Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels

Blogger's Note:  The real power in this conversation rests in the comment section where we are talking all things reading.  Come and join us! 

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I’ve got a bit of a confession to make—and it’s probably going to leave a TON of people completely hacked off.

But that’s never stopped me before, right?

Here goes:  I just CAN’T buy into the mad-crazy-graphic-novel-as-a-legitimate-form-of-reading-worth-promoting love that seems to be sweeping through middle school libraries.

In fact, I reflexively cringe every time I see my students swimming through the 741.5 section of the media center.

#ducking

Before you unsheathe your digital bazookas and start lobbing intellectual bombs, listen to this quick story:  A colleague of mine who teaches drama noticed how many of her students were reading graphic novels during a recent SSR period.

Concerned, she asked a few kids why they were drawn to the genre.  Their answer:

“We don’t have to think while we’re reading them.”

#ouch

I can hear graphic novel enthusiasts everywhere groaning as I type—and I’m all-too-familiar with the argument that graphic novels require students to make meaning from pictures, drawing subtle inferences based on what they’re seeing.

But is that REALLY true?

Let’s be honest, y’all:  Graphic novels ALREADY take away the need for students to visualize anything while they are reading.

What does the hero look like?  How is the light shimmering off of the summer pond at sunset?  How does pain—or love, or joy, or surprise—change a face?

“In a book full of pictures, all of the imagining,” my colleague explained, “has been done for them.  How is THAT a good thing?”

Based on what her students are saying, it’s a good thing because it means thinking is optional.

#yuck

So here’s what I’m wondering:  Will students who are hooked on graphic novels ever be terribly excited about picking up a text where they’ve got to do the imagining on their own again?

Think about it:  Can YOU imagine trying to imagine—or wanting to imagine, or seeing a need to imagine—after discovering an entire genre where imagining just isn’t necessary? 

#whybother

Even worse, will students who are hooked on graphic novels ever willingly tackle the kinds of nonfiction, content-heavy reading that plays larger and larger roles in advanced learning environments.

Think about it: How intimidating must it be for students who spend all of their free reading time in image-heavy graphic novels to crack open their textbooks in my science class and try to make meaning out of the sea of words that they are confronted with?

#HOLYCRAP

Now I get it:  For struggling readers, graphic novels are a great way to encourage emergent reading behaviors and habits. 

Seriously—I LOVE seeing kids who have never felt successful during silent reading periods turning pages and signing out stacks of books. 

Like the kids who love my Kindle set to jumbo-font, the simple act of turning pages can build confidence in kids who feel overwhelmed by more traditional texts.

#babysteps

But I just can’t help thinking that graphic novels are nothing more than the literary equivalent of Jersey Shore for the majority of our kids—and when you are addicted to mental candy like Snooki, I can’t help worrying about your future.

Am I wrong here?

#listening

#hopeyouwontshout

84 comments

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Halie,
    Thanks for joining the conversation.
    There are SO many things in your comment that I want to reply to, but I just wont have the time. What I will say is that Ive answered most of them in the follow up posts and in the comment sections that I wrote about this topic.
    Use the search bar in the side bar to find the posts.
    I will push back at two of your points, though. The first is when you wrote:
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    I
    would like to remind you that from what I understand, youre all talking about
    middle school students! Did you or any of your friends really like to read in
    middle school? From what I remember, not really!
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Ive taught middle school for 20 years now and yes: There are TONS of kids who really DO like to read. In fact, this year, almost ALL of my 120 students are in to reading — and few if any are reading graphic novels.
    We read novels together. We talk about our favorites. Weve got an active community of kids who are sharing recommendations with each other and encouraging each other to read.
    So the answer to your question is kids CAN love reading — and if they dont, my job as a teacher is to put them in touch with texts that resonate, not to put them in touch with texts that vaguely resemble reading in the hopes that they can pretend like theyre capable readers.
    When teachers look at kids who read thousands of pages of graphic novels and celebrate the fact that they are readers, were fooling ourselves because the VAST majority of those same students never voluntarily pick up a text-driven text on their own — and the simple fact of the matter is that text-driven texts are still the norm in professional fields beyond schools.
    The second point that I wanted to push back against was this one:
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    And if you *really* discredit graphic novels as a teaching tool because a
    *middle schooler* said they dont have to think when reading them, I think you
    need re-evaluate your opinion on the genre.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    Cant you see the disconnect in your thinking?
    On the one hand, you say that graphic novels turned you into this sophisticated reader as a middle schooler. You were following plot lines and drawing conclusions over thousands of pages and hundreds of chapters. You were learning to pick out clues from visual text. You were interacting with a genre and a theme over long, long periods of time.
    And on the other hand, you argue that those same middle schoolers are incapable of giving an accurate reflection of their own reasons for reading a genre.
    Those points dont connect, do they?
    If graphic novels result in the kinds of literary wonderkids you describe, wouldnt they be the FIRST people that we should ask for opinions about the genre?
    I guess I just have more faith in the ability of my kids to give me accurate feedback about what they are reading and/or learning.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  2. Halie Kneeland

    While I see all of the points made above and while I do sympathize with all of your worries, I think you’re forgetting one very, *very* important thing.
    Time.
    As a student myself who, in her middle school years and even into early high school, read nothing but manga and even had trouble deciding to dabble in american comics because of my obsession with the whole Japanese scene, I would like to remind you that from what I understand, you’re all talking about middle school students! Did you or any of your friends really like to read in middle school?
    From what I remember, not really!
    On another note during my years of dedicated reading to these series’ that could be chapters upon chapters (followed one that went up and past 600 chapters and I’m now following a webcomic with well over 7,000 pages) with millions of characters and plot points, I learned how to keep track of a plot, develop a character, and use literature tools suck as metaphor and foreshadowing *in a visual setting*. In addition to these, I also learned the best ways to pan a scene, to select and write dialogue to prevent heavy exposition, and in my pursuits to make my own comics, I learned to dissect a page and figure out how to make it better. Did I think I was learning this while I was reading it? Hell no. I was just enjoying a good story.
    And while I read manga nonstop up through my junior year, there was still a very heavy hand of literature in my schooling, namely in seventh, ninth, and tenth, and really because of the teachers I had in those years were a, passionate about what they were teaching, or b, encouraged reading on the student’s own terms while still managing to get them to branch out.
    However I really don’t want to take too long in this comment, but I think that if you yourself don’t have a high opinion of graphic novels to begin with, you won’t be successful in teaching them or even using them as basic tools. And if you *really* discredit graphic novels as a teaching tool because a *middle schooler* said they don’t have to think when reading them, I think you need re-evaluate your opinion on the genre.
    Regardless, those saying you’re washing the whole genre and suggesting other books to read as homework I think really got it going on. I haven’t read V for Vendetta, but Watchmen blow me away and definitely got me into more westernized comic story telling in my sophomore year.
    I also think that one of the bigger problems you’re having here is that you’re seeing these comics in the kid’s possessions as replacements to literature when, really, the question you used as an example, was asked to a student in an SSR period, a period which is really used by students to read for fun, despite it’s possible intended purposes.
    And I don’t really think that makes it a valid response.

