Monday, August 08, 2011

Thinking About Graphic Novels

I've been pondering a recent post on graphic novels and following the comments with interest. The post, Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels takes a rather short view of the genre. Here is an excerpt.
I can hear graphic novel enthusiasts everywhere groaning as I type—and I’m all-too-familiar with the argument that graphic novels require students to make meaning from pictures, drawing subtle inferences based on what they’re seeing.

But is that REALLY true?

Let’s be honest, y’all: Graphic novels ALREADY take away the need for students to visualize anything while they are reading.

. . .

Will students who are hooked on graphic novels ever be terribly excited about picking up a text where they’ve got to do the imagining on their own again?

Think about it: Can YOU imagine trying to imagine—or wanting to imagine, or seeing a need to imagine—after discovering an entire genre where imagining just isn’t necessary?

Interestingly enough, when I taught a course on Content Area Reading for middle and secondary teachers a number of years ago, I included Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History and a few of Larry Gonick's Cartoon history books. Mind you, this was before the explosion of graphic novels, so the pickings were slim. However, there are so many terrific books today.

Do I agree with Bill Ferriter? HECK NO!

First, let me give you a personal response. I have a ten-year old who spent all of fourth grade reading through the Percy Jackson books. It ignited an interest in all things mythological. He's since read a number of mythology books, most recently Mary Pope Osborne's Favorite Greek Myths and Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1 and Part 2. In the mix of books you'll find the first three titles in George O'Connor's Olympians series. (You can read more about George and his work at Seven Imp.) These graphic novels distill the stories of each Olympian into 80 vibrant, action-packed pages. They have been read and re-read by my son. And honestly, they leave him wanting more, not less.

Okay, now for a more academic response. The graphic novels being published today demand readers engage in the same kinds of skills needed to make sense of more "traditional" literary works. The notion that "real reading" doesn't occur while students interact with the text of a graphic novel is simply false. Sometimes this genre may even require more finely honed skills, as readers are required to make sense of a range of literary devices (think about the complexity of narrative structures in a graphic novel) and vocabulary that can be more advanced than other books written for students of the same age.

Check out the article The Case for Graphic Novels in Education that responds to this issue much more eloquently than I have.

If you are interested in learning more about graphic novels in the classroom, check out these links.

So, what do you think of graphic novels? Leave me a note here or head over to Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels and leave your thoughts there.


  1. Thanks for the list of resources. A couple of new ones for me.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  2. Thanks for a better response than Ferriter even deserves for such a short-sighted position.

  3. Yeah, I agree with Jim. You were really patient and coherent, and he just annoyed me into wanting to spit. >.<

  4. "reading" graphic novels requires a very different type of literacy, one that doesn't take away from imagination as much as it asks the reader to participate in making connections. there is an elision between panels where graphic novel readers need to fill in missing information, leaps of narrative that asks a reader to actively engage with the story.

    the bias and fear against graphic novels is the same myopic thinking that keeps the study of visual media from being seen as equal or important in childhood education. visual literacy is sadly lacking in academia and exactly the thing younger readers are hungry for.