I have a literacy corner in my classroom with a variety of interesting books. The most popular books by far are the graphic novels. They have folded pages and frayed edges- signs of good use! Children of all reading abilities love graphic novels and comics. The use of complex multi modal literacy in graphic novels is now educationally recognised. The excellent graphic novel The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman was recently added as a prescribed text to the senior Victorian English Curriculum in Australia. Finally the fear of graphic novels as somehow less worthy literature is dispelling, and teachers now value the contribution graphic novels make to enhancing literacy education.
Image from The Conversation
Graphic novels are stories in comic strip format. Illustrations, panels, printed text, word balloons and captions give contextual information and create meaning. Children’s lives are multimodal. Globalization, with the exchange of culture and spread of technology has led to the need for multi literacies. Think about the ways we have to use literacy each day- emails, signs and icons, videos, tweeting, Facebook, gaming, … A pedagogy of multi literacies requires extended modes of meaning. These modes are “dynamic representational resources, constantly being remade by their users as they achieve various cultural purposes” (Cazden, Cope, Fairclough & Gee 1996 p 64). Speak to adolescents about their use of images on Tumblr blogs and you will discover how quickly these resources change in meaning.
Graphic novels, comics and manga versions of children’s literature offer readers an understanding of the impact of our visual culture. Language acquisition is based on thinking visually (Britsch 2009). It is how we make meaning of the language we learn. Graphic novels, comics and manga assist children’s ability to interpret their world. Language alone does not represent reality. Our lives have become increasingly multimodal as communications extend and change, and global socio-cultural linguistics diversify the English language.
“Graphic novels give the brain more of a workout per sentence than any other type of media” (Lyga 2006)
Let’s examine a twentieth century novel transformed into a graphic novel
The novel A Wrinkle in Time was written by Madeleine L’Engle in 1962. In 2012, a graphic novel version was published by Hope Larson. It encourages a new generation of readers to the classic with meaningful images. Read page one from the original text and compare the first page of the graphic novel.
“It was a dark and stormy night.
In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraith-like shadows that raced along the ground.
The house shook.
Wrapped in her quilt, Meg shook.
She wasn’t usually afraid of the weather.”
The graphic novel introduction page establishes time, setting and atmosphere. The reader makes inferences from the diagonal strokes, bent trees and dark shadows to create a foreboding mood. The type used for the sentence “It was a dark and stormy night” appears handwritten, suggesting a personal narrative. The reader sees the image of the wide shot and uses vectors on the roof to draw the eye to the attic window, identified in the close up.
This image interprets page 5 of L’Engle’s text “she left the twin’s room and went downstairs, avoiding the creaking seventh step”. Look at how text and images work together to show meaning. The “intuitive processes” (Mouly 2011 p 12) detect movement, direction, weight, sound and time.
Visual images contribute to visual culture which in turn is part of a wider culture (Mirzoeff 1999). The image of Margaret Murry in the graphic novel echoes the distressed female in Lichtenstein’s pop art, showing the socio-historical continuum of comic images. Our visual memory connects the images to make meaning. The reader must also discern characters’ non-verbal gestures. Facial expressions are examined and then culturally cross-referenced. This is a serious brain workout!
The remarkable image depicting people listening from inside their houses uses the detached symbol of the ear with lines of movement to represent the act of listening.
The numerous symbols suggest many people hearing. Arnheim’s (1971) theory of prior knowledge to make meaning, is apparent.
What is illustrated is as important as what is not. Here the black void creates impact and drama. The simple 9 panels are actually sophisticated “sequential art” (Hoover 2012 p 175).
Graphic novels are complex forms of literature synthesizing linguistic and visual meaning. Uses for graphic novels in the classroom can include analysis, extension reading, encouraging literacy across a range of reading abilities and as a springboard for original text composition. It’s encouraging to see many scholars researching the impact of graphic novels in literacy education. May graphic novels continue to be included in prescribed reading lists!
Arnheim, R. (1971) Art and Visual perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. Berkeley: University of Berkeley
Britsch, S (2009) ESOL Educators and the Experience of visual literacy, TESOL Quarterly, 43 (4) p 710-721
Cazden, C., Cope, B. Fairclough, N., Gee, J. (1996) A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review 66 91) p 60-91
Hoover, S. (2012) The Case for Graphic Novels. Communications in Information Literacy 5 (2) p 174-186
L’Engle, M. (2007) A Wrinkle in Time. London: Puffin Books
Larson, H. (2012) A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux
Lyga, A. (2006) Graphic Novels for (really) young readers. School Library Journal 52 (93) p 56
Mirzoeff, N. (1999) An Introduction to Visual Culture. Routeledge: London
Schwarz, G. (2002) Graphic novels for Multiple Literacies. Journal of Adolescent and adult literacy 46 (3) p 262-265