Some thoughts about graphic novels in education

As a visual thinker, a lover of the printed word, and a passionate social activist, encountering this new genre had a profound impact on this author, and he began to seek out, read and acquire new titles, each more interesting than the previous. Like Maus or I was there (about the bombing of Hiroshima), some books are serious meditations on the horrors of the past century. Other books were humorous, such as Greenberg the vampire, found their way into my personal collection. Each year, the popularity of graphic novels increases, and authors explore innovative ways to tell their stories. Some are very personal memoirs, such as American born Chinese, others, like The pride of Baghdad are surreal narratives about current events, such as this story, based on a true event during the Iraq war when a pride of lions escaped the Baghdad zoo, and ran around the city until they were killed by American forces, told from the viewpoint of the lions. These books are engaging and informative, and allow the reader to stop and explore complex images in individual panels or contemplate interesting dialogue, thereby creating a very different kind of experience than a movie, or book.

It became apparent to me that one of the most important and unique attributes of graphic novels is that their point of view more than often describes intimate, human experiences (even lions in the Pride of Baghdad shares this sensibility). When school textbooks big describe historical events, they do so in a sterile, linear manner, often outside of how human beings have experienced these events. Movies can describe similar events, but in a manner that prevents the viewer from being able to stop and reflect on the story, events and characters. Additionally, because of the size, special effects, music and sound effects, the story become a spectacle, with oversized heroes, and villains, and often disconnected from the intimacy of human experience found in graphic novels. In the graphic novel, the reader can stop, reflect, and move around the story, returning to earlier parts to explore story elements that may have been missed.

It is interesting to consider one of the most salient points that Marshall McLuhan describes in his book, The medium is the message is the relationship between a story, the manner in which it is told, and the medium used to tell it. For example, listening to Orson Well’s 1940 radio play The War of the Worlds was a very different experience to listeners than that of reading the book, or watching the movie. Understanding the particular media used to tell a story, its unique qualities and strengths, the history of how the specific media has developed over time, make a richer, deeper experience for both the creators and the users. This is particularly true with the genre of graphic novels, a fairly recent addition to narrative genres. It is these attributes that make Maus, Persepolis, March, and other titles such powerful books, because the sheer scale of their subjects can be so overwhelming that the narratives of the individual people, who survived, are often lost to readers. Graphic novels are an intimate, personal media, making them an extremely persuasive media to convey difficult narratives that inform and affect modern readers. They are engaging, economical, easy to translate and distribute (real of virtual publication).

More to come.



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