Annotated Bibliography—Teaching with Comics/Graphic Novels, a Historical View
Bender, L. (1944). The psychology of children's reading and the comics. Journal of Educational Sociology, 18(4), 223-231.
Looking at comics as an M. D., Bender associates the reasons children are (in the 1940s) drawn to comics. She acknowledges the importance of fantasy in the normal development of children and sees comics as a healthy outlet for children's fantasies. Bender details some problems that could occur if comics address issues beyond the ability of children to handle, but on balance, paints a positive picture of comics as matching the needs and interests in children. She ends by discussing the major superhero characters of the 1940s, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, concluding: "Great adaptability and fluidity in dealing with social and cultural problems, continuity through characters who deal with the individual's essential-psychological involvement with these problems, and experimental attitude and technique—these are the positive qualities of the comics" (p. 231).
Frank, J. (1949, December). Some questions and answers for teachers and parents. Journal of Educational Sociology, 23(4), 206-214.
As his title suggests, Frank addresses the variety of opinions and evidence concerning comics—quality of comics as a genre, comics impact on learning to read, eye strain for children reading comics, comics influence on emotions of children, comics and juvenile delinquency, and comics as an empty habit. While Frank acknowledges a variety of opinions about comics, on balance he portrays comics positively and allays most negative beliefs about the genre, concluding, "Comics-reading can constitute one—but one among many—ways of satisfying these perfectly normal needs of childhood" (p. 214).
Frank, J. (1944). What's in the comics? Journal of Educational Sociology, 18(4), 214-222.
Frank notes that children widely enjoy and read comics but that many adults find that attraction controversial. Frank details a study that shows a wide variety among comic books, emphasizing that blanket statements about comics are misleading. Comics, Frank explains, reflect topics and genres common in more traditional children's literature. Children enjoy comics because they offer what children find interesting, adds Frank. Frank believes an interest in comics, parallel to an interest in film, contributes positively to a child's overall literacy development—although comics are again portrayed as a weaker genre. Frank concludes that comics meet children's interest in the here-and-now with both topics and language and the only concern Frank offers is "excessive [emphasis in original] comics reading" with a focus on the "excessive" and not the comics (p. 222).
Gruenberg, S. (1944). The comics as a social force. Journal of Educational Sociology, 18(4), 204-213.
Gruenberg's discussion reflects the power and abundance of comic books in 1940s America. Gruenberg offers a mixed message on comics, describing them as a weak genre but noting that many genres (such as film) are unfairly discounted in their early manifestations. Also, Gruenberg identifies the influence of the market over what comics produce, suggesting that with time comics would mature into a credible genre. Gruenberg endorses using comics positively in educational settings and cites several examples of comics having positive messages and important themes.
Hutchinson, K. H. (1949, December). An experiment in the use of comics as instructional material. Journal of Educational Sociology, 23(4), 236-245.
Describing a study of using comic strips in education, Hutchinson argues for including students' out-of-school interests in school. The study presented overall positive results of using comic strips to teach a wide variety of lesson, especially "in special classes and for slow learning pupils in regular classes" (p. 240). The article listed 18 useful comic strips by grade level for educators as well.
Schultz, H. E. (1949, December). Censorship or self regulation? Journal of Educational Sociology, 23(4), 215-224.
Schultz contextualizes an endorsement of comics within the criticism leveled at comics by Sterling North and Dr. Fredric Wertham, both gaining a fair amount of fame and notoriety in the 1940s and into the 1950s. Schultz characterizes the revolt against comics as hysteria and wrote vigorously against any efforts to censor the genre. Schultz supported comics both as an endorsement of free speech and of the potential of comics to develop into "a constructive force for entertainment and education in our society" (p. 224).
Sones, W. (1944). The comics and instructional method. Journal of Educational Sociology, 18(4), 232-240.
