Something brilliant happened just last week.
For the first time ever, a graphic novel made the Man Booker longlist.
Many of us have known comics to be an important, artistic and critical medium for, well, a long time now. And – increasingly – so does the world. Frankly, you don’t make the Man Booker list otherwise.
And that got me reflecting on comics and thinking about just some of what goes into making them. It also got me thinking about why we still don’t really see them being used that much in education…
A while back I was exploring some principles about making comics, and I made this little video for a class that I was teaching:
Comics are an incredibly expressive medium. One that, I feel, we do not use enough. Think of how much easier it would be to grasp complex theory if it were presented in comic form…
Stay with that thought for a moment.
Does the idea of learning something important via a comic produce some odd feelings? It may not, but I wonder… I wonder if we aren’t a little bit ashamed of the idea that we might find a book with pictures more helpful than a ‘proper’ book. As if reading books with pictures, particularly at H.E. level, is something to be ashamed of. Like I say in the video, we all go through the same reader progression: from pictures to text. Over time we phase pictures out until they’re no longer present at all. And, as a result, pictures are forever associated with childhood.
I think there’s also something around what I’m calling, ‘the mystique of knowledge’.
Academics and the institutions to which they belong are, arguably, guilty of propagating the idea of the academic as the wise sage – a kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi – but with books instead of lightsabers… As cool as that sounds (and if you’re me that sounds cool), there is no magical formula to the act of knowing or learning stuff. It’s just graft like everything else. An academic is not special because of the knowledge they have attained. And there is nothing particularly magical in the acquisition of that knowledge… With time and the right kind of training and help, anyone can acquire knowledge.
Why, then, is there this kind of mystique?
Well, as in everything, language is key.
We academics have many, many big words at our disposal. And – to make matters worse – we even go about inventing new words, believing that all existing words just aren’t quite good enough for the ideas in our heads… Couple this with the increasingly elite nature of Higher Education and, over time, I think that all of this creates the kind of mystique I’m talking about.
After all, who doesn’t like being part of a special club? So, I think that we academics have, to some extent, bought into these ideas about our very-special-knowledge. And one consequence has been the loss of clarity in our communication. In other words, academics could learn a thing or two from comics.
Human beings learn to read all things – not just words on a page. So let’s use all things when we are trying to communicate with one another, particularly when we’re trying to communicate a complicated idea.
If you’re a teacher – what might you do with this information? Well, there are comic text books and adaptations of the classics, which you may wish to take advantage of. You might also think about making a few simple comics yourself. Look at my examples in the video – they aren’t exactly well drawn. All you need are some stick figures and away you go… Don’t worry about perfection, just worry about communication. In the long run, your students will thank you for helping them understand something, not for drawing a masterpiece.
And – perhaps most important of all – get yourself to a comic book shop and start reading what’s out there. I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at the wealth of incredible material in a shop somewhere near you.