Graphic Novels: Preparing for a Mulitmodal and Multiliterate World
Opposition to Graphic Novels
While the benefits of using graphic novels as a supplement to traditional literacy teaching are plentiful, the medium does not come without its criticisms. One of the first barriers for graphic novels to pass through is teachers’ perception of the medium. Connors (2010) explains that “[graphic novels] have a history, and the stigmas that trail in their wake are capable of shaping our perceptions of them as a form of reading material” (para 15). Many teachers initially question the literacy merit of the medium. The rationale for using graphic novels, however, may become clear to those who experience the problems of working with traditional literature and can see the benefits in diversifying their resources. This barrier of perception, however, does not end with the teacher. While Tatavolic (2009) wonders whether the novelty of the comics medium will soon wear out, others (Chute, 2008; Connors, 2010) find that as a literary medium, it has not yet reached cultural acceptance by either academics or students. As Connors points out, “we often seem to proceed under an assumption that students will embrace [graphic novels] unquestioningly, as if they were somehow impervious to the stigmas their elders recognize” (para 15). It is true that a social stigma is attached to the medium but as Versaci (2008) postulates, “if one characteristic of good literature is that it challenges our way of thinking, then comics’ cultural position is such that they are able to mount these challenges in unique ways” (p. 12). With guidance from the teacher, students may learn to ask the right questions and realize the literacy merit that exists within the pages of a graphic novel.
The comics medium has endured over a century of literary scrutiny. Though once relegated to minority status, the medium, most recently accessed through the popularized graphic novel, offers its readers a valuable alternative window through which to view the world. Through the existing literature and studies on the use of graphic novels in classrooms, the question: “How can the multimodal and socially diverse material in graphic novels be used to encourage ELL students and reluctant readers to draw from their own experiences, perspectives and multiliteracies to construct meaning and participate in a critical literacy experience?” was investigated.
It has been shown that graphic novels have proven effective in reaching students from diverse linguistic and social backgrounds in ways that traditional literature cannot. The scaffolding that the combination of image and text offers, allows students to both contextualize and conceptualize the words while offering flexibility for interpretation and discussion of meaning. This increased access to the meaning making process helps to include all students in critical discussions surrounding topics of relevance and importance. As many of the topics and viewpoints considered in graphic novels are unique to this medium, they allow students to see that diverse perspectives are both recognized and celebrated through the educational discourse. While the medium itself can act as a springboard from which to investigate other forms of text, the perspectives as well, provide a frame through which further readings can be analyzed.
Furthermore, as the future of literacy is changing with the dynamics of evolving literacy practices shaping the ways in which we communicate, graphic novels offer a unique reading experience to prepare for multimodal communications. Technology and the Internet are rapidly changing the ways we read and process information. As not all schools are equipped to prepare students for the demands of technology’s influence on literacy, graphic novels can bridge the gap between print and on screen reading. A multiliteracies pedagogy embraces the changing needs of literacy and fosters students’ critical awareness of multimodal texts by using students’ own resources (Chun, 2009).
The ability to critically analyze the multiple forms of literature that surround us is essential in a world that is rife with power relations While some reluctance on the part of teachers and students to embrace the comics medium may exist, the need for alternative literacy pedagogy remains. Many of the studies have shown that asking critical questions, which demonstrate the depth of the content of the novels and the skill it takes to read them can mitigate this reluctance. Graphic novels, through their diversity of styles, language, interpretations, and most importantly, creators’ perspectives, can introduce students to literature they might never otherwise encounter (Schwarz, 2002). As Schwarz (2010) states, “perhaps, new media can serve the old purposes of helping adolescents learn about others, appreciate differences, identify injustice and intolerance, and become motivated to act for a better world. A tall order, but worth a try” (Schwarz, 2010, para 1).
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1.) Comics, plural in form, is used with a singular verb (McCloud, 1993, p. 20).