Sones begins by placing comics in a line of popular media—film and radio—that have value for teachers. A key point by Sones is the popularity of comics in the 1940s suggests comics deserve serious attention. This article identifies a number of studies and applications of using comics in educational settings, concluding that comics should be used in the classroom. Sones also details a study of using Wonder Woman in the classroom.
Strang, R. (1943). Why children read the comics. The Elementary School Journal, 43(6), 336-342.
Strang details a study of what and why children read comics at many grade levels. Strang offers several arguments for and against the use of comics. The study reveals what comics students were reading in the 1940s and why they did so, including a few comments by students who did not enjoy comics. The article concludes recommending moderation and not banning in the reading of comics by children, suggesting that children use comics as they move on to more mature choices for reading and entertainment.
Thrasher, F. M. (1949, December). The comics and delinquency: Cause or scapegoat. Journal of Educational Sociology, 23(4), 195-205.
Thrasher opens by rejecting claims of single causes for human violence and crime, noting that flaw in the claims of Wertham. Thrasher places Wertham's claims in the context of several single causes identified in the field up until the late 1940s, including poverty and films. Ultimately, Thrasher concludes: "We may criticize Wertham's conclusions on many grounds, but the major weakness of his position is that it is not supported by research data" (p. 201). Thrasher ends by suggesting that simplistic attacks on comics may in fact keep people from seriously considering the impact of parents and society on children.
Witty, P. (1941a). Children's interest in reading the comics. The Journal of Experimental Education, 10(2), 100-104.
Witty reports the result of a study identifying the amount of comics reading by children. Interesting in this study from the 1940s is that comics "appear[ed] to be the most popular of all [emphasis in original] reading pursuits" by children (p. 103).
Witty, P. (1941b). Reading comics: A comparative study. The Journal of Experimental Education, 10(2), 105-109.
Witty expands his discussion of a study of the interests of children concerning comics. Witty details a large amount of data on children's reading of comics, but finds no basis for claiming comics are a negative influence on children.
Zorbaugh, H. (1944). The comics—There they stand! Journal of Educational Sociology, 18(4), 196-203.
Zorbaugh identifies comics as a new but influential genre in his discussion. In the early 1940s, comics were just over a decade old as a form but were pervasive in American society among all age groups, including being a significant part of military life. Zorbaugh notes that comic characters and language were impacting popular culture. Zorbaugh ends by declaring comics "are here to stay," thus worthy of our serious consideration (p. 203).
Zorbaugh, H. (1949b, December). What adults think of comics as reading for children. Journal of Educational Sociology, 23(4), 225-235.
Placing his discussion in the context of the 1940s controversy over the reading of comics by children, Zorbaugh details a study of adults' attitudes about comics and children reading comics. Overall, the study shows that adults believed comics were suitable for children, but the study, according to Zorbaugh, revealed a healthy debate about the issues. Zorbaugh ends with nothing that many adults, especially those who read comics themselves, support comics but are often concerned with some subgenres of the form, notably adventure comics.
Alongi, C. (1974). Response to Kay Haugaard: Comic books revisited. Reading Teacher, 27(8), 801-803.
Alongi, responding to Haugaard (1973) below, details briefly why teens are attracted to comics, basing her response on Archie comics. This support for comics is typical of the mixed messages educators present about comics since she condones the use of comics while also belittling the quality of comics. Alongi recognizes that comics often have elements attractive to teens—fashion, slang, graphic clues—but she refers to the "stories in comic books. . .[as] trite and predictable to grownups" (p. 802). This mid-1970s response is well before the rise of graphic novels and the maturation of comics many associate with the mid-1980s. Finally, Alongi notes the contrast between the antiestablishment tone in many comics that contrast her uncritical view that "school. . .functions to promote 'desirable' social attitudes and behaviors" (p. 803).
Berger, A. A. (1978). Taking comics seriously. The Wilson Quarterly, 2(3), 95-101.
While his discussion conflates comic strips and comic books, Berger offers an endorsement of comics as a genre fighting to overcome early criticisms of the form. He concludes his argument with acknowledging the need to take comics seriously since they are such a popular form within the culture.
Guthrie, J. T. (1978). Research views: Comics. The Reading Teacher, 32(3), 376-378.
Guthrie describes a study he conducted to consider the impact of reading comics on the development of reading among strong and weak readers. His study appeared to show that strong readers benefitted from reading comics while weaker readers did not because, he felt, that weaker readers were not on task when reading comics. He ends his discussion with a cavalier, "Is it any wonder that poor readers learn little from comics?" (p. 378).
Haugaard, K. (1973). Comic books: Conduits to culture? The Reading Teacher, 27(1), 54-55.
A professor and writer, Haugaard offers her view that since her three sons loved comics and that love led to an increased vocabulary and more reading, comics should find a place in the classroom. Like the response offered by Alongi (1974), Haugaard makes broad negative swipes at the quality of comics and appears to be familiar only with what many would call comics for children (Donald Duck, Casper, Archie, etc.). Haugaard's response represents the view that comics are useful as a step to better literature and more sophisticated reading, although not a ringing endorsement of comics as a genre.
Marsh, R. K. (1978). Teaching French with the comics. The French Review, 51 (6), 777-785.
Marsh explains that scholarship on comics and the teaching of comics is common in Europe, specifying France. This article details the use of comics to teach French, detailing many uses of comics to address language skills. Marsh ends with describing comics as "a powerful additional tool of language instruction" (p. 784).
Richie, J. R. (1979). The funnies aren't just funny. . .:Using cartoons and comics to teach. The Clearing House, 53(3), 125-128.
Richie criticizes "two-by-four teachers" who focus on textbooks and the classroom to the exclusion of other texts and life outside of school. The article endorses using cartoon and comics and notes that students need first to understand the conventions of the genres before exploring them. Richie believes comics encourages new pedagogy by teachers and small group work, along with other advantages including critical thinking. The piece ends by arguing for a combination of enjoyment and learning by teachers and students.
Schoof, R. N. (1978). Four-color words: Comic books in the classroom. Language Arts, 55(7), 821-827.
Schoof argues for using comics in the classrooms since students are willing and eager readers of the genre. As many endorsing comics do, Schoof belittles the genre while stating they are useful to teach literacy skills. The article lists a variety of activities around comics: identifying characters in comics, analyzing characters by images only, dialect, creating characters, naming characters, students pretending to be characters based on themselves, acting out comics, reversing gender roles when acting out comics, onomatopoeia, and students creating their own comics. Schoof ends by stating that comics are much improved over their beginning, but also offers the caveat that comics are not literature—"comic books are still nothing more than entertainment junk" (p. 827).
Wright, G. (1979). The comic book: A forgotten medium in the classroom. The Reading Teacher, 33(2), 158-161.
Wright characterizes comics as an enduring genre because all ages enjoy them. Although Wright admits comics reflect the same characteristics of other literary genres, he also states "[b]y no stretch of the imagination can comic book stories be called great literature" (p. 159). Wright does believe, however, that the Comics Code helped the genre improve. Overall, the article endorses using comics with all levels of students with the caveat that weaker students must be monitored when using comics.
Belk, R. W. (1987). Material values in comics: A content analysis of comic books featuring themes on wealth. The Journal of Consumer Research, 14(1), 26-42.
Belk conducted a mixed (qualitative and quantitative) study to "examin[e] what certain comic books may tell us about U.S. materialism" (p. 26). Focusing on a limited group of characters—Fox and Crow, Veronica Lodge (Archie), Uncle Scrooge McDuck, and Richie Rich—Belk concludes that comics are potentially a positive influence for reinforcing norms in U.S. culture about wealth. Belk acknowledges the shifting demographics of comics readers, both historically and in the future as well as the growth of Manga comics in Japan and the mid-1980s shift in comic superheroes and the aging readers/collectors of comics.
Koenke, K. (1981). The careful use of comic books. Reading Teacher, 34(5), 592-595.
