Lessons on educating kids (of all ages) with comics

Over at the fancy new Captain Comics Web site, the group is having an interesting discussion on using comics as an educational tool.
To kick start the discussion, Luke Blanchard wrote:

I’m inclined to think educational comics should be good teaching tools, but perhaps I’m misled by my own love of comics. I remember reading a comics account of the Burke and Wills expedition in primary school. It extended my knowledge of the events at the time, but the details didn’t all stay with me. I read one or two issues of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe in high school, and I don’t know I learned much from it: but then, I wasn’t interested in history at the time, and it was too irreverent for me. I found the issue of Chester Brown’s Louis Riel here fascinating when I read it a few years ago. I don’t know my encounters with educational comics extend much past this. (I can think of some religious comics I’ve encountered.)

Have any of you guys had interesting experiences with educational comics?

I’ve had lots of opportunities to think about this over the years.

At a Pittsburgh Comic Con, I was asked to speak about educational comics as part of a panel. Then several years ago, I had a job interview with Diamond Comic Distributors. My primary job duty would have been to promote comics to libraries, and my main pitch to them was the wide variety of educational comics available, rather than getting them to purchase the latest Wolverine trade.

Anyway, I see plenty of opportunities to use comics in education, and I’m not just talking about a comic on how to change your oil.

  • Comics can be therapeutic.
  • Comics can offer some simple art instruction.
  • Comics can teach morals.
  • Comics can explore history.
  • Comics can criticize the real world.
  • Comics can inspire.
  • Comics can teach English.
  • Comics can expand your vocabulary.
  • Comics can add to your knowledge of science.

  • Comics can expose you to different cultures.
  • Comics can teach other languages.

The list, honestly, goes on and on for me. My changing tastes in comics over the years has especially helped me see all this. Thirty years ago,I started on things like Richie Rich, moved on to superheroes,transitioned into grim-and-gritty Vertigo style comics and now I find myself looking at “slice-of-life” comics and expanding my library of international comics (I just ordered the 2009 Yearbook of Hot-Shot Hamish,” a British “soccer” comic on eBay).

Burma Chronicles, which Travis mentions briefly here, is a perfect example ofan educational comic. It’s a great read, but it also gives us some interesting looks at life in Myanmar. Reading it, I knew Guy would be perfectly fine by the end of the book, but damn it is so compelling because it teaches us about this inaccessible country that we will never get to visit. That makes it an educational comic in my book.

I can say the same for something as random as Adam Strange Archives.This is not a great book, but a budding artist can look at it and see how to draw basic anatomy. A historian can look at it as an analogy to America’s belief that it needs to help save the world from itself. A writer can use it to break down story structure.

All comics are educational if you think beyond the entertainment value.

In short, any comic can be educational. You just have to be in the right frame of mind to receive the lesson within.

And for anyone looking for a specific titles, I really would just say look hard enough and you can find a lesson in Ghost Rider, but just in case you don’t want to do that, here are a few off just one shelf of my GN collection:

  • Essex County Trilogy — The Country Nurse, Tales of the Farm, Ghost Stories — by Jeff Lemire (Building an interconnected story out of three, simplifying art, dialogue construction)
  • Clan Apis by Jay Hosler (“Bee” science)
  • Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler (“Evolutionary” science)
  • By the Numbers Vol. 1 by Rullier & Stanislas (History: Vietnam)
  • The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary (History: Lindbergh kidnapping)
  • The Bloody Benders by Rick Geary (History: The Bender killings)
  • 50 Years of Beatle Bailey by Mort Walker (Evolution of a character and his surroundings)
  • Good Days and Mad by Dick DeBartalo (Autobiography, a regular book, but its about comics history)
  • The Picture Bible by Andre Le Blanc (Religious study)
  • First in Space by James Vining (History: Space race)
  • Male Call by Milton Caniff (Societal changes since 1940s)
  • Blackjack Blood & Honor by Alex Simmons (Fictional account of a 1930s era black hero, study on racism)
  • Monkey Food by Ellen Forney (Comic-book autobiography of a 1970s kid)
  • Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Similar to Burma
    Chronicles me
    ntioned above, but for N. Korea)
  • Mars Attacks by Keith Giffen (Reintrepretaion of 1950s hysteria)
  • Echo by Terry Moore (Character development, women’s studies, women empowerment)

The hardest part of all this, though, is to get people interested in a comic that doesn’t involve someone in tights with powers and laser guns. I’m not saying those are bad comics either, this whole site is pretty much dedicated to superhero adventure comics, but the lessons inside those comics are often all-too easy to ferret out or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, buried too deeply under layers of continuity and in-universe intricacies.

(Incidentally, I did get offered the job, but I had to decline because the two-hour round trip commute each day. That just wouldn’t work.)


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