  3. Susan

    “…Free choice in reading is simply too important to take away any genre….”
    I agree. At the same time, literacy in the plain-text format is simply too important to make optional. It’s a good thing that every genre of literature, as well as many kinds of non-literary writing, are available in plain text (I’ve even read a plain-text novels in the superhero genre).
    “…It isn’t graphic or traditional novels, but instead each has its place…”
    Yeah!
    “…but I am starting to see graphic novel integration in the same way that I see technology integration in schools…”
    It reminds me a bit of something I heard about cassette tape technology integration in schools with blind students…let me go look up a reference…
    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/lifestyles/family/s_619008.html
    “…Recently, the National Federation of the Blind issued a report warning that Braille illiteracy is spreading. A study cited in the report said that 44 percent of participants who learned Braille growing up were unemployed. For those who relied solely on print, the unemployment rate was 77 percent.
    “The report also cited research by the American Printing House for the Blind that said 10 percent of legally blind children are learning Braille. However, the figure is based only on the 57,969 children who are registered with that organization.
    “‘It’s very alarming,’ says Chris Danielsen, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind. ‘Imagine how alarmed society would be if a report came out that said, ‘You know, only 10 percent of children in the United States could read or write.’ That’s the essential crisis that blind people are facing. If blind people don’t learn Braille, they’re either illiterate or functionally illiterate.’…
    “…Allison Mervis, 24, has been blind since birth. Her mother, Maryann, made Braille flash cards for her before she started school. Mervis attended class in the Steel Valley School District in Munhall, where a vision teacher from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit worked with her at least three times a week.
    “Mervis is working toward her master’s in the Rehabilitation Counseling Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
    “‘I feel that a lot of teachers nowadays are pushing students to use audio,’ Mervis says. ‘I really think that does them a great disservice. Because only by physically feeling the words on the page can you get a true concept of things like sentence structure and, especially, spelling. There are so many blind kids I know who have trouble spelling because they learned through audio.’…”

  4. Chris Wilson

    Actual quote from a real parent of a 5th grade boy who went through my after-school comic book club in 4th grade:
    Just wanted you to know that [name redacted] finished the 4th Harry P book and got 19 out of 20 on his AR test…earning him 30 points. Wouldn’t have thought this was possible before Comic Book Club. Thank you for making a difference…
    I teach my students to read comics SLOWLY and I teach them to analyze the pictures and the words together to form meaning.
    You make an assumption that kids who read comics will not turn to novels. Academic research and observation of comics fans both demonstrate this point to be false.
    1. Research shows that comics reading translates into students moving to other forms of reading?
    2. Interview a large sample of comics enthusiasts. They are almost exclusively big readers of traditional fiction, spending a lot of their free time reading.
    Why? Comics breathe life into readers of all levels (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced). The boy above was a Proficient reader but hated it. Hated it. He would not touch a book. AFter club, he is reading all forms of literature (comics and traditional) for fun.
    If you do research on reading motivation, you will quickly discover that “choice” is one of the single most important lynchpins to reading. When students have choice in reading, their reading motivation goes up.
    Loving stories and reading leads people to more reading. Hating reading, on the other never, has never lead a student toward more reading. It just doesn’t work that way.
    I understand your assumption and it seems reasonable on the surface. But when you look at actual data and study what we know about reading, then it becomes clear that while your assumption is well intended, it is incorrect.
    I have students of all levels in my Hall of Heroes comic book club: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. I have seen countless Proficient and Advanced students who hatred reading turn into the most voracious readers ever.
    The librarian commented once that she saw those same kids checking out more. They often checked out comics and traditional texts at the same time. They were reading both at the same time.

  5. Josh

    The underlying assumption of your argument here is that the interpretation of image somehow takes less “imagination” than the interpretation of text. It really should not take much more than a glimpse at the root of “imagination” to realize that your position is simply not defensible. Read Fleckenstein, Langer, Murray, Berthoff, or any number of researchers who have actually studied image.
    Aside from the large amount of research regarding image and many other modes of non-discursive signification (sound, movement, etc), you also need to understand that the entire notion of texts “undecorated” by image is a relatively recent phenom – in other words, it is an advent of print culture. If you go back, even into antiquity, you will find images accompanying words throughout. Image is simply another way of knowing. Images are also quite common in scientific texts. We lost our natural connection between image and word during the height of print culture because, well, it’s expensive to print images. Don’t let that cultural fact fool you into thinking that the distinction between image and word is somehow natural. It isn’t. Words are, in fact, images.
    In terms of a student’s comment that they “don’t have to think” when they are reading a graphic novel – well, it should suffice to say that any reader/interpretant in any interaction with any sort of media does not HAVE to think. This is completely at the discretion of the reader, and has little to do with the media. I don’t have to look at the images when I read a graphic novel, but I do. I also don’t have to look up words I don’t understand when reading a novel look Blood Meridian, but I do. Again, this is the job of reading/writing teachers to teach good reading habits. If students really aren’t thinking when they read graphic novels – and I sincerely doubt that is actually the case – it’s our job to teach them better habits of reading with any media.

  6. Susan

    Speaking of aristocracy, it’s even easier for people with high socio-economic status to exploit less-illiterate people with low socio-economic status than to exploit more-literate people with low socio-conomic status.
    Things from bus schedules to product warranties to rental contracts tend to very rarely be available in the format of graphic novels, paintings, film, photography, or audiobooks. They normally tend to be in paragraphs or tables full of written text. The less your employee, customer, or tenant can read those; the fewer options he or she has besides getting ripped off by you…

  7. Diana

    Some of the commenters betray their ignorance in their attempts at sophistication.
    There is no “genre” of graphic novel, any more than novels, painting, film or photography are “genres”. It’s a format, not a genre. The nuances of reading graphic narratives are as simple or as complex as the material represented, no more or no less. To say otherwise shows a blithe ignorance of the form that I thought we had surpassed years ago. Wordless novels have been around for over 150 years, and present singular challenges, as do pure text novels. Lose your false aristocracy.

