Sequential Art As a Solution to Schools in Crisis: Utilizing Comics for Educational Reform
Carlos Perez, MFA
According to the U.S Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy study from April 15th, 2015 14 % of Americans can not read (below a basic level). This number is equivalent to 32,000,000 people. This study also states that 70% of prison inmates can’t read and 19% of high school graduates can’t read. With numbers this daunting it is time to consider new educational options.Sequential art (This would include comics, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, and printed cartoons) is a tool that can be used provide solutions to issues dealing with education, especially illiteracy.
The book “Wham!: Teaching with Graphic Novels Across the Curriculum” depicts scenarios where graphic novels have been incorporated into the modern classroom with successful results. For example in a Mr. Brown’s history class they were studying the pre-Civil Rights period.Textbooks were used to discuss broad facts and statistics on Jim Crow, racial segregation, and lynchings of African Americans, especially in the Deep South. Mr. Brown also introduces the class to Incognegro (Johnson & Pleece, 2009). A graphic novel which gives a name and face to a Black man facing a lynch mob banging at the jailhouse door after he is wrongfully accused of murdering a White woman in Mississippi. Mr. Brown’s inclusion of graphic novels in history has produced greater enthusiasm for learning and careful, elaborated processing of textual information. Mr. Brown also employed other activities related to graphic novels, including having his students rework important scenes of history into their own illustrated panels, with present-day talk and slang.
The 21st Century Classroom
Mr.Brown’s modern approach is part of working in “The 21st-century classroom.” An evolution from the traditional learning environment in order to yield more constructive results. Currently their is not a definite research base that demonstrates that greater achievement is a direct result of using sequential art in education but using comics and graphic novels in the twenty-first century classroom offers two clear advantages over the more traditional classroom:
1. Graphic novels help students become highly skilled, enthusiastic, lifelong learners. We live in a fast-paced, highly technical, rapidly changing environment where success demands independent learning and social skills more than knowledge of facts.
2. Using graphic novels makes the teaching experience richer, more satisfying, and fun for both students andteachers.
Applications for Graphic Novels
Human beings are naturally visual learners. Prior to the first writing systems our ancestors relied on visual learning for survival. Comparatively, today’s youth are growing up in a highly visual, highly technological environment. One in which they are comfortable with and adept at visual learning. Graphic novels provide the opportunity to learn through the medium which they already have facility with.
Incorporating graphic novels into the content classroom provides an engaging platform for teachers to address the demands of the Common Core State Standards, (A set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) that outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live).
• Graphic novels tell a story through prose, dialogue, and visual images- a natural fit to help students learn to comprehend, evaluate, and integrate information ascertained through media other than traditional print.
• Graphic novels in conjunction with traditional forms of text can develop student’s ability to analyze multiple texts.
• High-quality graphic novels have evolved into extremely complex works of literature that fulfill the CCSS guidelines for complexity.
• Careful planning and integration of graphic novels will ensure that the reading and task demands are met.
When graphic novels are given legitimacy in content classrooms, youth are more eager to explore disciplinary topics and learning is more memorable. Accompanied by a variety of supportive technology tools graphic novels can transform bland, textbook-centered learning environments into exciting venues for authentic exploration of disciplinary topics.
Teaching with graphic novels, as a supplement to traditional instruction, can develop and draw on students’ multi literate practices. Graphic novels with their multi modalities and their engaging content can be used to encourage students to build knowledge, read more deeply, and think more critically about both print and image.
Graphic novels also nurture student’s critical awareness of their world. For example C. W. Chun used Art Spiegelman’s Maus in a class of English language learners (ELLs). He explored the graphic novel’s power to teach them to make meaningful connections to their own lives and reflect critically on how the themes of racism and power in Mausoperate in their own worlds. He summarizes his work by asserting: “Using a graphic novel like Maus in the classroom to teach how language works both for and and against people can enable students to acquire the necessary critical literacy that will, as Freire and Macedo (1987) affirmed, aid them in the important tasks of reading both the world and word.”
