The Case for Comic Books in the Classroom

Edgar Allan Poe stories by Graphic Classics.

Edgar Allan Poe stories by Graphic Classics. Click here to check out.

I remember back in grade school how some of us (yes, including myself), would hide a different book (or homework that’s due later or a pocket game) within the book we were using in class and we’d enjoy reading whatever else we were reading, saving our asses for the next class or subject, or just having a grand ol’ time on the handheld game. We were in pure bliss as long as one of the following three things didn’t happen:

  • Your next seat neighbor (or people behind you) rats you out
  • Your teacher calls on you to read the next paragraph
  • Or your teacher calls on you to answer a question about what was just read

If any of those three happen, it was either just a verbal warning and the object was taken away (unless it was homework, then we were screwed), a demerit and the object was taken away, or both and as an added bonus we had to stay after school, or class, to talk to the teacher (whomp, whomp). I remember how sometimes the hidden book was a comic book, because, well, sometimes the stuff we had to read in school was pretty crappy (I apologize to my fine institutions). I also remember how some of us tried to read comic books as our SSR (Silent Sustained Reading for those who may not be familiar) book. However, that would get shut down pretty quickly by the teacher normally saying something along the lines of “that’s not real reading.” When that happened, I normally sighed heavily, rolled my eyes, put the comic away, and picked up a random “real reading” book off the shelf of SSR materials.

What 4th grader wants to read The Diary of Anne Frank? (I have grown to appreciate this book though! Check out my previous blog posts about books that mean something to me). I sure as hell didn’t. But, at that point in time, I didn’t fight about it or tell my parents about it because, well, back then, the teacher was always right. Although, nowadays, I’ve been thinking about why can’t comic books be more acceptable as reading material, and I’ll tell you why…

Moby Dick in Graphic Novel form by Campfire Graphic Novels. Click here to check out on Amazon.

Moby Dick in Graphic Novel form by Campfire Graphic Novels. Click here to check out on Amazon.

When I met my husband, he hated reading. I tried to get him to read so many different books I knew he would enjoy (Game of Thrones, the Warcraft novels, etc.) but either he outright refused or tried it, got through, maybe, 4 or 5 pages, then gave up. It didn’t make sense to me at first. I talked to his mom one day about reading and she said the “he hated reading; he never liked it. English wasn’t his best subject,” So, I assumed that, you know, okay, the guy sucked in English, hated being force-fed Shakespeare and Beowulf, I’ll let him be about it. But then, as our relationship grew and I began to introduce him to other things I enjoyed doing, something changed.

It all started at New York Comic Con 2013. I finally had a job where I was making decent money, so I could go back and accumulate some of the comic story lines I missed that I had originally started back in college. Of course NYCC has a plethora of comic book vendors there selling back issues for dirt cheap, so I made out like a bandit snatching up all of the Jason Aaron written Wolverine’s I hadn’t read. At first, my husband didn’t understand it; why the hell did I want to buy up a bunch of paper that I would read then put away to collect dust and take up space. However, he let me do my thing and so started my accumulation of comics once again. It took another year or so for him to finally start reading (and hoarding) them himself.

He took me to Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank since I had never been there yet and I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan. We only lived about an hour away, so it was a nice trip. Once we got there and browsed a bit, I bought the Infinity trade and he, out of absolutely nowhere, decided to pick up The Immortal Iron Fist trade to try out. I was absolutely shocked; he threatened me and said not to press my luck with him enjoying the reading, but that he’d try since Iron Fist had been a favorite superhero of his. I gave him that and tried my best not to poke fun at him deciding to really try out reading for once. That was the end of the space in our house as we know it. My husband enjoyed it, so he decided to build a PULL LIST at our local comic book shop after reading one decently sized trade. I had created a monster, but a good one.

It was a breath of fresh air to know that my husband was enjoying reading and because of him it made me realize that comic books are pretty much a normal book. How so? Well, instead of a writer stating “Jean Grey stands on the hill, gazing out into the horizon. Her silky red hair, danced in the wind ever so lightly, as Cyclops approached her from behind,” a comic book pretty much states that crazy description within the one scene box that was sketched, penciled, and colored.

That cuts out a lot of words.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. Check it out on Amazon.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. Check it out on Amazon.

So, my question is, why can’t comic books be utilized as learning tools in school? Why is there some kind of stigma towards it? The teacher can easily vet the comic book if content is the issue. Or, better yet, the teacher can put some kind of requirements to meet for the comic. For example, obviously weekly/monthly comics always have a cliffhanger to get the person to purchase the next comic in the series. However, a lot of comic books are being put into trades pretty damn quickly. The teacher can say that it can only be a trade (so there is a beginning, middle, and end) or it needs to meet a certain amount of page requirements (like the comic must be 50 or 60 pages).

Comics have just as much learning power as a normal book. Just because a normal book is 200+ pages, doesn’t mean that it is supposed to be worth anyone’s time. So, to me, there’s no way an argument about a book being big and long can be used (however, yes, the content and learning aspect could be argued, but that’s why I said the comic could be vetted).

Also, another good thing is that a lot of classic literary books (like Moby Dick, Edgar Allan Poe stories, Sherlock Holmes stories, and more) are already in a comic book or as they call it “graphic novel” form. If you see a student struggling with the book, let him or her try out the comic version of it. The story is still the same. It still has the same meanings and tropes and all that other English course jazz. But instead of numerous amounts of words telling the story, the images do instead.

It’s all about how a person can best consume the material.

Until next time, xo.