  8. marjorie

    American-Born Chinese is a GREAT example of a nuanced, historically-attuned graphic novel that tells a story in a way that’s perfect for the medium. It’s visual, funny, and very, very smart.
    In my kids’ elementary school library, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile barely stays on the shelf. It’s deeply humane, deeply funny…and a story that’s about disfiguring dental work works as a story told visually. The art is so warm. Again, story and images work together perfectly.
    Other graphic novels I love for elementary and middle grade readers: Rapunzel’s Revenge (feminist fairy tale mashup — the antic visuals work with the genre-bending plot), The Secret Science Alliance, Meanwhile by Jason Shiga, the Toon books (for brand-new readers), Zita the Spacegirl and Anya’s Ghost (appealing for any immigrant kid struggling with assimilation).
    For YA readers: Persepolis, Ghost World, Maus, Fun Home, Stitches, A.D. (about New Orleans after the Katrina). These books are the farthest thing from shallow.
    I’m not even getting into graphica (a term I’d never heard before, used by an earlier commenter — I love it! Way better than “graphic novel” when you’re also talking about non-fiction) that’s just FUN. (You seem to have issues with FUN.) The books I mentioned are “literary” and “important” – and the graphic novel format is inseparable from the story they’re telling. Sure, there’s crap graphica out there. There’s crap everything.
    Oh, and I agree with those who love Understanding Comics. (Adventures in Cartooning is the elementary school equivalent, and also brilliant.)

  9. Mouseprints

    The problems of illiteracy (and yes, it’s a huge problem) go far beyond whether kids are reading comic books. Unfortunately, public schools don’t seem to have the answers, since their teach-to-the-test practices certainly don’t often lead to a love of reading. And you’ve also got the problem of huge numbers of apathetic parents who don’t seem to care, for one reason or another, about the state of their childrens’ literacy; their attitude is that it’s the school’s problem, not theirs. Which then leaves the burden completely on the schools, overwhelming the teachers’ capacities to provide a quality education. And the snowball just keeps growing.
    Unfortunately, it’s a problem that’s not going away.
    So when teachers stumble upon reading material that gets their students excited about reading, it’s better than the alternative. And as one teacher said earlier, that leads to the ability to then branch out to other books, and so forth. The DESIRE to read has to be there first, before you can successfully introduce tougher reading material.

  10. Susan

    “Did you read the rest of my statement starting with ‘It won’t always be like that…’?”
    Yes, I did read the rest of your statement, and I also remembered that for some *adults* it is *still* like that. 🙁
    Sadly, many adults still don’t have these skills even after quite a few years past adolescence, even after graduating from high school and no longer having the resources of K-12 school systems, even in the U.S.
    From http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/herman/reports/futurework/conference/nalsfina/nalsfina.htm (the paper’s from 1999 and I’m looking for more up-to-date sources too):
    “…Most individuals at the lowest level of literacy, level 1, are able to do very simple tasks such as locate the expiration date on a driver’s license, total a bank deposit slip, or sign their names. But they are unable to do level 2 tasks, which include locating an intersection on a street map, understanding an appliance warranty, or totaling the costs from an order. Individuals at literacy level 2 can perform level 2 tasks, but cannot perform level 3 tasks such as writing a letter explaining an error on a credit card bill, using a bus schedule, or using a calculator to determine a 10 percent discount…”
    “…The distribution of the population across literacy categories in Table 1 reveals that over one-third (37 percent) of the 25 to 54 year-old US population did not reach above literacy level 2. About 14 percent attained the lowest functional literacy…”
    “…And let’s face it, even those people with advanced degrees find wading through contracts a chore…”
    Good point! 😉 At the same time, it’s even *harder* to wade through (and even more tempting to just trust that the other party’s not lying about what the document says before signing) for the *less* literate.
    “…Also, just because someone is primarily a visual learner doesn’t mean that they’re dumb and won’t learn via other methods…”
    Dumber? Of course not! 🙂 More vulnerable in societies where the lingua franca has a written form? Yes.

  11. Mouseprints

    Susan, take a deep breath and relax. I’m not sure why my words have you in such a snit. Did you read the rest of my statement starting with “It won’t always be like that…”? Maybe you should have.
    Learning to read and practicing that skill, no matter the source material, teaches children (who will one day be adults) to read contracts. (Luckily they have quite a few years of learning before they have to “decipher the meaning in lease contracts written by [unscrupulous] landlords.” And let’s face it, even those people with advanced degrees find wading through contracts a chore.)
    Also, just because someone is primarily a visual learner doesn’t mean that they’re dumb and won’t learn via other methods; it just means that that’s how they learn best.

  12. Susan

    “Because for kids who are primarily visual learners, reading straight text can be quite a chore.”
    …and for the unscrupulous among landlords, employers, lenders, etc., people who find reading straight text a chore are *easy prey* (no matter how much you say “oh, they’re primarily visual learners”).

  13. Susan

    “The writing may be “simplistic”–but the construction of meaning in the books, to my mind, is anything but.”
    Does the construction of meaning in the Maus books prepare students to decipher the meaning in lease contracts written by landlords?

  14. Kim

    Bill, glad you are reading Maus. I think you should follow up this discussion with a post about what you find there–or don’t. The books deserve a lot more than a post three pages down in the comments, and in doing so, you may help break open the conversation even more fully.
    The writing may be “simplistic”–but the construction of meaning in the books, to my mind, is anything but. What may be going on here is an issue of your personal tastes not being met by GN or even a kind of nostalgia for the reading of your youth. But one thing is true about books and reading: It has NEVER been ONE THING. St. Augustine’s peers were shocked that he did not vocalize when he read (he read silently, as many of us do today). I bring this up because I feel like many times, we as readers reify our own “comfort zone” with reading as ALL reading, and anything that falls short of that feels like a debasement of “real reading.” Does that make any sense?

  15. Mouseprints

    I’m very late to this discussion, and now can only echo so many who have already spoken out on the merits of graphic novels. (I myself learned to read from Asterix and Tintin books.)
    But one thing no one has mentioned -and I’m surprised it hasn’t been- is that there are alot of kids, especially boys, who are visual learners, and GNs appeal to them because they can understand them more readily, at this point in time. (That may be what they mean when they say they don’t have to think. Because for kids who are primarily visual learners, reading straight text can be quite a chore.) It won’t always be like that, and I daresay that down the road, with perhaps some gentle prodding along the way, they will very likely expand their repertoire as they become more rounded learners.
    And I say why not use GNs to good advantage? They’ve got excellent ones in the science fields that can help kids to better visualize tough concepts. To my mind, anything that boosts learning and conceptual understanding is a boon.

  16. Bill Ferriter

    Here’s the thing, though, Kate: I’m sitting here with Maus right now.
    I bought it because it was held up time and again as an example of excellence in the genre by commenters in this thread—-and I’m not impressed.
    Sure, it is a poignant story about a painful and powerful topic.
    Almost any story on the Holocaust is moving.
    But the images really aren’t all that impressive and the writing itself is surprisingly simplistic.
    Granted, I’ve got a lot more to read—I bought the complete set and I’m probably half way through book 1—-but so far, I’m underwhelmed.
    If this is the best of the genre, I’m even more worried than I was when I started thinking about graphic novels.
    Bill

  17. Kate Thompson

    You’re generalizing an entire genre that is comparable to say that people don’t like foreign films. Foreign films can all be broken down into regular genres, too, as graphic novels can be broken down just like other books. Let’s compare Alan Moore’s work to any of Nora Roberts’ books. Where’s the substance? Sure, some graphic novels are fluff, but so are many non-picture books. Three of the immediate examples I think of when trying to represent the legitimacy of graphic novels are mentioned by another commenter: Maus, The Sandman series and most anything by Alan Moore. Your experience sounds very limited. Even if you just take a look at Batman’s different graphic novels… some are just fluff and some can be intense character-developing stories through internal conflict. Internal conflict relies on the written word and not pictures. A good graphic novel uses images to complement the words and not distract from them. Read V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Maus 1 & 2, the Sandman series, Batman’s Knightfall series… or maybe read Moore’s League of Extraordinary Men after reading some about some of the characters represented to let the kids compare representations of the characters. There are different levels of quality of storytelling in all books. I would suggest encouraging kids that are interested in “fluff” graphic novels to read the more advanced graphic novels instead of blowing off the whole medium.