Sequential Art Applications with EFL Students
Claude Andre Drolet, of SungKyul University expresses in his paper “Comics in the Development of EFL Reading And Writing” that, “The comic book format is a powerful combination of discoursive skills, artistic creativity and expression. Comics seem to employ a form of visual language that is almost universally understood. Because of their interplay of visuals and words, comics are easily accessible to non-native speakers of English. Moreover, comics have been recognized for their broad appeal to almost any age group or learner level because they depict real dialogue and culture. The use of comics compliments the acquisition of effective comprehension strategies. Comic books and comic strips,with their colloquial dialogue and contemporary settings, can demonstrate for students authentic language at all stages of acquisition. Daily comic strips and comic books are produced for nativeEnglish speakers, not for ESL students, and so are true examples of authentic language. By using comics in the classroom,students can investigate the use of dialogue, concise and dramatic vocabulary, and non-verbal communication.”
Drolet’s research entails that comics benefit students who study English as a foreign language. Furthermore, Sequential art can work towards overcoming cross-cultural barriers. Comics printed in foreign languages can be of immense aide for various learning. applications, whether foreign students learning English or native English speakers learning about other cultures.
Reading Graphic Novels
According to Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information science at Illinois, “If reading is to lead to any meaningful knowledge or comprehension, readers must approach a text with an understanding of the relevant social, linguistic and cultural conventions and if you reallyconsider how the pictures and words work together in consonance to tell a story, you can make the case that comics are just as complex as any other kind of literature.”
Graphic novels are a distinct form of storytelling that uses both print and artwork to convey a narrative. Navigating this format requires a certain set of literacy skills:
• The reader must approach the text and illustrations in tandem
• The words and pictures must be carefully analyzed because the authors/ illustrators of high-quality graphic novels make purposeful choices in relation to words, speech bubbles, pictures, format, color, and other graphic features in their book.
• It is necessary to slow down and give attention to the many different elements of a story, including:
• the printed text
• visual images
• font style and size
• visual perspectives
• any other graphic elements that convey important information
• The reader must identify focal points of the visual images and determine the directionality of the frames.
To effectively navigate graphic novels, readers must develop a set of skills that allows them to process all elements of the medium to make sense of authors stories. To best incorporate graphic novels into the classroom teachers must also become adept in these skills.
The Language of Sequential Art
How To Read a Comic
To successfully integrate graphic novels into instruction teachers must pay particular attention to the language and structure of this format. Entire books have been dedicated to understanding comics and graphic novels for example Will Eisner’s texts Comics and Sequential Art and in Scott McClouds’s Understanding Comics are excellent resources for mastering the language of sequential art.
Sequential Art and Literacy
Sequential art (Comics and graphic novels) are a versatile teaching resource that skillful teachers can use to heighten student engagement, build knowledge of disciplinary topics, and expand students’ literacy capacities. They relate to literacy practices of youth outside of school and to the multi literacy skills that are crucial for success in today’s social, economic, and political environments.
JoshElder, founder of Reading With Pictures said, “He learned to read-and more important, to love reading- because of comics. Comics made reading easy, and they made reading fun. So much so that by the fifth grade he was reading at college level. By seventh grade, I was taking college courses on nights and weekends.”
In 2009 Reading With Pictures was established in order to “get comics into schools and get schools into comics.”Their mission statement is to “Collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use.” Their first book Reading with Pictures:Comics That Make Kids Smarter unites some of the finest creative talents in the comics industry with the nation’s leading experts in visual literacy to create a book that meets the criteria necessary to be accepted as classroom curriculum. The comics format is used to make traditional educational content more engaging (especially to struggling readers), more efficient for advanced readers and more effective for all readers.
Comics and Education
In the 1940s comic books first became a mass medium and educators enthusiastically researched ways to teach with them, for example, The Journal of Educational Sociology Vol. 18, No. 4, published in 1944, was completely devoted to comics. Unfortunately, along came psychiatrist Frederic Wertham who declared comic books are responsible for juvenile delinquency and other morally corrupt activities. Wertham’s research was published in the book, “Seduction of the Innocent.” Since 2010, professor of Library Science, Carol Tilley combed through all of Wertham’s research and in the process discovered that he had manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence. Evidence that had lead to the Wertham Trials of the 1950s, creation of The Comics code Authority and academia effectively ignoring comics thereafter until works that earned literary acclaim came out (For example Maus, Watchmen and Persepolis).
