Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Comics for Learning?

As I was reading through some of the links on our blog, I got distracted and ended up on the following website: It discusses the work of Sones in 1944. Sixty-four years ago, his studies proved that readers, especially those of "low and middle intelligence levels" learned more with pictures and text than they had with only text. If this happened so long ago, then why (in your opinion) are we just now getting around to implementing 'graphic novels' into our curriculum?


ruhiyyeh said...

Perhaps it is because some people believe that only people of "low and middle intelligence levels" need to read comics, while other people only need text. Maybe it could be that there are more books than graphics novels, so graphic novels might not be as popular.

Michael Hancock said...


I'm glad you found Gene Yang's comics ed site, which I've added to our list of sites about comics (by the way, Yang is the award-winning creator of the excellent 2006 graphic novel American Born Chinese). If you look further down on Yang's page, you'll see what he says about the infamous psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's crusade against comics, which he saw as a cause of juvenile delinquency. Wertham's book The Seduction of the Innocent led to Senate hearings, the foundation of the Comics Code Authority, and severe self-imposed restrictions on comics publishers. Think of a 1950s version of the recent Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, but without the evidence to back it up. It was a sad episode in comics history and effectively led to the infantilization of comics, which mostly became toothless, kid-friendly fare until the advent of underground comix in the 1960s. I have a copy of Wertham's book if anyone is interested in studying his work further.

Looking back, it's hard to believe that Wertham's claims were taken seriously, but the fact that they were says a lot about post-WWII America and its fears about any threats to its newfound stability and affluence. Anyhow, the American public turned on comics, and comics didn't really begin to regain respectability until the 1980s and the publication of Spiegelman's Maus, Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen, and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Only within the last few years has the educational community begun to explore how literary comics can encourage reluctant readers, challenge advanced ones, and promote visual literacy. It's been a long time coming!

Nate said...

I agree with what Ruhiyyeh in that people thought that they would be seen as more sophisticated and intelligent if they bought large novels, and I also think that is part of why it is hard for a school to incorporate a course like ours into their curriculum because of the of their notorious history for being read more by kids and readers of "low and middle intelligence". I think it takes someone to explain how comics or graphic novels are just as complex as regular novels.

Brittany said...

Ah, that makes more sense now. I didn't have a chance to read further down the page. Thanks for pointing that out. As far as Wertham's work goes, I would be interested in seeing how he supports his views.