- The Evolution of Teaching with Graphic Novels
Much has changed since I began teaching in a Pre-service Teacher Education program in 2006. Back then, when I introduced our future elementary and secondary English Language Arts teachers to graphic novels, only a few students in each class had any experience with them. Most of the teacher candidates knew about and had read comics at some point in their lives, but only a few had actually read a graphic novel. Now, eight years later, almost all of them know what a graphic novel is, and some enter my classes having taken university courses in the area.
Despite the growing popularity of graphic novels, however, there are still those who enter our program who have never read one, and none of the novice teachers in my courses has ever read one for a course in high school. In a recent M.Ed. graduate courses I taught on digital literacies, an experienced educator and teacher librarian in the group commented that there is certainly still “a reluctance to accepting the graphic novel as a ‘worthy’ read.” As a teacher librarian, I hear this all the time when teachers bring their classes in the library to get books. Of course I always suggest graphic novels for students, only to hear from their teacher that they have to read a ‘real’ book” (Mulcaster). Recognizing the power and the potential of using graphic novels with students, this teacher librarian is now building a school library collection of graphic novels and manga, purchasing sets of graphic novels to be included as options in grade-level novel studies, running trivia challenges related to manga and anime characters and storylines in these books for the students and teachers in the learning commons, and connecting with the local public library in the form of related book talks. As this educator’s experience demonstrates, the inclusion of graphic novels in elementary and secondary classrooms has been a very slow process, but the fact that progress is being made is evident from the growing numbers of graphic novels being targeted to the educational market. [End Page 116]
As a result of this reluctance to accept graphic novels as “legitimate” reading materials for students, the reading of graphic novels has been largely an out-of-school endeavour for many. There have been some shifts in the literary world, however, that have started to change the way graphic novels are being received. First, movie versions are popularizing graphic novels like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Frank Miller’s Sin City and 300, and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and its sequels. Second, more people are promoting the validity of graphic novels. In 2008, for the first time, a graphic novel was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award in the Children’s (Text) category. Skim, a beautiful coming-of-age story written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, is a lovely blend of words and drawings, although only Mariko Tamaki, who penned the words, was nominated. This met with outcry from the graphic novel community, led by popular graphic novelists Seth and Chester Brown, who published a letter criticizing the decision to exclude Jillian Tamaki as co-author: “The text of a graphic novel cannot be separated from its illustrations because the words and the pictures together are the text” (“Top”). Another noteworthy example was the support Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel Essex County received from Sara Quin of the indie-pop band Tegan and Sara in the 2011 Canada Reads contest. Unfortunately, Essex County was voted off in the first round, which may be indicative of the limited degree to which graphic novels have been accepted in the literary world by Canadian readers. Finally, graphic novels like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which deal with serious social and political issues, have caught the eye of the academic world. Individuals within this sphere have come to recognize the depth and critical nature of these texts. There is even a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered through Coursera entitled “Comic Books and...