Comics and graphic novels consist of more than just superheroes. Some contain educational aspects, like economics and particle physics.
There is a strong misconception that comic books are simple, insignificant and for momentary entertainment only, said Ritu Khanduri, associate professor of anthropology. However, that isn’t always the case. Scholars use them in classrooms to have a visual reference along with a text, said Stephanie Noell, librarian II and philosophy adjunct professor at Mountain View College. Students who learn differently may retain the information easier with them.
In her philosophy class, Noell uses comic strips to illustrate ideas. She said students usually understand and connect points successfully and with less stress with her method. Noell said it’s a good way to show students an example of a concept before reinforcing it with her explanation.
“You can break down complex ideas in a very visual way, which is a lot more user-friendly,” Noell said.
Khanduri said comic books inform about the world, compel people to rethink sociopolitical norms and allow taboo topics to be approached in a more accessible and visual way. For example, Khanduri mentioned Priya’s Shakti, a story by Ram Devineni and Vikas K. Menon with art by Dan Goldman, which speaks about rape and gender equality.
Though some comics should be ignored (the same applies to all media), many inspire critical thinking and independence, said Chris Kilgore, English lecturer and social work writing resource coordinator. A lot of comics used in education are written by academics since they know it’s an easier way to assist with retaining information, Noell said.
“I’ve found that people have been pretty enthusiastic about it,” Kilgore said, when speaking on comics and graphic novels being used in academics.
In the 1950s, comics had a reputation of inspiring violence and other immoral acts, but that’s a misconception, Kilgore said.
Often, people mistake comics and graphic novels for a genre rather than a medium, Noell said. A few of the genres that exist within the medium are non-fiction, mystery, fantasy, mythology, queer narratives, crime, biography and more.
“Whatever you’re into, there’s something for you, and I like that,” Noell said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so accessible to academics.”
Noell said visual depictions in comics assist the learning process. One example Noell mentioned is Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundementals to Living Well on Less — a comic book series discussing frugality in an accessible way, by a collection of authors including C. Spike Trotman — because it provides a topic many people don't expect from comics. Comics also allow for thorough analyzation, because they provide a medium with both visual and textual metaphors, Kilgore said.
“Attitudes toward comic books have changed over time, and they are not treated with the suspicion they once were,” Khanduri said.
When there is room for the class in the English department, Kilgore teaches a graphic narrative as trans-cultural documentary course. The textbook is a comic book called Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud. The curriculum covers a story called Maus, by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel about his father’s experience surviving the Holocaust.