Koenke offers an endorsement of teaching with comics with many caveats, including several characterizations of comics as a weak genre. This brief discussion reflects the status of comics in the 1970s before the rise of graphic novels and the maturation of the genre in the mid-1980s. Ultimately, Koenke views comics as a step to better literature and literacy, but not as a valid genre of study itself.
Berkowitz, J., & Packer, T. (2001). Heroes in the classroom: Comic books in art education. Art Education, 54(6), 12-18.
The authors endorse the use of comics in art course. They offer a rationale for the use of comics and a history of the genre. The article includes sample lesson plans and some cautions for introducing comics in the classroom.
Bitz, M. (2006, Fall). The art of democracy / democracy as art: Creative learning in afterschool comic book clubs. Afterschool Matters. Occasional paper series, pp. 1-20. Retrieved 25 February 2010 from http://www.robertbownefoundation.org/ pdf_files/occasional_paper_06.pdf
Bitz details a study of afterschool comic books clubs in nine cities across the U.S. since the beginning of comic book clubs around 2002. Comic book clubs involve students in writing, drawing, and publishing their own comics. The detailed study suggests some powerful results of the afterschool comic book clubs, most notably their contribution to John Dewey's call for democracy through education.
Bitz, M. (2004). The comic book project: Forging alternative pathways to literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47, 574-586.
Bitz details an afterschool comic book club in New York City involving over 700 students between 4th and 8th grades. The comics produced included themes about gangs, drug use, and romantic relationships. Artistic patterns in the comics included a "focus on the foreground," "the use of color to represent characters," and "pride in the design of their comic book covers" (p. 37). Bitz emphasizes the power of the project, attributed to the power of art, for urban children.
Carter, J. B. (Ed.). (2007). Building literacy connection with graphic novels: Page by page, panel by panel. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
This edited volume includes ten practical chapters that help teachers implement graphic novels into the ELA curriculum. The chapters explore arguments for incorporating graphic novels broadly along with exploring some specific applications of the genre. "There is a graphic novel for virtually every learner in your English language arts classroom," claims Carter (p. 1) in the introduction, and this sets the stage for a wide range of helpful chapters that any teacher should find useful when learning about comics and graphic novels or hoping to expand their use.
Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2004). Using graphic novels, anime, and the Internet in an urban high school. English Journal, 93(3), 19-25.
Frey and Fisher open by rejecting the traditional view that struggling and ELL students need worksheets and skills exercises to improve their literacy. Instead, they propose using graphic novels, anime, and other aspects of popular culture (acknowledging the power of multiliteracies) to offer students authentic writing experiences. The project detailed in the article revolves around the graphic novels of Will Eisner. Frey and Fisher note, "Using graphic novels to scaffold writing instruction helped students practice the craft of writing and gain necessary skills to become competent readers" (p. 23).
Lopes, P. (2006). Culture and stigma: Popular culture and the case of comic books. Sociological Forum, 21(3), 387-414.
This extensive consideration of stigma, comics, and popular culture is an excellent resource for those teaching comics, especially those who have traditionally viewed comics as a lesser genre. Lopes identifies a theory of cultural stigma and associates that stigma pattern aimed at comics throughout its history with similar stigmas on other aspects of popular culture such as jazz. Lopes identifies that stigma as impeding the growth of comics as a mature genre, although he concedes that in the early 2000s comics seem to be overcoming that stigma to some degree especially through the growth of graphic novels.
Morrison, T., Bryan, G., & Chilcoat, G. (2002). Using student-generated comic books in the classroom. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(8), 758-767.
This article details students creating comics around Martin Luther King as "a means to an end" (p. 767). The authors believe using popular culture, such as the comics genre, is important in school, but that teachers should be careful not "to require their students to overanalyze the very culture from which they derive so much pleasure and meaning" (p. 758). Students, they feel, benefit form comics creation because the activity is engaging, it allows student creativity, it supports literacy development, and it helps students grow as researchers. Much of the article details the construction of comics, the steps and skills needed to produce the comic.
Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. The Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.
Referring to Haugaard (1973), Norton explains that she too is a teacher and mother concerned with the value of comics. Norton details a study she conducted in the late 1990s with using Archie comics in elementary classes. Norton offers three comments based on her research: (1) Comics contribute to students' "ownership of text" (p. 145), (2) Teaching with comics needs further research, and (3) Literacy teachers need "to rethink the very notions of reading, literacy, and learning" (p. 146).
Ranker, J. (2007/2008). Using comic books as read-alouds: Insights on reading instruction for an English as a Second Language classroom. The Reading Teacher, 61(4), 296-305.
Ranker begins by supporting incorporating students' interests from outside school into the classroom, including popular media. The article discusses using comics for read-alouds in ELL classrooms. Students explore narrative structure through Spider-Man, critical reading from Hulk and Wild Girl, and textual features in a teacher-designed comic. Ranker acknowledges teacher concerns about comics, including the portrayal (and possible endorsing) of violence. Ranker concludes that comics are important as they offer students "opportunities to write, think, and discuss texts as they learn new literacies" (p. 304).
Schwarz, G. (2006). Expanding literacies through graphic novels. English Journal, 95(6), 58-64.
Schwarz views graphic novels as an important aspect of reaching beyond the traditional views of literacy. She explains that more and more professionals are recognizing the value of graphic novels. Schwarz offers some insight into some successful uses of graphic novels. Her discussion notes "[n]ew media call for a 'new rhetoric,' one that includes visual as well as verbal understanding and ability" (p. 60). Schwarz recognizes hurdles to implementing graphic novels—issues of appropriateness, lack of the genre being in standards and high-stakes testing, and lack of knowledge about the genre by teachers—but concludes "[s]chools must prepare young people to think critically with and about all kinds of texts" (p. 63).
Schwarz, G. E. (2002). Graphic novels for multiple literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46, 262-265.
Opening with her own discovery of Maus from a student, Schwarz recommends using graphic novels to address "an increasingly visual culture" (p. 282). Schwarz notes the potential of graphic novels to be appropriate for all content areas as well as addressing literacy concerns. Graphic novels also offer opportunities to increase students' critical literacy, she adds. The article ends with a list of eight resources for teachers concerning comics/graphic novels.
Versaci, R. (2001). How comic books can change the way our students see literature: One teacher's perspective. English Journal, 91(2), 61-67.
Versaci argues for the use of comics/graphic novels in order to support students making decisions about literary merit for themselves. Versaci believe students tend to see literary merit as something decided for them, not by them. Detailing several useful comics/graphic novels for the classroom, Versaci identifies many superior works in the genre. While acknowledging the controversial history of comics, Versaci believes comics/graphic novels as a genre have been misunderstood but deserve a place in the classroom and respect as a genre.
Weiner, S. (2004). Show, don't tell: Graphic novels in the classroom. English Journal,94(2), 114-117.
Weiner defines the graphic novel and argues that it has achieved quality status as a genre. Weiner identifies the mid1980s and early 1990s as a turning point for the genre. Graphic novels have many purposes and offer challenging reading experiences, Weiner adds. The bulk of this article is a listing of a number or valuable graphic novels suitable for the classrooms.
Williams, R. M. (2008, November). Image, text, and story: Comics and graphic novels in the classroom. Art Education, 13-19.
Williams advocates the use of comics/graphic novels for a wide variety of educational purposes, including addressing literacy, critical thinking, and art. Williams explains the value in comics while noting the historical marginalization of the genre. Williams details several applications of comics/graphic novels in college and secondary classes.
Adventures in Genre! (blog)
A Bibliography of Comics Articles in the Journal of Popular Culture:
Yang, G. (2003). Comics in education. [Web page]. Retrieved 25 February 2010 from http://www.geneyang.com/comicsedu/index.html