Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reading Beyond the Plot: 9 Graphic Novels

People often wonder how (and why) a college professor would assign graphic novels (aka comics) to a college classroom. Well, the folks over at The Best Degrees have provided some answers in their article 9 Graphic Novels That Revolutionized the Comic Industry.

Their post is not entitled the "9 Greatest Graphic Novels Ever" (I would then have to argue some of their choices), but rather it is a look at graphic novels that changed the way we look at comics. They include links (click on the pics in Best Degree's post) to some really exceptional analysis essays, essays that anybody writing essays (that's you) should look at as A+ examples of what can be achieved. These are not just book reviews--they go beyond rating comics--they analyze certain aspects of specific texts and critically explore rhetorical strategies you may not have tried before.

Best Degrees places Kurt Busiek's Astro City in the number 8 position because of the way it "showed the comic industry that it could reconceptualize the ways in which [superheroes] are characterized, and bring a bit more anthropology and psychology to the mix." Best Degree's number 8 entry links to Part One of "Welcome to the Real World: Location, Location, Location and the High Cost of Heroes (and Villians)" The author, Iain Jackson, asks "Why do so many superhero stories take place in places that never were, or versions of the here and now that kind of . . . aren't, quite? And how do those fictional cities and towns manage to recover from having superheroes and supervillains around? They can be, to put it mildly, quite destructive." If you read the essay, you can see what a great paper this would be for an anthropology, psychology, or even an architecture class--and something new and different for a professor to read (remember, we want to be entertained just like YOU!)

Coming in at number five on Best Degree's list is Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, which links to an eight part series entitled "Reading Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Returns, Part 2". Part two is a colorful essay about Miller's revolutionary remake of the caped crusader by emulating a dark and painterly style. "The total result is a comic that continually engages and reengages the reader’s eye, relentlessly exploring multiple possibilities afforded by such a wide range of colors." Are you an art major? Check out this article as a guideline for your own essays.

And then, of course, there's Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen linked to an essay on Kleph.com which provides a literary critique of the text, "because Watchmen is more than the acme of a maligned medium, it's a vivid bit of literature in and of itself. The pictures are not to 'help' illustrate the story being told - they are an essential part of the way the story is being told." This would be a great essay for a literature or film class.

My advice: Pay attention to essays that interest you and write about things you love. Most essay prompts give you some leeway to discuss what you are passionate about. Believe me most professors know that if you write about something that interests you, you will write a better essay--and that makes their job easier.

You can blend comics with any major. How about comics and medical profession majors? No way! You'd be surprised at how many good graphic novels explore medicine; Harvey Pekar's Our Cancer Year and David Small's Stitches are just two that come to mind.

What about math majors? Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth is the book for you.

Spiegelman's Maus can be used in any history or sociology class.

Think about the comic books and graphic novels you love. What kind of analysis essay could you write blending comics and your major?


  1. i think reading comics for english is a great idea because it keeps the students entertained and not bored from reading other novels. comics are much more interesting to read then a big novel.

  2. I find it facinating that you can use comic books and graphic novels for pretty much any major. I do remember reading "Muas" by Spiegelman when I was in highschool. This is acctually one of the books from Highschool that I remember the most and that I wast he most engaged in. This is supprising because I read it in my freshmen year. The graphic novel was able to make me understand the story and connect with what was going on. It also made me care more about it. I think the vividness of the pictures makes me more passionate about what I am reading. I find that reading graphic novels acctually engages me much more than reading regular novels. Since last summer I really have gotten into DC graphic novels. I love the story lines and the imagry. Many people think that comic books like that don't really have a purpose but I have found that a lot of the stories incorporate really great morals and life lessons. One example of this would be the Green Lantern novels. The green lantern represents will power and it basically tells the reader that if you set your mind to something you can do anything. Things like this make many graphic novels very valuable in my opinion.

  3. I personally prefer reading a comic book than pages of nothing but words. Not that regular books are boring, but in comparison, comic books are far more interesting than blocks of text. If you asked anybody from any class, I bet they'd pick pictures over text. A great story already attracts you, then you find out there are graphics that capture your attention even more? Who wouldn't go for it?
    Since comic books and graphic novels are so loved, I believe it is a great idea to use them for teaching. Students would be much more interested and therefore pay attention in class, never getting bored. I, myself, love my English class because we were reading a graphic novel and had assignments on it. Sure did make me pay more attention than any other classes!

  4. Graphic novels tell interesting stories and within these stories that are multiply intricate details that come together. So at some point one could ask them self how would this work in this universe or how do they deal with this. Delving into the world or graphic novels brings a level of interest and wonder to normal topic that some might not find all that entertaining or interesting.

    When it comes to certain classes, paying attention is more of a challenge than you'd think. So having something that connects with the audience/students and can bring their attention back to whatever is being taught can be a very helpful tool in teaching. Students would also have the opportunity to analyze different topics for various reason. Depending on your major or general interesting you can find a wealth of topics to use for research papers or general essays.