  18. A Facebook User

    If I was to give you the following credentials for a book would you be intrigued to read it?
    1986 National Book Critics Circle National Book Critics Circle Award Nominated
    1988 Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards Religious Award: Christian Testimony Won
    Urhunden Prize Foreign Album Won
    1990 Max & Moritz Prizes Special Prize Won
    1992 Pulitzer Prize Special Awards and Citations – Letters Won[10]
    National Book Critics Circle National Book Critics Circle Award Nominated
    1993 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction Won
    Urhunden Prize Foreign Album. Won
    These are the accolades for Maus volumes 1 and 2. Just saying.

  19. A Facebook User

    If you believe for one second that the likes of those on the Jersey Shore or those who follow it and replicate it would for one second understand the Cold War musings of Alan Moore’s Watchmen or the feelings of Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Maus then it is obviously evident that you have not studied the genre.
    I give talks at local libraries in South Dakota extolling the virtues of graphic storytelling. Using the genre to lead middle school aged children (especially boys) to literature.
    There is no need to step outside the Graphic genre to touch on any number of subjects pertinent to the education of today’s youth based on any number of curriculum.
    Shakespeare -Neil Gaimans Sandman: The Dream Country which includes the World Fantasy Award Winning “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream”
    The Middle East-Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi a biographical account of the authors growing up in Iran leading up to and including the Islamic Revolution.
    Blankets by Craig Thompson as pertinent a biographical coming of age book as any in modern literature.
    I could go on and on with examples but without you stepping into the genre, past your very poorly formed preconceived notions there will be no convincing you.
    Think past the idea of “pictures” and “capes” and take the time to open up your mind to an amazing opportunity to stimulate the minds of students and use the genre as a teaching tool.
    Shane

  20. Mrs Em

    I too had been pondering the value of graphic novels and their place in the classroom and have come to the conclusion they are a brilliant literary tool.
    First and foremost they have provided reluctant readers with a platform into valuing and appreciating reading as a pleasurable experience. This has provided a carrot for many reluctant readers (particularly our non reading boys) to delve into other texts.
    Visualising – this is where I think the role of the teacher comes to the fore. As educators we need to step up to the plate and take hold of teachable moments presented to us. Do graphic novels provide us with any such moments? While the reader has not been left to visualise character and setting in their own mind they can be encouraged to use critical thinking to compare and contrast how they would or could have portrayed images according to the plot. It is here that visualising can really be put to the test alongside comprehension of the plot, how about pausing and encouraging the reader to make a prediction of what comes next? What valuable learning discussions with tremendous levels of thinking, both critical and creative can be had when kids create the image they think will come next . . . hmm, I think I will slot this activity into my reading program next week.
    Thanks so much for the thread, it has really got me thinking about how and why I should incorporate graphic novels into my thinking/literacy plans.

  21. jeri hurd

    Coming to this discussion a bit late, but a couple other thoughts, and I’m speaking as an English teacher and librarian here.
    While much of the GN genre could hardly be called “literary,” that is true of traditional novels, too. So to pull only the best of fiction and compare it to all of graphic novels is not a valid comparison. I’m not saying you did that here, but it’s common in other GN blowback I’ve read.
    I understand your larger concern that you don’t see readers “moving on.” But how many years do you follow a student? Much influence develops after students leave our classes, and we never see it. As a K-12 librarian, I have seen students move outside the 941.5 section to try other things. I spent a large portion of my primary budget on graphic novels for grades 2-5 Amulet, Bone, etc. The 2nd grade teacher came in at the end of the year and said she has never seen her boys reading as much (read: at all) as they have this year, and she credits the graphic novels. All I know is, I couldn’t keep them on the shelves.
    As to the student saying she didn’t have to think, I’m with the commenter who said students say that about a LOT of what they read. And that’s why we need to be teaching the best of this genre with the rest of our literature curriculum. We need to teach students how to approach these novels thoughtfully and intelligently. We need to foster discussion on the intersection between text and image, and how one influences the other, our responses to them as readers, etc.
    As always, the onus is on the teachers to make the reading of these a worthwhile and meaningful experience for students. That’s true for anything they read–just because their eyes scanned the page of, say, The Scarlet Letter, is doesn’t mean they got anything out of it!

  22. Raj

    It seems like your position on graphic novels is wholly based on the comment(s) that when “reading” them one doesn’t have to think. To me, this is another example of how, in education, the problem is too obvious to easily see–like the air to the bird or the water to the fish. The basic problem is that since the age of 5, kids have been told what to value and when to value it. The educational system is counter-evolutionary, see John Taylor Gatto’s book “The Underground History of American Education.” People who have no say in what they must learn and when they must learn something will look for any opportunity they can to not “think” because they have learned that to think is to do something they don’t want to do! If students were allowed to explore the world in their own way and in their own timing, they wouldn’t be so quick to look for a way to escape. They are only seeking to escape a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling that they have no personal autonomy. Don’t we all, as humans, seek to escape a loss of freedom? When one is seeking to escape, anything can be used for that purpose whether it is a graphic novel, Shakespeare, or exercise. It is not an issue of something like a graphic novel having or lacking value in itself, but an issue of kids being so bored and hopeless that they will seek to use anything they can to escape the reality that they have no liberty.