Sequential art has had to earn its place as a legitimate literary medium since its existence and has had to overcome setbacks due to malicious claims on the medium. Fortunately, the perseverance of the medium has allowed it to become recognized as remarkable and powerful agent for communication especially in the field of education.
“When using comics, the whole brain is engaged. The right brain is engaged with the graphics and left brain is engaged with the storyline, making use of both hemispheres. To read a story and see the story at the same time forces sensory connections to both the left and right hemispheres processors. This makes learning more effective , and might even make it fun. If educators can make learning “something we do as a matter of living a useful, happy, productive life,” it becomes beneficial to society as a whole.
The extensive research that has gone into and is still being conducted with sequential art leads to the conclusion that it is a positive catalyst for societal improvement. Contemporary times call for comics to be a relevant and vital tool to deal with the current crisis of educational needs. The demand for sequential art content should continue to grow as literacy continues to improve and illiteracy goes on the decline.
1. How does sequential art affect cross-cultural communications?
2. What will be the long term effects of incorporating sequential arts in a classroom setting?
3. What can be some other applications for sequential art?
4. What are some limitations to using sequential art to teach?
5. What else needs to be done to create further legitimacy with comics and sequential art in the literary world?
6. Can sequential art create a demand for more art instruction in schools due to its multi-disciplinary modalities?
7. Reading comics is reported to be a whole brain activity.How does utilizing both sides of the brain simultaneously affect learning and development?
Prime Vice Studios produces music to infuse its content with original sounds. Check out our Soundcloud page for soothing instrumentals.
Comic video featuring Santos La Cruz in his feelings. Enjoy!
Part of the Prime Vice Studios mission is to share knowledge about the sequential art medium and encourage artists to always develop their talent. With this in mind I’ve established the Seqa Dojo™ (Short for Sequential Art Dojo).
The SEQA DOJO Web series
This web series is a continuation of the Prime Vice Studios tutorials proudly sponsored by Comic Draw. Please enjoy, participate, and share.
Freestyle Drawing Tutorial
Freestyle drawing is an excellent exercise to get started in the creative process.
Sometimes getting started is the hardest part of making comics. We get caught up with our ideas in our head instead of working through them in tangible forms. Freestyle drawing helps you get started.
How to get started:
1. Set up an uninterrupted time slot for art time.
2. Set your ritual. Have a place to draw and collect everything that you need and prepare to play.
3. Have a surface & tool. You can’t do any drawing without something to do it with and something to do it on. Open up your Comic Draw app or at least have a pencil & pad to scribble on.
4. Fill the surface. Get your hands going and don’t stop until the page is filled or time runs out.
This is a good opportunity for abstract mark making and/or working through an idea.
Look at something or someone and draw it from observation.
Jot down letters, thoughts, ideas, phrases or words.
Sketch out geometric shapes and patterns. This is useful for figuring out rhythms and designs.
Understand and push the limits of your tool.
5. The last and most important step. Have Fun! If you are not having fun you are not doing this activity right.
After you’ve filled a page or two please feel free to share your work with me. I’d like to see what you come up with.
Thank you for checking out this tutorial. I hope you’ve found it useful and inspiring. Below you’ll find a downloadable cheat sheet of this tutorial and additional resources that you can purchase.
Prime Vice Studios is available to book for private lessons and workshops.
Loso Perez, MFA
Damiana, The Prickly Pixie is one of Prime Vice Studios for forefront characters and mascots for the PV brand.
In graduate school I had the opportunity to really develop her and her world. I also had the opportunity to discuss her development in this wonderful interview with the SCAD Connector. Check out the article by clicking the link below
"I’M SHOWING PEOPLE THAT THROUGH MY DETERMINATION AND HARD WORK THINGS CAN HAPPEN. I’M HAPPY TO BE ABLE TO INSPIRE, LIKE OTHERS HAVE INSPIRED ME."
