Can Graphic Novels be useful in the Classroom?
The graphic novel is considered the epitome of the comic medium. All great comic books purport to be graphic novels, and in so doing redefine their meanings and intentions. One of the ways this is accomplished is by telling a more serious story. Another is by stringing together a series of comic books in a single volume, to be bound and sold as a collected edition. A third way is to employ advanced computer graphics and intricate storylines to draw the reader into the story, thereby presenting itself as a worthier read. The fourth way that the graphic novel is epitomized is by attempting to break through the literary barrier to become an object of great literary and critical value.
The graphic novel has long since fought to be considered a medium, rather than a genre. A genre implies that the comic is part of a larger spectrum of art or literature, but that in such a place it is neither here nor there, but rather beholden to both mediums. By arguing that the graphic novel is part of the comic medium, literary critics are giving it a clear purpose and unique place amidst art and literature.
When teaching a classroom about the comic medium, it is important to emphasize that not all comic books hold literary worth and not all graphic novels withstand the test of literary criticism. Quite simply put, the majority of the graphic novels on the newsstands are subject to the confines of the publishers main goals:
1. To make money
2. To entertain
3. To educate
As such, only a few graphic novels can claim to be educational tools. These are, understandably, subject to great criticism, both literary and artistically. Take, for instance, Jerry Bingham's 1984 Beowulf. At the time the Comics Code Authority still held sway and the resulting work was heavily censored for violence and nudity. Nevertheless, it still told the general story of the epic with enough of the highlights that educators around the world began buying it in bulk. Unfortunately the Old English language was updated to modern English and the resulting dialogue did not use a translation. Despite this, it was the best example of an adaptation of the original available at that time.
In 1999, Gareth Hinds independently released his own version of Beowulf that used a highly acclaimed translation by Francis Gummere. When he rereleased the graphic novel under Candlewick Press, he switched to a version by A.J. Church. The resulting 3 issue series was rereleased yet again as a collected work, or graphic novel. The artwork seen in its pages are breathtaking and truly inspiring. Here is an example of the comic medium at its finest; it has taken a classic work and brought life and vision to the pages.
Not all enthralling graphic novels are based on classic works of literature. Maus, Batman: The Dark Knight, and the Watchmen series are examples of original material. Their serious content and adult plot scenarios qualify these works as pieces of literature.
Often when children have difficulty reading a stand-alone text, it is helpful to incorporate visual aides to allow them to better understand the work. That is why graphic novels are becoming widely used in the classroom. They have a unique and appealing composition where the marriage of text and image benefit the graphic novel experience. It is only by blending these two facets to form a tension between what is seen and what is read, then we can really begin to enjoy the material.
Not all graphic novels are worthy of incorporation in the classroom. That is where the educators must step in and decide what, if any, of the graphic novels are appropriate for their students to read. If they are studying the Holocaust, choose Maus. If they are studying Greek and Roman times, choose the Odyssey. For medieval times, go with Beowulf. For Pop Culture, choose Watchmen. The bottom line is that graphic novels draw the reader's attention in to the story, allowing them to experience it in a textual and visual level. Engaged students are also more likely to learn from the material. There are graphic novels in all major genres of literature. The trick is to find the right fit.
Written by : Rebecca Sara Marie Goldenberg, United States
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )