Comics in the Classroom: Teaching Students to Read and Produce Graphic Novels

Assortment of graphic novels

This blog post offers materials and approaches for teaching comics from English 182 instructor Sumayyah Daud and English 131 instructor and graphic novel author Dorian Alexander’s recent workshop on using graphic novels in the writing classroom.

Why teach with comics? This isn’t an art class!

Graphic novels are an accessible medium that help connect students to material in less dense ways. Even if students don’t illustrate their comics, they can write scripts, which are used in the graphic novel world to convey multimodal design information to the artist (here’s a script example you can use in your class). In addition to or instead of creating comics, students can also read and analyze the multiple modes through which these texts convey meaning.

Okay, you’ve convinced me. How do I choose a text and develop assignments?

  • Browse Comixology, an online comics library.
  • Search for texts related to your course content and theme.
  • Consider cost: is the text going to be financially prohibitive for your students?
  • Look for representation. The world of commercial comics is largely white, straight, and male, but there are great independent texts that represent a broader array of characters.
    • Dorian recommends the upcoming queer comics anthology Be Gay, Do Comics by The Nib. I just backed it on Kickstarter, and you can too.
  • If you are asking students to write comics, consider the types of narratives you want students to produce and how you can model those narratives through the texts they read.
  • Adapt the sample prompts and use the texts suggested below.

 How Sumayyah Teaches with Comics

Sumayyah Daud, comics workshop facilitator

 

 

My first and second sequences lead up to students producing a comic. The first sequence ends with a fully-developed pitch, and the second sequence ends with a script. 

Sumayyah’s Teaching Resources:

  • Visual analysis PowerPoint (Warning: includes spoilers for Monstress)
  • Assignment sequences 1&2
    • Note from Sumayyah: This was my first time teaching 182. When I teach it again, I think I am going to move MP1 and structure my sequence as SA1, SA3, SA2, SA4, MP1, MP2. The second MP has space for shorter assignments built in (the outline and peer review), and this arrangement makes more sense in terms of skill scaffolding. I felt there was a lot of yoyo-ing this quarter in part because I was trying to find my feet in a new reading curriculum, and I think this arrangement would rectify that. This arrangement would also allow me to organically scaffold critical considerations of their work, instead of going back and forth between the creative aspect and the critical aspect.

How Dorian Teaches with Comics

Dorian Alexander, comics workshop facilitator

I’ve taught with comics in all my English and History courses. I find that comics are becoming a global touchstone of sorts and are therefore excellent aids in diverse classrooms. My current pedagogical favorites include Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele and Nat Turner by Kyle Baker.

Join us for upcoming CIC workshops, “Teaching with Video Games,” facilitated by Sophia Chen on Friday, November 22nd from 11:30-12:30 in MGH 082 and “Teaching Critical Technologies” facilitated by Caitlin Postal on Thursday, December 5th from 3:30 to 4:30 in MGH 082.

 

Thank you to the workshop participants and facilitators, Sumayyah Daud, Dorian Alexander, Sara Lovett, Jake Huebsch, Dino Kladouris, and Rachel Dusin for collaboratively generating the ideas presented in this blog post.