In this week’s PW Comics World, I interviewed Jeremy Short—creator of the study on comics comprehension referenced here—about that study and a general overview of current research on how comics affect learning and cognizance. My takeaway: we’ll be seeing more of this. Along the way I chatted with Scott McCloud, who feels that the idea of comics as a teaching tool is very hot right now.

“It’s in the air, there’s no question about it. It’s like when the ship’s masts start to glow a little and you know that lightning is about to hit,” he said of the growing attention. “I go to conferences about this stuff and I see all these people who feel that there’s this thing in the room if only they could get their hands on it they could change education forever.”

McCloud also revealed that followed his next graphic novel—a massive fiction epic from First Second with the working title of The Sculptor—his next book after that will deal with how verbal/visual communication works. “Visual communication is the thing I’m most excited about other than finishing my graphic novel which has consumed me for years,” he told me. “The ways in which visual communication in all the disciplines seems to be knocking on a lot of the same doors. I want to see if I can distill some of those fundamental principles in all that.”


  1. My 9-year-old son had some exciting news for me this week. He was ecstatic that the school library just got in a copy of Doug TenNapel’s BAD ISLAND. He already told me that he plans to check it out on his next book exchange day.

    He loves, loves, LOVES TenNapel’s work.

    And you know what? He’s never once called them “comics.” But BOOKS or NOVELS. He tells me how much he loves “Doug TenNapel books” all the time.

    Kids read what they like, and I don’t think kids see much segregation between “graphic novels” and “regular books.” Why should we?

  2. I am surprised it has taken as long as it has for comics to be used as educational tools. GN’s, comics, even books that mix prose and art (Wimpy Kid books) are what the kids are reading. Like marketing, you need to meet your audience where they are. It makes sense that if you want kids to let them read what they like.

    Knowing that people learn differently, some are visual learners, some are audible learners, some are kinesthetic learners, good educators will teach using these various methods to reach more students. It makes sense to use the same approach by using different types of reading material to reach more students. Some will prefer prose and some will prefer a GN, but it will expose students to a much larger pool of works to chose from and explore.

    If it encourages them to read, imagine and explore the arts I am all for it.

  3. What’s really cool about this moment is that we have an entire comics-minded educators who are now decision makers within their districts. These folks have taken it upon themselves to incorporate comics into their teaching strategies. Also to their benefit is the fact that we have so much more really qualified stuff for them to work with. In addition to the increased number of titles you also need to figure in the traditional publishers who understand the formula that each book needs in order to be accepted into the classroom. Its really not enough for a book to just be good. It must also have reading comprehension levels attached, proper cataloging information such as subject matter, and genre detail. They also have grade and age levels attached. Most traditional comics publishers dont understand how critical these elements are so you have First Second, Scholastic, Abrams, Lerner and Capstone who are stepping in and dominating the educational space. And….they are doing it with really exciting stuff! Congrats to Scott for the gig with First Second! I am really looking forward to the next book.

  4. MAUS is part of our high school’s 9th grade curriculum, and I am curious to see what comes next. I know AMERICAN-BORN CHINESE is used with some of the low-level lit courses, and some teachers use some graphic/ comic short stories such as Paul Chadwick’s VAGABOND and some Joe Sacco.

  5. It’s always nice to have people who will continually “beat” the drum for comics, but I don’t really understand the push for comics to be looked at as “a teaching tool.” I remember when people were talking about comics being, “the gateway to getting kids to read.” That’s all fine and good, but at the same time it strikes me as trying to justify comic books while still treating them like a bastard son. Comic books are nothing less than the greatest advance in human communication and story telling. They are more flexible, and full of potential, they break down thought, time and space, better than any limited human language, movie, book, or painting. It cannot be understood through deconstruction and there is no unified theory. Comics justify themselves. I’m far more interested to see what The Sculptor is. If we really feel we understand comics, we should be using that knowledge to push the boundaries of storytelling to heights so new and great, that people will be motivated to look into them, on their own. In fact, that’s what I’m going to go do, right now. ;o)

  6. >Kids read what they like, and I don’t think kids see much segregation between “graphic novels” and “regular books.”

    Agreed. Kids generally only identify two kinds of books. Cool books they LIKE and boring books that SUCK (that schools make ’em read).

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