Why Use Graphic Novels?< Home

Why Use Graphic Novels:

"Although comic books or cartoons are often considered subliterature and hardly appropriate for schools, these genres make an interesting bargain with young readers. According to read-aloud specialist Jim Trelease (2001), to become proficient readers people need to master a set of about 5,000 'rare words' that appear infrequently in conversation. In the average adult novel, these words appear 52 times per 1,000 words of text. In comic books, they appear 53 times per 1,000 (Hayes & Athens, 1988). Consequently, comic books don't reduce the vocabulary demand on young readers, but they do provide picture support, quick and appealing story lines, and less text. The comic book-like Captain Underpants series, wildly popular with reluctant boy readers, fits this pattern, not by over-simplifying vocabulary, but by drawing readers in with the visual story of a principal-turned-superhero in cape and briefs."
Educational Leadership September 2006 "Media and Literacy: What's Good?"

Graphic novels can:

  • help poor or unmotivated readers by engaging them to practice their reading skills

  • benefit English Language Learners who can use the pictures to increase their understanding of vocabulary

  • engage readers who learn visually, and who are comfortable with visual media such as video games and computer graphics

  • develop vocabulary

  • encourage readers to explore different genres

  • teach positive messages such as helping others, being selfless, working to one's best ability, participating in teamwork, and perseverance

  • help readers develop an appreciation for different literary and artistic style

  • open a reader's mind to new ways of storytelling, and increase their imagination, through the unique combination of text and pictures to convey a story

Comics and Multiple Intelligences

An activity in which students create their own comic or graphic novel taps into Howard Gardner's "Multiple Intelligences."

Verbal/Linguistic: What are some of the things your character says or thinks? There is no limit to what words can do in a comic. On the other hand, some artists have made comics using almost nothing but words.

Visual/Spatial: Cartoon drawings are naturally visual. Placing the characters in sets and backgrounds encourages spatial learning.

Mathematical: Comics has a long history of formalism, which has always involved mathematical arrangements of panels.

Kinetic/Bodily: What is your character doing? Artists across the globe will attest to the physicality of drawing their characters. Students can make the faces their characters make, and get into their positions in order to draw them.

Interpersonal: Who are your character's friends? Collaborative games can lead to brainstorming.

Intrapersonal: What are your character's moods? What does he or she think? Comics has a rich history of exploring the Intrapersonal.

Naturalistic: Where is your character placed? Explore his or her natural surroundings.

Musical/Rhythmic: Comics tell stories in rhythmic ways. Repetition of panels, and innovative and abstract stories are fostered in comics.

For more information on this topic, read Jenn's article for the Diamond Bookshelf, titled "Why Teach with Comics?"