (2013), by Gene Luen Yang
Use Visual Note-Taking Strategies for Better Results!
I know in the mathematics classroom that we're ever-more conscious about allowing students to find their way to the answers to problems. Gone, I hope, are the days of forcing students to take a single road along their journey through our mathematics curriculum.
I was never big on taking that road myself. When asked to solve a math problem, I always wanted the solution to look cool for some reason. I think this had to do with my formative reading experiences being so tied to comics, detective fiction, adventure stories, and the manuals and gamebooks of fantasy role-playing games. I wanted the journey to be exciting!
A few years back, I was teaching at a school that held a math contest for students and faculty. I found the questions really challenging, and that's with ten undergraduate math courses under my belt!
I managed to win the contest (which I think my colleagues found strange given that I taught in the English department), but the way I answered the questions had something to do with it: Here were my responses, and I apologize in advance for having no longer any clue what the questions were...
Q1. Killer Geometry Question
Q2. Fractals -- It was brutal
Q3. Hypocycloid Question (I nearly died)
Q4. I honestly don't even remember this one...
I think when we allow our students to draw their math answers, write out their frustrations about their math answers, and use visual brainstorming techniques for their math answers, we're giving them opportunities to arrive at these answers in very useful ways. If you encourage visual brainstorming or having kids use doodling in their written responses to questions, send along some examples because we'd love to feature them at Comics in Education!
Students read, examine, and create graphic poems, and consider both the implications of using the visual in connection with poetry, and whether an artist or poet/artist can visually represent the intricacies of literal and figurative language. The hope is that students will recognize the beauty of graphic poetry and thereby develop a greater fondness for and appreciation of poetry proper.
Self Awareness, Metacognition, Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should see that there is something to be gained and something to be lost in marrying a poem with its graphic illustration. What is gained is a visual context that the reader can use to help him or her understand what is actually happening in a poem. What is also gained is the recognition of what art can and cannot do with pictures in order to mimic or represent the figurative. What is lost, perhaps, is precisely what is lost when the curtain rises for the presentation of play and we see the gradual unfolding of the directorial decisions that will define how the performance in front of us will interpret the stage directions and dialogue of the playwright.
Critical Thinking Questions
Self-Awareness and Metacognition Questions
Navigation Skills and Making Connections Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Reading graphic poetry can help students to make sense of some of the complexities of the poems they examine, even if those complexities are what is literally “happening” in a given work. In my experience, though, a student is far more likely to want to bring their critical thinking and inquiry skills to bear on a poem that they believe they understand than one they don’t. As students move through the process of reading, analyzing, and creating graphic poetry, it is essential that teachers encourage students to develop an ongoing dialogue with the work they are studying.
Students create a storyboard or visual narrative that does not contain text. The exercise has wide application, whether in having students block a scene from a work of drama, visually relate the progress of a character’s story from a work of fiction, or visually represent the story of a particular historical moment. The exercise is similar to Activity 3: Visual Note-Taking, but the student is not permitted to use words in order to communicate his or her ideas.
Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should perceive the challenges of communicating without words, translating the written or verbal into the visual, and developing a narrative that is comprehensible to their audience when said narrative must be interpreted in the absence of explanation. The aim of the exercise is to develop the student’s communication skills and transliteracy: the ability to demonstrate literacy across a range of platforms or mediums of expression by making meaningful connections between them.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in this Activity?
As in the previous activity, students will have a dizzying range of questions that they will have to ask themselves at the outset of the activity: “How do I represent this scene from a play or short story without needing pages and pages of illustration?” or “How can I best capture the most important features of a historical battle in a way that a person examining it can understand?” My inspiration for this activity comes from Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress,” which Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics cites, along with hieroglyphics, cave art, etc. as a forerunner to the comics of today. I’ve always been impressed by the fact that little or no text (other than the naming of the individual paintings), the audience has little difficulty perceiving what is happening to the rake. As our global village shrinks and our students are immersed even further into a principally visual culture, being able to communicate with the visual takes on an increasing importance.
Students use a combination of words and images in order to create a visual narrative of a process, sequence, set of instructions, or procedure related to their study within a specific discipline. The instructor can have them create this to show the steps they have taken in a lab, to organize how they will prepare for a set of exams, to reflect on a strategy used in a particular sport or physical activity, or even to explore how they might handle and unfamiliar task.
Self Awareness, Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills
By the end of the activity, students should recognize the extent to which using a combination of words and images can help them to think in non-linear ways about a given task. There is much to be said when it comes to note-taking of breaking things down into a series of written steps, bullet points, or explanations, but going from the intricate web of ideas in a student’s head to the linear is not always easy. The visual note-taking, process description or instruction writing allows them not just to think outside the box, but to put the box aside and just to think.
Critical Thinking Questions
Navigation Skills Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity?
This activity is thinking and inquiry in their purest form—allowing the student to make sense of something without being restricted by the linearity of formal sentence mechanics. If a picture tells a thousand words, and there are a thousand words in the student’s head, do I really want to have them write them all down? The inspiration for the activity comes from the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 m long woven fabric showing the Battle of Hastings and both what led up to it and what followed. This remarkable medieval comic doesn’t just give us insight into 11th century Anglo-Norman relations, but what the weavers perceived worthy of inclusion, and what they felt they needed to explain or refrain from explaining.
We Salute You!
Comics in Education wanted to take a moment to thank once again for all of the wonderful visitors to our website. We've now officially reached 10,000 of you and more are visiting the site every day. Our mission is to nurture and develop a love of visual narrative in the K-12 classroom, and we're delighted that so many of you out there are as well.
In truth, we expected you would be, but you're doing such wonderful things!
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Comics in Education
Students create a visual representation of an historical figure, famous scientist or thinker, literary character or individual related to the discipline they are studying and use symbolic elements in order to convey something about that character’s personality, mindset, nature, or temperament. Once they have done this, they write a reflection that explains how these symbolic elements help us to better understand the character in question.
Critical Thinking, Metacognition, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should understand something about how symbolic language can help us understand the visual representation of a character or individual, how symbolic language is similar to and different from orthographic language, and how words and images can have a genuinely emotive power in a given context.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Visual Narrative Can Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Some critics have argued that graphic novels derive their power from a rather unique quality—their lack of photographic realism. When looking at a photograph, for instance, we are acutely aware that we are only looking at a photograph. We are not witnessing the events taking place or the people affected by them in real time, because the photograph tells us that these things have already happened. In a graphic novel or story, however, things are not so clear. We are more likely to accept that when we see little Marji in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, we are actually looking at a “real person.” The cartoonish nature of the representation has the opposite effect we think it might. Because it’s obviously a cartoon, our minds don’t wrestle with the question of whether it’s the actual character or only his or her representation. So, we don’t tell ourselves that this line drawing isn’t really Marjane Satrapi. We just accept that it is.
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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