Comics and Graphic Novel FAQ

1. What are some experiences, positive or negative, with suggesting graphic novels to patrons?

Often when recommending graphic novels to children or teens, there are parents, grandparents, or other caregivers who may react negatively. The panelists have experience both negative and positive reactions by adults toward the prospect of their children reading graphic novels and comic books, which they will share during the panel.

2. What are some of the stigmas surrounding comics and graphic novels?

There are a variety of stigmas that are associated with comics and graphic novels. These stigmas include the misinterpretation of the word “graphic” as inappropriate or rather than visual, the stereotype that comic books are for male readers as well for misfits, outcasts, and nerds, and that comic books and graphic novels not being considered “real” literature. However, by offering examples of a wide range of graphic novels, including graphic novels of different genres, award-winning graphic novels, and comic books aimed at female readers, librarians can combat many of these stigmas.

3. Are there places where graphic novels are respected without stigma? How are comics viewed in other parts of the world and how are they more widely accepted in comparison to the United States?

While graphic novels and comic books have stigmas in the United States, in other parts of the world, the graphic novel medium is more culturally accepted. In Japan, for example, manga (the Japanese term for graphic novels), is written for people of all ages and genders to read, and it is not uncommon to see a Japanese businessman reading a graphic novel on a commuter train. Similarly, in Europe, comics are extremely popular, from TinTin and Philemon to Disney comics, with Mickey Mouse comics being read by 1 million kids weekly in Germany and Donald Duck comics being read by over 1 million readers in Norway, or 1 in 4 Norwegians. Moreover, Finland, the nation with the highest proportion of comic book reading students (nearly 60%) as compared to 31 other countries, also had the highest literacy rate at 99% and the highest library usage.

4. What is the history of comic books and graphic novels in America and how have they presently become more accepted today by librarians, educators, and other professionals?

The beginning of modern comics began with Rodolphe Topffer, who wrote satirical picture stories starting in the mid-1800s. Comic books started to become a part of American culture in the early twentieth century, where books containing collections of comic books started to become popular. In 1938, Superman made his debut in Action Comics, which launched superhero comics into popularity and made comic books a major industry. Marvel Comics #1 was released in 1939, selling 80,000 copies, but the Marvel that we know today did not arise until 1961 and 1962, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man respectively. During this time period, specifically the 1940s, other comics besides superhero comics emerged, including Classic Comics, which retold classic works in comic book format, as well as teen comics, such as Archie.

In 1978, the first modern graphic novel, A Contract with God and Other Stories of Tenement Life, was published by Will Eisner – who also created the term “graphic novel” as to describe a comic book style book that is lengthier and more substantive than a traditional comic book.

In the late 1990s, anime and manga began to grow popular in the United States, and had a range of fans from all genders and ages.

As comics and graphic novels grew popular, the attitudes of librarians, educators and professionals toward them has begun to change. The Eisner Award was established in 1988 to award creative achievement in American Comics. In 2007, the American Library Association had a major shift toward the acceptance of graphic novels with the introduction of their annual Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel winning a Roger F. Siebert Honor, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang winning the Michael L. Printz award. Graphic Novels are now included in the Core Curriculum and are being used in the classroom as vital tools for learning.

5. How can graphic novels encourage literacy in children with a disability?

Graphic Novels have been used to help both children with disabilities, including dyslexia and autism. For children with autism, the illustrations in comic books and graphic novels can help them better understand facial expressions and understand the emotions of the characters, things that might be missed when they are reading traditional text. For children with dyslexia, the pictures in graphic novels help them still follow the plot and recall details even when they are having trouble with the text, particularly as they often are better able to remember pictures than sounds or words.

6. How can graphic novels and comic books be used to promote literacy for ESL students and visual learners, as well as reluctant and struggling readers?

Graphic Novels and comic books can promote literacy for a wide range of readers. For ESL readers, the illustrations in comic books and graphic novels provide contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative. They are also popular among ESL students, who are often reluctant to read otherwise, and are therefore able to readily acquire new vocabulary to increase English proficiency while reading them. Graphic novels and comic books also give older children, teens, and adults who are English-language learners and age-appropriate alternative to reading picture books or beginner readers aimed at younger children.

Visual learners similarly benefit from the graphic novel format, as they can connect with graphic novels in a way that they cannot with text-only books. Rather, graphic novels, with their combination of both pictures and words, contribute to the development of both visual and verbal literacy. Graphic novels also help employ a special type of visual literacy, where readers must combine both the images and text in order to fully comprehend the meaning, which has become more important with the advent of the computer age, in which visual content and text are often mixed together on the internet.

Struggling readers and reluctant readers are often motivated by the combination of image and text, which is often fast-paced and seems less daunting than traditional text. Comic books and graphic novels can help boost the confidence of these readers while boosting reading comprehension, critical thinking, and vocabulary skills, which are all necessary when reading more challenging works, including classic literature.

7. How are Graphic Novels “real literature,” or are they only a stepping stone toward reading “real books”?  What can advanced readers gain from reading them?

Graphic novels and comic books can help bridge the gap between advanced readers and struggling readers, as they appeal to both. Graphic novels often contain more advanced vocabulary than books aimed at the same grade level, and comic books are typically written at a fourth to sixth grade reading level, which is comparable to Time magazine, young adult novels, and many adult bestsellers. Like traditional books, graphic novels and comic books also can offer complex plots, strong characterizations, and profound themes, and longer, serialized works, such as manga and American superhero comics, can become even more detailed and complex.

Graphic novels and comic books are a medium for storytelling, rather than a genre. Any genre can be told in comic book format. They are a unique way of telling a story, as they combine elements of novels, picture books, and film, to create a narrative. Like traditional works, graphic novels and comic books can also contain literary elements, such as metaphors, symbolism, point-of-view, and alliteration. While graphic novels can be a stepping stone to reading traditional books and the classics, they can also be quality literature that is worth reading.

8. In what ways can comics and graphic novels be used in the K-12 classroom?

As graphic novels have become a part of the core curriculum, using them in the classroom can be a way to motivate students toward both reading and art. Graphic novels and comics can be used in a variety of different ways in the classroom. Graphic novel adaptations of classic works, from Shakespeare to Newbery winners, can be used as a comparative tool to the original works. Nonfiction graphic novels, or fictional graphic novels with historical or informational context, can also be used to critically examine aspects of history, science, literature, and art. Teachers can use graphic novels to interpret visual information, such as determining emotion and feeling from characters’ facial or bodily expressions, and the meaning and foreshadowing of illustrations based on the viewpoint, colors, or composition. Teachers can also discuss the similarities and differences between graphic novels, films, and prose, as graphic novels share similarities to both cinematic storytelling and traditional text. Graphic novels are also a strong springboard for creative writing and creative arts projects, as students can either take a prose passage from a traditional novel and rewrite it in comic book format or, conversely, take panels from a graphic novel and write it in prose. Combining graphic novels with books on drawing can also spur creativity, both in writing and art.

9. Is the future of the graphic novel superhero-focused or not?

While super-hero focused comics and graphic novels are a strong component of the comic book world, particularly with the surging popularity of superheroes in other media, such as movies and television, there are still other genres that make use of graphic novels and comic books. The panelists will debate the future of comics and graphic novels and what will prevail going forward.

10. Why should parents read graphic novels with their young kids?

Reading with young children in general is always important as it both encourages children to read and fosters a love for reading at an early age. Reading graphic novels with children not only helps encourage reading, but also promotes visual literacy and can combat some of the stigmas mentioned above children may feel if they are fans of the medium.

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