Kalani Caraballo is a writer based out of Kearny, New Jersey. He has been producing and writing comic books since early 2016. Titles such as Home, Manifesto, Pistol Grip, and the newly released title Messenger. Along with his Editor/Fiancee Chrissy Torres, they operate their own publishing company Dummie Comics Inc.
Where are your from?
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both my parents are from the greatest island on Earth, Puerto Rico. My family left Hawaii for Newark, New Jersey when I was three years old. My Dad and Mom divorced when I was four, and my Mom moved my brother and I to Kearny, New Jersey where I still currently reside.
Where did you grow up?
My beginning years I started out in Hawaii, Newark, and my formative years I was in Kearny.
How did your experiences affect your writing?
In general, my life is in my writing. Through my writing you can see my vision and sometimes my opinion on certain things. I know my experiences definitely helped me write Home. At the same time some of my father’s experiences made it into Manifesto. So nothing is spared honestly. I’m growing in life through my writing.
You and your partner run your own publishing company Dummie Comics Inc. What inspired you to start your own business?
I have to say it started with the idea of just wanting to write and publish a comic. Originally the idea was just to do one. My first comic I wrote was this Hip Hop, Alien story, titled Last of a Dying Breed. After commissioning an artist to illustrate Last of a Dying Breed, I had started writing Home.
I ended up losing interest in Last of a Dying Breed, and solely focused on Home. I completed the full series of Home in a span of two weeks. While I was finishing Home, the idea of Manifesto came to me. After completing Home, I immediately started writing Manifesto. I realized I had two comic series on my hand. At that moment it became about Dummie Comics the brand, not me.
The mission for Dummie Comics Inc to inspire others to do things that other people might have told them that they could not ever accomplish.
Please share why you feel this is an important mission and how your comics fulfill this mission.
When I originally told people about me wanting to get into the comic business everyone I knew laughed at me. They said things like, “You can’t draw”, “How are you going to compete with characters that have a 75 year legacy?”, we heard it all. I want to inspire people to give themselves a chance.
I knew if I didn’t trust my gut feeling, and listened to those people, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Everyday I wake up, and push this brand as hard as I can, and the results show.
This isn’t a little comic thing or a hobby. Slowly but surely things are happening. I’m showing people that through my determination and hard work things can happen. I’m happy to be able to inspire, like others have inspired me. Keep going! And only listen to yourself.
What type of stories do you like to make comics about?
To be honest it depends on my mood when I pick up the pen to write. It also depends on the character I am writing for at that moment. I tend to enjoy writing stuff with a lot of grittiness to it.
What’s your process? Elaborate on how you work through your projects. How do you break up your time for your projects at different stages?
My process is simple. Usually when I come up with an idea for a comic I like to know how I’m going to end it, so I usually write the ending first. From there everything comes naturally.
I’ll envision the entire story, and flesh out what I want to see on each page. Then I’ll begin my dialogue.
Once I complete the script, and we green light the script to be illustrated, I’ll go through the entire script one more time, and make any corrections, then I’ll send it to my Editor and partner Chrissy Torres. She’ll make her corrections, and then send it back to me for my approval. Once completed, we send it to our illustrator Frank Castro, and then play the waiting game.
While an issue is being illustrated, I’ll start working on another script. Sometimes for the same character, other times for another. It’s all about balance, and lucky for me, each of our characters have different universes, so there’s never a loss of creativity, because they’re all different.
What do you recommend to aspiring writers/creators that you wish you had known much earlier? What would you tell yourself 20 years ago?
Have fun. Remember you’re creating a comic book. It’s a source of entertainment. Your imagination will take you as far as you let it. Just keep creating, and don’t stop. 20 years ago I was 11 years old, I would probably tell myself not to worry so much, and to have fun.
As long as you have your imagination you’ll be alright, and nobody can take that away from you.
What do you love best about making comics?
My favorite part about making comics, is being able to express myself, and seeing my vision come to life. But also, its the reaction we get from our readers.
Being able to see people react to something you saw in your head is always a good thing, whether positive or negative. Every time we’re about to release a new issue it’s an exciting time. Sometimes the feeling of seeing the finished product can be better than sex.
