Comics in schools

I've loved comic books since I first learned to read, and part of what motivates me to keep working on HeroMachine is the hope that in some way I am helping to keep that same love alive in others. I believe comics as an artistic medium is the equal to any of the arts, from traditional paint on canvas to sculpture to written fiction. The combination of images and words juxtaposed in sequential order on the page is a powerful one, uniquely capable of bringing ideas to life. Of course the majority of what we in America enjoy in our version of comics is the boot-to-the-face, giant mutated apes fighting Nazis in zeppelins over the skies of New York variety, and I'm fine with that.

But the medium is capable of much more, capable of not only entertaining us but of serving as a vehicle for powerful events and emotions. I can't count the number of people I've known who hated reading before they picked up their first comic book. I'm not ashamed to admit that comic books have shaped a lot of who I am and how I think; I still cherish an old "Captain America" issue where Cap talks about how the United States isn't a piece of cloth or a symbol to wave around, it's an ideal, a set of principles, and the people who are willing to hold to them no matter what.

So I was delighted to read this New York Times article about how a comic book about the Holocaust is helping a new generation of Germans open a dialog about that awful chapter in their (and our) history, enabling people to talk about it in a new, open way that was not possible before. Comics have the power to change hearts and minds, and it frustrates me sometimes that in America, they are still largely regarded as just "kid stuff". Our regard for the medium has evolved tremendously since I was young -- a lot of college courses now incorporate graphic novels -- but I'd love to see them used seriously in all age groups, as in this example from Germany.

Not that I'm giving up my face-kicking giant mutant gorilla Nazi-fighting pulp any time soon, mind you, but there's definitely room for both kinds of comics in our culture!

3 Responses to Comics in schools

  1. Redd Fox says:

    Jeff, Is that comic book you mentioned Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II? Because at the university I go to (Texas State U.), I saw that as a “textbook”, it was in the bookstore for checkout… I’m in “Communication Design” AKA Graphic Design, and I’m hoping that will be a required book, even though I’ve read both… Comics can definitely be a way to teach anything!

  2. Jeff Hebert says:

    Yes, “Maus” was being used in a couple of courses not long after I graduated, mostly in history and English lit, I believe. The German comic is a new one, just out in the last year or so.

  3. Brad says:

    This is amazing. I’d never heard of the Maus comic before, but I would definitely say a comic book, a familiar medium to many, is a great way to educate young German schoolchildren about that terrible time for all of us. Schindler’s List and The Diary of Anne Frank are certainly moving, but they’re so cold and hard-hitting, it could not possibly be accepted as an educational means, especially for youngn’s. I do know, however, that classics such as The Scarlet Letter, The Prince and the Pauper, and another few have been converted to a more comic book like presentation. Certainly a good move, but nothing like making a story of the holocaust into such a media. This is something I’m very impressed to learn. It makes me think of how comics used to be sent to soldiers to entertain them, which is probably responsible for the interest of all people over 12 to continue reading them (such as ourselves). And I can definitely see how Captain America’s words would move you, he is definitely the ultimate patriot. They moved me, too. Of course, another significant point is that comic books give children someone to look up to. Comic books play up to the role model aspect most, as the same is for cartoons, when you see a superhero taking down an everyday thug. I still consider it a beautiful thing that you see the supers never, ever using guns. It’s a great lesson from the very beginning. I should probably stop rambling, but it’s something I’m apt to do when I feel passionate about something. All in all, I think the Maus comic will possibly move the entire world forward, and the fact that it starts in a graphic novel is a great, great thing.