  23. Susan

    “Think about it: How intimidating must it be for students who spend all of their free reading time in image-heavy graphic novels to crack open their textbooks in my science class and try to make meaning out of the sea of words that they are confronted with?”
    …and imagine what it’ll be like when their landlords, auto dealers, etc. don’t include handy pictures and speech bubbles in the contracts they’ll need to sign to get apartments and cars.
    My free reading time includes graphic novels *and* text-only books *and* nonfiction that sometimes includes scientific diagrams or photo inserts. 🙂 I’m also glad my teachers didn’t let me get away with using a graphic novel (or a film with a plot to analyze, or a piece of music with a poetry-like rhythm, or a painting with irony in the image…) for *every* assignment that involved reading and analyzing a book. 😉

  24. Hatcherelli.wordpress.com

    Hi Bill,
    I have no opinion to share on this subject…I just wanted to commend you for starting such a spirited discussion. I am amazed by the comments that you receive and I admire the way you acknowledge each one.
    You are the man!
    Derek

  25. Chad

    Bill, I think we should all reflect on nearly everything about our profession and our duty to students, so I’m fine with questioning the value graphic novels and consequently voicing what works for which kids.
    Scott McCloud is a friendly guy and great comic theoretician and practitioner. If you can get away with having the complete Zot! on your shelf, you can see what he does with coming of age in the super hero genre. He also makes a great point about the visualization required by comics – your mind fills in what happens between panels. If scenes shift, you’re also left inferring what’s happened and what’s happening now as you might be between chapters of a novel or scenes of a game or movie.
    I also think you should check out this post if you’re interested in experimenting with graphic novels and follow its author, Mark Sample – @samplereality.
    Best,
    C

  26. Tompanarese

    With regards to your evaluation of the comics medium (I’m not a big fan of “graphic novel” b/c I think it’s a way for people who are pretentious to deny they’re reading a comic) not allowing people to visualize, I think that on the surface that seems true, but you need to dig a little deeper.
    First, you need to realize that most of the comics that are published by mainstream (and even independent, in some cases) comic companies (i.e., the big two) are the results of visualization themselves. Your average comic book may have six people working on it: writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor. Change the names in each of the parts and it can affect the story (especially if bad art is paired with a good story).
    The penciller/inker team is obviously of most importance here because those people are working off of a plot or script from the writer and they are putting into pictures what they visualize based on what was written. It shows the reader how that person interpreted the written word.
    Now, take it a step further and look at a trade paperback (i.e., collection of stories or what people often mislabel “graphic novels”). You may have several artists in one book and you get to see how the way image and the visualization is handled changes.
    Sometimes, you have multiple creative teams on the same story. Take, for instance, the Death and Return of Superman story in 1992-1993. This story, when it was first published, ran in four different comics (one came out each week). That’s four writers, four pencillers, four inkers … maybe similar letters and colorists … and one editor holding the whole thing together.
    Across those four titles for the better part of nine months, when Superman died, was mourned, and returned after a story that is well-suited for your average summer blockbuster movie, you have four different interpretations of the same character and four different visualizations. But at the same time, it’s a coherent story.
    How is this not a teaching tool for someone who stares at a bulky text and can’t make heads or tails of even the most basic literary elements?
    And I realize that every student that reads something in the comic art medium isn’t going to go on to read Moby-Dick (a whale of a book if you ask me) or A Tale of Two Cities. But some will–just like some students I’ve had went from Twilight (which is horribly written, btw) to Anne Rice to even Bram Stoker (a tough read for an average student).
    But honestly, I refuse to throw away an entire genre.
    Oh, and not to sound flip, but your Jersey Shore analogy is wrong. Comics are scripted and created. If anything, their serial nature and long-term storylines are akin to soap operas (a dying genre in itself).

  27. Bill Ferriter

    Chad wrote:
    I think the conversations we have with kids who are reading graphic novels that don’t challenge them to think or learn is the same conversation we have with kids who are eliding challenges in other ways.
    We tell them what we’ve noticed, we tell them how much we believe in them, and we invite them to read something we share with them as a mark of our respect for them.
    _____________________
    Thanks for stopping by, Chad.
    More importantly, thanks for articulating the general lesson I’m learning in this conversation.
    Graphic novels are a lot like tech tools: In the hands of the right teachers, they’re brilliant.
    If we support and monitor and guide and cajole kids, graphic novels can be a healthy part of a larger reading collection.
    My worry is that there aren’t enough teachers who are having the kinds of conversations you mention with the kids that are GN junkies simply because we think they are some kind of magical tool for curing reading reluctance.
    Read some of the comments—the powers ascribed to GNs are certainly hard to believe.
    I just hope some part of this conversation helps people to dial back their unrequited love of the genre.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  28. Bill Ferriter

    Mark wrote:
    It is surprising to me that you can be for abbreviated interactions with text in one context (texting) and against it in others (graphic novels). Aren’t you worried that texting will prevent them from ever developing the ability to write longer papers?
    You make a legitimate point, Mark.
    If a kid was writing tons and tons of 25 word stories and never attempting to tackle longer, meatier pieces we would be concerned, wouldn’t we?
    Then why AREN’T we concerned when kids are reading tons and tons of graphic novels without attempting to tackle longer, meatier pieces?
    How come graphic novels get a “challenge pass” when we’re looking at the work that kids do?
    Does this make any sense?
    Bill

  29. Tiffany H

    I’m curious what everyone thinks of utilizing the graphic novel style into nonfiction content area chapter books?
    I think this could make some difficult ideas more accessible to struggling students or at least provide useful information in a familiar format. For example:
    A math book about sports statistics (see page 15): http://www.pacificlearning.com/descriptions/productspecs/PL-6363.pdf
    A biography of Einstein: http://www.pacificlearning.com/descriptions/productspecs/PL-6358.pdf
    A science book about magnetism: http://www.pacificlearning.com/descriptions/productspecs/PL-6369.pdf

  30. Mark Geary

    It is surprising to me that you can be for abbreviated interactions with text in one context (texting) and against it in others (graphic novels). Aren’t you worried that texting will prevent them from ever developing the ability to write longer papers? Oh course not! You start by changing the context, as you have here with the 25 word story. In the case of graphic novels, you may wish to shift them into nonfiction graphic novels. Scott McCloud’s Google Chrome is a free example, Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (by Michael Keller) might be a good science starting point. I am also wondering if you have discussed this with your librarian, as it is the experience of most that NOT ONLY does the circulation of graphic novels increase when they are brought in, but ALSO, the circulation of NONGRAPHIC books increases as well. More reading is always a good thing. Finally, reading graphic novels is excellent preparation for writing storyboards, and our future generations are at least as likely to be writing videos as they will books.
    Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is a excellent book to use to get started, although he draws heavily on Will Eisners’ work. Here is the url to a presentation I have done on the topic. http://conference2010.tie2.wikispaces.net/file/view/Comics–tie-short.pdf

  31. Jacqui Hills

    HI the debate is good thanks you – I’d like to consider how literature and its text forms have changed and evolved as the mode of its production has changed. Literature texts have again altered as they did when the printing press was introduced and used widely as a means of producing texts. Today new forms of visually rich texts are being produced via digital and internet modes. Graphic Novels are very much an example of these texts. They are visually rich texts which suit the emerging visually savvy and switched on students of today.
    Let them read them and discuss them in our schools.
    Jacqui Hills

