Comics, Graphic Novels and Visual Learning


There’s no shortage of source material

Within learning and teaching, the use of comic books and graphic novels has often been seen as more of an option than a necessity. Fortunately, there has been considerable progress in terms of using these media to support reluctant or disengaged learners. In addition, the more quirky, demanding and, at times, tangential graphic novel format seems to have proved its worth in helping students to access and explore some difficult topics.

Nevertheless, while picture books continue as a preferred approach in early learning, the switch to school often begins and sets in place an emphasis on working with text. So much so that competence is typically tested on the basis of learning to work with increasingly larger blocks of text – to the unintentional exclusion of images.

There therefore appears to be more to be done than to simply tap into some students’ enthusiasm for visual media, and in terms of valuing visual understanding within learning as a whole. At the same time, and largely as a result of technology, there is clearly a new urgency, or need, to help pupils blend media to arrive at fuller understandings. For example, many employees are now required to work constantly with information presented in a wide variety of visual formats, including charts, info-graphics and diagrams.

Accessing the benefits of learning through graphics can begin early with any number of wonderful picture books for early learning. Excellent examples include Giraffes Can Dance; Clack, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type; and Room on the Broom.

During primary learning, comic or picture book features can be combined very successfully with text. Old favourites with updated content include Asterix and the Picts, while titles like the Geronimo Stilton series forget neither the text nor the graphics.

There is a very wide range of titles and interests within the choices available to teenagers and older readers. Generally speaking, an initial interest in comic book titles tends to lead on to a variety of artistic styles and more thoughtful topics.

The collected Ultimate X-Men and Messiah Complex series are standouts in the X-Men series. They’re not inexpensive, but present good examples of how a series of comics can amount to a graphic novel covering an extended narrative.

300 is for older readers and presents a very gritty re-imagining of the story of the Spartans’ stand against Xerxes’ massive Persian army at Thermopylae. The title demonstrates the kind of visual impact a graphic novel can deliver, but is not for everyone.

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a recent graphic novel which does a good job of showing how graphic novels can be adapted for direct use in classes or to extend learning. The book delivers an approachable and involving account of a young Suffragette’s participation in the troubles and triumphs of the Suffragettes.


Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics
Julia Donaldson
Asterix and the Picts
Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

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