What do you wish was different about the comics industry?
I wish consumers/retailers were more open minded, and that people got out of their comfort zones and to give more things a chance. I know a lot of consumers and shops that won’t buy anything that doesn’t bare a DC or Marvel logo. I'll tell you right now, some of the best comics in the world aren’t even produced by those two. People don’t know what they’re missing out on.
Which books do you recommend artists should have in their reference library? Favorite instructional material?
To be honest, I’ve never picked up anything as instructional material. When I began writing, I kind of just dove in head first, and hoped for the best.
I believe I looked up a few articles on writing comic scripts on Google, mainly they all said, “Comic book scripts are instructional manuals for what the artist is going to draw on the page”. Once I heard that it was go time.
The best references to me are comic books themselves. You have to be a fan of the medium to know what you want to see out of your comics, and what you don’t want to see in your comic books. My teachers were Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Kevin Eastman, etc. I mean how could I fail going to the college of those guys?
Top 5 Favorite Artists?
In no order:
Frank Castro (Artist of Home and Manifesto)
Top Favorite Comic characters?
In no order:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Guardians of The Galaxy (Early team)
NFL Super Pro
Top 5 Favorite comics, graphic novels?
Frank Miller’s Daredevil run
Jim Valentino’s Guardians of the Galaxy run
Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four
Secret Wars Volume 1
Steve Gerber’s Foolkiller run
Michel Fiffe’s Copra
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Dwayne McDuffie’s Hardware
What type of work are you interested in doing? Now? In the future?
Right now I’m really excited about everything Dummie Comics Inc. In 2019, I’m looking to finally completing all issues of Home and Manifesto. Manifesto #3 is on the way, and Home #3 should be completed shortly there after.
As far as the future, I’m looking forward to introducing two new series. I consider these to be my dream projects, and ultimately, my best work. I can’t wait to see these projects come to life.
How can others find/ purchase your work? Website, social media link, etc
You can follow Dummie Comics on these social networks:
Our work can be purchased on www.Gumroad.com/DummieComicsInc
Works available from Dummie Comics Inc
"My mission as a writer is to empower people of color to write their own stories."
I’m Ananya Vahal and I’m an Indian-American writer. I'm also the President of The Sid Foundation Inc., the writer/creator of Lung Girl Comics, and writer/content editor here at Prime Vice Studios. I have an MFA in Writing. My genres include creative nonfiction, digital content creation, and comics. I like reading and writing funny stuff.
Where are your from?
I was born in New Delhi, India. I grew up all around the world and have been living in the Atlanta area for over 15 years.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Delhi, India, Dubai, U.A.E., Charlotte, NC, and Kennesaw, GA.
How did your experiences affect your writing?
The purpose of my writing is to tell the stories that have been historically ignored or suppressed in our country. My purpose came about because of my experience growing up in a country where the only signs of existence of my culture were a funny accent and a smelly bowl of curry.
I didn’t know any writers that looked like me growing up and no one was telling the stories of my family. I want little brown girls today to be able to see themselves in books, movies, and all forms of media because it was denied to me.
You’ve created an original intellectual property: Lung Girl. How did this character & story come about?
Lung Girl came about because of a necessity on many levels. In 2014, my brother Sid died due to complications from his double lung transplant. My parents and I wanted to start a charity in his name to help other people going through the same situation.
We establishedThe Sid Foundation in 2015 to raise funds and awareness for lung transplant research and assist lung transplant patients with funding and resources. I always knew The Sid Foundation would have a heavy art aspect to it because Sid was an artist and an avid comic book reader. I also found that lung transplant was a complex and often gruesome topic to talk about with people in the community. The best way to tackle this issue was to create a comic book character who could represent the nonprofit and help us tell our story. Therefore, Lung Girl was born.
Lung Girl is a twelve-year-old Indian superhero who fights bad guys and lung health issues in her city. She has super lung powers which give her super strength and allow her to fight. She makes the perfect mascot for The Sid Foundation and helps us attract an audience that we normally would have missed.
Available for purchase now. Click on pics.
You have published two Lung Girl comics. How was that experience?
