My Saturday morning Twitter stroll a few weeks ago led me to a really enjoyable read by Mathew Sullivan on ‘Why comics? Dispelling myths about the genre’.
It resonated with some of my own musings about the need and scope for comics in education and prompted me to finish writing a post I’d drafted about this year’s Y4 Comic Design project.
Mathew’s post highlighted aspects of comics such as:
- language in comics isn’t limited to callouts. Comics can also contain a wonderful array of vocabulary.
- they enthuse the reader with a combination of stylized illustration and text.
- they present engaging characters
‘These heroes, the values they represent, their adventures, and the excitement they inspire, are rooted in the oldest traditions of storytelling.’ (@InspiredMind5, 2015)
I agree, the genre is underused and see comic design as a fitting means to combine a range of topics, cultural and linguistic input. This is my fifth year of teaching Y4s comic design, which began as a pilot. Each year, the plans have been adapted to incorporate a new element such as blogging reflection, iPads, sketches vs. photos as comic visual content, or to merge a topic change.
This term, the initial elicitation ‘what do we know about comics’ with students revealed (in their words):
- they don’t have a lot of text so you can read them quickly and keep looking at the pictures.
- you can ‘hear’ sounds like POW, ARGHHHH, WHAM! [see onomatopoeia e.g.s in Y4 Egyptian Comics slideshow]
- the story has larger pictures than other books
- words are written in speech bubbles
- each page/picture has a text box that tells you where something is taking place
- sometimes they have a sort of quest for a symbol or character.
- they have bright colours or have some of the pictures in colour.
I noticed that not everyone was keen to admit they read them, maybe they felt what I also experienced as a child, being told ‘comics are not ‘real’ reading!
Our students come from a diverse mix of nationalities and are often multilingual. We listed the comics that we knew about and discovered many read comics in their mother tongue and several read comics in more than one language. Most popular were Asterix & Obelix, Donald Duck, Beano, Batman, Superman, Hello Kitty and Barbie.
In one class, the latter generated a wave of giggles from the boys who, when questioned, divulged their feelings that Barbie ‘wasn’t a ‘proper comic’. Interesting and a natural debate opener. It transpired that some of the boys didn’t feel that what they perceived as ‘girl comics’ held the same validity as the comics they read.
This raises the question > are comics for all or specific reader groups? Can girls read superhero comics, can boys be interested in what they perceived as ‘girl comics’?
Some of our boys seemed to think they were specific, while several of our girls defended superhero comics being perfectly interesting for girls.
Other comics linked to museums, artwork and hobby genres were felt to be more neutral, and “even ok for grown-ups to read”!
We also explored if a different language versions of a comic makes a difference to the content. Can we visually translate without understanding the language? What features of comics help us to decipher meaning?
Below you can see Y4 project tweaks year on year, followed by some creative student comic designs:
Y1 Character Expressions:
Y2 Storyboard Illustrations – colour:
Y2 Storyboard Illustrations – black & white. 2 students felt it showed detail more clearly than with colour:
Y2 Storyboard Illustrations Scene Setter & Close-Up:
Y3 Write Inspired artwork as a source for comic images:
Y3 Strip Designer ‘How to make a papier-mâché sarcophagus’.
Y4 Comic Life images sourced from National Museum of Antiquities Egypt Exhibition:
In Y4 author humour crept into comic writing and ideas, e.g. talking mummies, a statue family. The layout, own colour palettes, and writing style were extensive. You can see here how one student brought in Donald Duck as a character to create his own version of a DD Comic, taking the storyline one step further!
Onomatopoeia was also used to suggest cause & effect, e.g. crying when something isn’t fair, movement and actions. The Y5 project brought lengthy debate about whether a door opening (the Hitchcock-esque squealing metal variety) would be ‘screeech, oeeeee, eeeeeuuw, (imagine the sounds of an elongated ascending cat meouw!)
Y5 Strip Designer and planning grid. Sourcing images from in-house museum, artefacts & topic work.
Y5 Authors talking about comic layout:
- How to analyze visual narratives: A tutorial in Visual Narrative Grammar (Cohn, 2015) http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/P/VNG_Tutorial.pdf
- Visual Language Research: academic papers on visual semiotics by Cohn, Neil and Hannah Campbell et al (2012-15). http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/papers.html