  32. Seecantrill

    I really agree with this comment “Graphic novels are all bilingual by nature … ” … Might even say multilingual in fact … and I would second Kathleen’s recommendation to read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.
    I wanted to jump in here though and ask about writing. I was curious if we can maybe hear from someone who has, or has supported their students, in writing one (I haven’t). I ask because I know in my experience the making of something sometimes allows you to better understand the complexities of reading it too.
    I also ask because the art of the writing graphic novels is one of the things, as a graphic novel reader, that I am drawn to. I have heard fascinating descriptions of the process — all very unique — by several authors, including Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan), Satrapi (Persepolis), Spegielman (Maus) Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) and Joe Sacco (Safe Zone Gorazde) as well as Scott McCloud himself … and the stories and results, I think, are really very telling in terms of the way that the person engages with the world. Like a text-based author or even a film-maker, you can see a lot of what is important in the process and the person when you get to glimpse how the work unfolds.
    Here is some of what I have noticed so far listening to graphic novel writers … The time, for one thing, can be quite long (9 years for Fun Home I believe Bechdel described) … The research is intensive and fully engaging (Sacco is a journalist, as one example) … The work often includes or draws from content that is deeply and intensely personal … And images are very deliberately used whether non-linear and dream-like, very researched and painstakingly reproduced, or even how they are juxtaposed on the page or across pages. When I’ve noticed too when these authors speak about their work, they even verbally or physically (move their hands, etc.) share images to describe their feelings and ideas as much as they do with words said aloud too.
    The folks I have named here and the other authors that have already been named by other responders, are focused, committed and practiced writers and artists, and therefore the reading (a term I use deliberately) of their work is therefore rich and rewarding too.
    Another interest of mine is related to the deeply emotional and often disconcerting content that many of the graphic novels take on. All of the above fall into that range and I recently read Barefoot Gen, parts I and II, written in Manga style by a survivor of Hiroshima. The book is hard to read — I didn’t want to turn the pages sometimes — because it is deeply violent and complex well beyond the words the people say to one another. Along these same lines is a contemporary novel called Stitches by David Small. In some ways I think this book explains why graphic novels are so important just because this book exists.
    And because this is so consistent in my reading of Graphic Novels, I also wonder how much emotional needs and intelligence can draw readers and writers towards these kinds of novels too.
    Thanks for opening a conversation!
    Christina

  33. Chad

    I like the post, Bill.
    For me, graphic novels are approaches to learning – like anything else I use in the classroom. I don’t use the same approach with every kid, and I quickly abandon approaches that don’t work. However, I would no more dismiss graphic novels than I would dismiss video games or art in the classroom. Some graphic novel, at some time, is going to hook a kid on reading and learning. Keep some likely graphic novels on hand as you would any novel. I can email you my list if you’d like 🙂
    I learned to read from Chris Claremont’s run on the Uncanny X-Men, and I wound up needing glasses after college from reading so many pages in my Norton Anthologies. That doesn’t happen to everyone who reads a graphic novel, but neither does reading a graphic novel translate into reading something one should not be reading in favor of something else.
    I think the conversations we have with kids who are reading graphic novels that don’t challenge them to think or learn is the same conversation we have with kids who are eliding challenges in other ways. We tell them what we’ve noticed, we tell them how much we believe in them, and we invite them to read something we share with them as a mark of our respect for them.
    What do you think?
    C

  34. S Henchey

    Bill –
    Thanks for starting such a rich conversation! I’ve truly enjoyed dialogue.
    I do want to re-highlight what might be the crux of this issue – teachers are not consistently provided the professional development to effectively teach students how to analyze this format of writing.
    You state – “But we never bother to give teachers any kind of meaningful professional development on how to systematically integrate graphic novels into their curriculum, do we?
    We love to throw around terms like, graphic novels teach visual literacy, an essential 21st century skill — but I wonder how many teachers could explain (1). what visual literacy entails, (2). how it is different from traditional literacy skills, (3). how to teach visual literacy and (4). why it is important for success tomorrow.”
    I think this step is key if we want students to reap the full benefits of reading graphic novels.

  35. John Shableski

    Some clarification for all on genre vs format. Like music, comics are a medium that has several different formats for delivery: single panel(Far Side); strips(Bloom County); comic book or pamphlet(Superman), webcomic(Diary of a Wimpy Kid) or graphic novel. Within the format there are many, many genres-graphic memoir, graphic nonfiction, graphic fiction etc. Manga is the Japanese term for comics. Manga books are also graphic novels. Anime is short for Animation. one of the big attractions for American readers is the books read backwards and are too difficult for old people(you and I) to enjoy.
    I do understand that many of you will never accept graphic novels or the comics medium as a form of literacy and that’s ok. What you should allow is that for many readers out in the world, it provides access to a world of reading. We should all stop trying to force a certain formula on these kids and use what appeals to them. If they enjoy it, they are engaged. If they are engaged, they learn to love the act of reading. If they love reading, the act of learning comes a lot easier.
    Let them read everything!

  36. Teresa

    >You know what Id really be interested in?
    Seeing a survey of responses from students who are heavy readers of the genre. Id love to ask them what their motivations are for selecting graphic novels. Id also love to ask them how sophisticated they really see the medium.

    That’s my first instinct. Take this concern you have to your students, and let them decide. You now also have a fantastic discussion to share with them.
    I understand your concern from the point of reading Hunger Games with some 8th graders who weren’t great readers. They really had to hang in there for part 1, they got frustrated that they weren’t understanding what was going on from page one, not really getting that the author was purposely revealing a bit at a time. But they hung in there (after complaining!) and it paid off, they loved it.
    So I personally think students do need a little of both, traditional novel and other forms of reading. And my first instinct is, reading is reading! As I said before, I agree with taking the discussion to the students!

  37. John Shableski

    Hey Bill,
    I’m one of the ‘pro-gn’ folks out there who actually enjoy moments such as this. I’m glad to see the debate taking place and there is an additional aspect I think has been missed and it’s the opportunity to allow readers to create context. There are plenty of challenged readers out there who cant perceive or conceptualize the world of the Hobbits as described in text but with an assist from the comics medium they now have it in proper context. It opens the door to so many more worlds. I think the comment from those kids was rather off-the-cuff and taken too literally. I’d be willing to bet that you could hold a much greater in-depth conversation about the stories they were reading. If you drill in and ask them about the characters facial expressions in comparison to the dialog or the actions, coloring, setting…you would unleash a never-ending discussion.

  38. Linda Janney

    As an intensive reading teacher in high school, I bought any and all books that I thought would “turn my kids on” to reading. So many of my students made the leap from easy to more complex reading while they were with me. All I cared about was that they were reading. Our conversations about their choices gave me insight into their interests and their understandings. My reading choices were based on their interests. My recommendations and the recommendations of their peers were also powerful tools to engage them in their reading.

  39. Chris

    As a teacher with a son who is a struggling and reluctant reader, it is exciting to see the first spark of enjoyment when he is reading graphic novels. His confidence is increasing and he is finally understanding that reading can be FUN. I agree with the other commenter that practice makes perfect. He is finally “practicing” which has not happened until he started reading GNs.

  40. Dianacolada

    Just wanted to note another great graphic novel that taught me much more about the Iranian Revolution than any other piece of nonfiction could: Persepolis & Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi – the movie is also fantastic.
    Of course, nothing’s wrong with reading a 300 page book about the Iranian Revolution to gain perspective on the topic – the question is, what is my purpose for reading about the topic? I wanted a new perspective, not a litany of facts – so I went to a genre that contained a bit of both – the historical graphic novel memoir.
    So often we want to “meet students where they are”, and I agree with this, but I think I see Bill’s point that we can’t just leave them there, satisfied that they are reading something. If they are not critically analyzing and/or engaging with what they’re reading – whether it be a romance novel, a graphic novel, or Charles Dickens – what’s being learned? Is there a dialogue between reader and text? Even with reading for pleasure there is often a dialogue – and that’s what I argue matters most – a constant construction of knowledge through an interaction with text/s. It doesn’t have to always be explicit. When the students responded about reading graphic novels because “they don’t have to think” – are they really not thinking? Or do they just not consider the learning that takes place what a teacher considers “thinking”?
    Kind of all over the place here, but I hope that makes sense. And please, read Persepolis!

  41. john priest

    Teacher of the year?
    Please research “working memory” “visuo-sketchpad” and how it relates to mind wandering and reading. Consider the role graphic novels play for the 18-23% of middle school students that indicate they often need to reread selections of text because they detatched form the text.

  42. SueJ

    Gosh, to me this seems like a rather old argument that misses the issue. I seriously doubt that including images deprives *any* reader of using the imagination. The pictures don’t tell the story; I do still have to bring my mind into it.
    The problem with stopping with shallow thinking is the real issue — but that’s regardless of medium.

  43. HSenglishTchr

    This is a more than legitimate concern. I have had a similar one myself. HOWEVER – I ventured into the world of graphic novels when teaching The Odyssey to a group of 10th graders this past year. The Odyssey is an exciting, thrilling and LONG story, so to break it up I used graphic novel inserts to replace a few of the less exciting chapters. It moved us along nicely, and helped the students stay hooked in the story. It gave them something to visualize later when they were reading ancient Greek poetry translated into English poetry. So while I cringe right along with you, I also acknowledge that graphic novels can hook readers and work as wonderful supplements, even in an HS classroom.

  44. Ben Bleckley

    Oh, and for the concern that the student reading graphic novels will get stuck in the genre: two things.
    One, if I have a reluctant reader and I recommended they read American Born Chinese or any graphic novel, and they like it, I’ve got a lot of capital with that student. They’re thinking, “whoa, this teacher’s cool, they say this is reading.” Because it is. And I can spend that capital by recommending another great, engaging book, but maybe it’s not a graphic novel, instead it’s another awesome book on similar themes like Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. They’re at least going to try it. And if you’re good (and admittedly, a little lucky), you’re probably going to give them something they’re not going to hate.
    Two, Daniel Pennac presents a Reader’s Bill of Rights in his book Better than Life (by a different title in the original French that I don’t remember). I’ve used these rights in my classroom because they give students the same rights adult readers have. One is the right to read anything. If a student is reading at all, that’s pretty sweet. If all they read is graphic novels, they’re going to be okay. They might not become English majors, but really, we have plenty of English majors. If they’re lifelong readers, though, eventually they’re going to run out of Manga. And then they’re going to look around and think “okay, what’s next,” and they’re going to find some awesome book that piques their interest and start reading and then move on from there. Mission accomplished.

  45. Ben Bleckley

    While visualizing is an important skill for readers to develop, there are so many other skills that graphic novels do not hinder – questioning, clarifying, predicting, or inferring. I’d even argue those four are more important than visualizing, but maybe that’s going too far.
    I didn’t see anyone mention the 2007 Michael J Printz award (ALAs YA Lit award) winner American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This is somewhere in my top five favorite YA Lit titles and a go-to book for reluctant readers. It has one of most complex story lines and best themes I’ve ever seen in YA Lit. It certainly isn’t fluff.
    The book follows the story of three characters from different settings. The monkey king, from Chinese folklore, who is refused admittance to a party in heaven because he is a monkey and isn’t wearing shoes. Jin Wang, who moves from San Francisco to a new school where he’s struggles making friends due to his racial and cultural background. And Danny, living only as a sitcom character, who is traumatized by the antics of his visiting Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, who fulfills every stereotype to an offensive degree. The three story lines are interwoven throughout the book and eventually blend together as each character tries to solve their individual problems.
    I cannot accept that this book wouldn’t be of immense literary and thematic value to many student readers. If you question the worth of graphic novels (by any name), I would recommend this book.

  46. Bill Boyd

    Hey,
    Great conversation. If you ever wondered whether graphic novels are ‘serious’ reading try reading Scott Mc Cloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’ before you make up your mind.
    Bill

  47. crazedmummy

    I read a lot of books with type only. And if someone were to ask why I read “junk novels” I would reply that I do so because I don’t have to think. A good story will involve my mind so that I do not have to think about how it involves the here and now. I can ignore the laundry, and the dripping taps. I am reading for the relaxation that my mind receives.
    I thought that was the pleasure of reading – entering a different world and not having to think. I am terribly excited that graphic novels can bring people to that appreciation of a printed work. Whether they then move to all-type books or not (and given the lack of GN, one will run out pretty soon) is a red herring – it is my understanding that most of the population do not read for pleasure. We do not judge the success of math programs based on every student becoming an adult who solves calculus problems for fun on the weekend (don’t go there), and the amateur scientist is no more prevalent now than 300 years ago.
    Let’s just be glad that students have discovered that printed material can provide a “not thinking” pleasure. The public library is much cheaper than cable TV.

  48. Ray

    Point well taken, Bill. I know a young man who used to be a voracious reader – devouring books of 500 – 800 pages regularly (not just Harry Potter, either). His heavy fascination with manga now has him unwilling to pick up text for pleasure or education. This was a kid who loved real reading!

  49. Di Di Ross

    May I suggest that you take time to read Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”? He does a really terrific job of explaining just how complex these “fluff” graphic novels can be. A warning: the book itself is a graphic novel. In addition, perhaps you should try reading “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang. This graphic novel addresses some very real (and yes, controversial) topics. Graphic novels are about far more than plot and action. They also address sensitive iissues in a manner that is somehow less threatening than that of a strictly text novel.

  50. Kathleen Marsh

    So many folks here have mentioned great graphic novels and ones that I know kids find compelling. I point out Understanding Comics in particular because McCloud does an excellent job at describing and breaking down the medium and gets at the difference between how one “reads” images vs. words, hence the student response to “not thinking”.
    Though I teach high school, and do read UC with juniors, I think teachers who use graphic novels in their classroom would benefit from reading it, just to help frame their thinking/teaching. Parts of it would even be great for middle schoolers to unpack as part of a meta-cognitive “Why do you choose the books that you do?” conversation.
    As the parent of a sixth-grader, I would definitely agree that if all of her reading was exclusively image-and-text, I would worry. But so many books that younger kids are reading (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, those Madonna books I can’t remember)do that word-image intermix. I think it is partially a carry over from picture books, but also a response to an increasingly visual society.
    What’s interesting to me is how the graphic novel is such a natural segue to online graphics, and other sequential digital art that kids look at and read all the time. I’m constantly reminded that I am a digital non-native in a strange new land, and my Nancy Drew experiences haven’t prepared me for all of the formats that kids experience now.