The Lung Girl comics are published annually through The Sid Foundation. It has been an interesting experience.
First, I had to raise funds for the project.
Then, I learned how to write comic book scripts. I have an MFA in writing, but they don’t teach you how to write comic book scripts in a writing program, so I had to learn the process of turning my story into panels and pages.
Finally, I hired a sequential artist to illustrate it. That process took a couple of months. I have been working in-house with Prime Vice Studios since the second issue published in 2017.
Once the comic book was fully illustrated, I sent it to the print shop. I also uploaded it on Amazon for a digital version.
Also, before I got them printed or turned into a digital comic, I had to purchase an ISBN number for them and get a copyright on them, so they could be protected.
It’s a process that takes time, effort, and constant learning which is why we only produce one comic a year for the time being. Once I have more staff and more funding, we plan to publish more comics annually.
You have recently graduated with your MFA in Writing. What drove you to pursue a Masters degree?
I graduated with my MFA in writing from SCAD in June 2018. I have been writing since I was nine years old. I picked up writing as soon as my family moved to the United States. It was my way of making sense of my new life in a completely new country.
I wrote journal entries, poems, and songs until I was in high school. However, since I didn’t know any writers in real life, especially ones that looked like me, I didn’t know that it was a profession I could pursue.
For some reason, I couldn’t stay away from writing. Once I got to college, I tried several different majors before settling into English with a minor in Spanish. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2010 with my bachelor’s degree.
Even with an English degree, I didn’t know what I should do as a profession. The only options I was exposed to were Law School or Journalism and I didn’t find myself drawn to either one. I decided to take a break after graduating to figure things out and during that time I took the GRE and the LSAT so I could keep my options open for grad school.
During my break year, my life took a complete turn when my brother became ill and was hospitalized. I spent almost a year in the hospital with my brother as he fought for his life and received a double lung transplant. After that, I became interested in the health care industry, specifically, physical therapy. So I changed my course and began pursuing physical therapy.
After about two and a half years of working in physical therapy and applying to schools, we got a call that my brother was hospitalized again. This time he didn’t survive.
After my brother’s death, I once again evaluated my course in life and after making peace with the fact that I was not getting into physical therapy school, I decided to go back to my original calling, writing.
I definitely took the long and winding road. I had a lot of life experience under my belt to write about. I began researching the writing programs at several universities. Once I was introduced to SCAD, I decided that was the program for me. Their program focused on digital media and creative nonfiction. I learned ways to write my story effectively and share it with the world digitally.
What type of stories do you like to write about?
My mission as a writer is to empower people of color to write their own stories. Today, there are more stories published about people of color than by people of color. This means that we are being written about in ways that we do not control.
We are being written about from the White perspective which often includes stereotypes and oppressive narratives. We need to control our own narrative.
I think words are the most powerful tool against oppression. So, to make a long answer short, I write my stories. Stories that are highly underrepresented in the literary world and in today’s media. Stories about what it’s like to be a South Asian immigrant growing up and living in the United States. Stories about my family and my culture.
Top 5 favorite writers.
Roxanne Gay, Scaachi Koul, Issa Rae, Lilly Singh, and Sherman Alexie
Favorite comic characters.
Obviously, I love the new Ms. Marvel (representing the Desis), Black Panther (duh), Batman (he’s always been my favorite superhero), and Lung Girl! (yup, that’s a plug).
Top 5 favorite comics & graphic novels.
The new Ms. Marvel series, Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Avatar: The Last Airbender series, Tales for La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology, and Saint Love City Funk: Boogie Down Blues.
Saint Love City Funk: Boogie Down Blues
What type of work are you interested in doing? Now? In the future?
I am already doing the type of work I want to do which is write, build community, and educate. I hope to continue doing this work at a larger scale in the future.
How can others find or purchase your work? Website, social media link, etc.
You can find my work, my services, and my #browngirlwrites blog on www.ananyavahal.com.
Twitter and Instagram: @ananyavahal
Facebook: Ananya Vahal
Medium: Ananya Vahal
Works Available by Ananya Vahal
The PV Blog
Read about our projects, experiments and the fun things involving sequential art writing and drawing!