  51. Bill Ferriter

    Clix wrote:
    It would be really interesting to hear how many of your former students have continued to read only graphic novels by choice compared to how many have chosen to branch out to other genres.
    It sure would, Clix.
    This whole conversation—which I’m really enjoying, by the way—has gotten me thinking about all kinds of interesting surveys that I want to start giving my kids.
    I want to find out more about the motivations of all of the students who are heavy GN readers simply because I want to know more about their perceptions of the difficulty of the text.
    That would help to convince me that students aren’t choosing GNs because they are “easy.”
    I’m also really curious about whether or not there are any patterns in the free-reading choices of students in different demographic categories—-and if there are, whether those patterns mean anything.
    I’m not sure that they would—but it would be interesting to know.
    And as far as knowing what happens to the GN lovers when they get older, I’d target that study only towards the struggling readers who embrace GNs.
    I have no doubt that good readers will naturally diversify their reading collections.
    What I worry about is whether or not GNs become a crutch that struggling readers never give up.
    Good stuff. Making me think. And I like thinking.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  52. Mike Kaechele

    Bill, I agree with Graphica’s questions about students not understanding metacognition. If one is truly reading, I think it is impossible not to be thinking.
    The exception would be if a student is just “pronouncing” words but not linking meaning to them. For example I have a survival level of Mandarin Chinese. But I could fluently pronounce pin-yin, the English writing of Chinese characters without having a clue to what they mean. This is not reading to me and some students with difficulties might approach text the same way.
    But if a student is truly reading and attaching meaning to text whether words or pictures then they are reading and thinking IMHO. Of course there are different levels of thinking depending on how challenging the vocabulary or content is.
    Also you have stated over and over your concern about balance and students only reading GN. I wonder if you looked at students over a longer period of time even into adulthood if you would see their reading broaden. My own 9 year old son tends to read only the same kind of books obsessively. But as he matures I expect he will broaden his choices.
    I still believe that story trumps genre every time.

  53. Clix

    Bill, I might share your concern if my students – sophomores in high school – maintained the patterns you mention. However, the students I’ve had who devour manga like nothing else are voracious readers across the board.
    I wonder if the sort of focused (exclusionary?) reading that you’re seeing is developmental. There are a lot of MG series that run to a hundred titles – or more! I know that my younger brothers just LOVED the Goosebumps books, much to their teachers’ dismay.
    And no, it is absolutely NOT canon-snobbery when readers express personal preference for certain materials. Or, perhaps it is and I’m using the term wrong. (But I don’t think I am.) Personal taste is fine. What I find distasteful is when readers police each others’ tastes. Graphic novels don’t count as ‘real’ reading? That’s like saying poetry doesn’t count as ‘real’ writing.
    It would be really interesting to hear how many of your former students have continued to read only graphic novels by choice compared to how many have chosen to branch out to other genres.

  54. Jude

    I “read” comic books even before I could read. My grandmother brought home stacks of them every month from her job at a 5 & dime store. These were destined for the trash bin, but first they made it to our house. I remember being asked by an adult to spell a word at age 6 which began with super. After I spelled it correctly, she asked *how* I knew how to spell it correctly. I remember saying, “Well, I knew the ‘super’ from Superman…” Reading a graphic novel, even one without words, is reading. Here’s a photo of me “reading” a comic book in 1958, when I was 3 years old: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlcrook/3286050227/

  55. Pickledtreats

    I wanted to add that, in my experience my students that are reading comics all the time are reading comics of a similar genre/story. For example, I might have a student reading a lot of sci-fi comics. An angle I have tried is to use that as a small opening to introducing him/her to a longer sci-fi novel. It’s rare that I’ve seen my students reading all different types of comics – they tend to hone in on certain themes. I know plenty of readers (myself included) are guilty of this and it takes teachers and fellow readers to coax us out of our comfort zones a bit.

  56. Pickledtreats

    I thought I would toss out a few resources I’ve found helpful in using comics in a classroom setting, and second your recommendation for professional development if you can get it. Every year there are NCTE conference sessions on teaching comics and graphic novels.
    “Teaching Visual Literacy” – Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher – http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Visual-Literacy-Cartoons-Comprehension/dp/141295312X
    “Understanding Comics” by THE comic guy Scott McCloud – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understanding_Comics
    He’s also worth following on Twitter and often has a lot to say about education/learning/literacy – @scottmccloud
    James Bucky Carter’s blog – http://ensaneworld.blogspot.com/
    SANE Journal – Stands for “Sequential Art Narratives in Education” and publishes research/articles on comics and education – http://www.sanejournal.net/

  57. Bill Ferriter

    Clix wrote:
    I had thought of you as someone who celebrated all types of reading, and this post and your comments come across as pretty canon-snobby.
    Interesting take, Clix.
    What I’ve been trying to explain in comment after comment is about as far from “canon-snobby” as you can get.
    My biggest worry is the increasingly large group of kids who read ONLY graphic novels.
    I want to see kids reading poetry and historical fiction. I want to see them reading science fiction and realistic fiction.
    Most importantly, I want to see them reading nonfiction.
    But I’d say that 80-90 percent of the struggling readers on my team read graphic novels and only graphic novels.
    They never pick up a biography. They never pick up a history.
    They cringe when we open textbooks.
    Aren’t they “canon-snobs” too?
    And aren’t they embracing a canon that will be unlike almost any canon that they will interact with as they move into the increasingly sophisticated classes necessary to land a good job in today’s knowledge-driven workplace?
    My point is a simple one: I want kids to read a wide variety of texts.
    Period. End Stop.
    For many kids, graphic novels destroy the diversity in their reading collections—-and I worry that they make it less likely that the same students will tackle different genres in the future.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  58. Bill Ferriter

    Kevin wrote:
    But I know that the age I team (sixth grade) is the age we often lose readers, and the more engaged I can keep them, the better.
    This is a great point, Kevin—and one I can definitely get behind. As a sixth grade teacher, too, I want to do ANYTHING that I can do to keep kids reading, and if compromising on graphic novels hooks a few more kids, then I can live with that.
    Good to see you here—and in Twitter. Enjoying the conversation.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  59. Bill Ferriter

    Virtual Teach wrote:
    My thoughts on what the student said about not thinking while reading
    graphica are: s/he is not metacognitive and does not realize that s/he
    IS thinking (which means someone needs to teach him/her that!).
    Im definitely not ready yet, Virtual Teach, to buy into the idea that these students dont understand their own motivation for choosing a book—-to me, thats a bit of a dangerous assumption that teachers make all too often—but I am starting to see graphic novel integration in the same way that I see technology integration in schools.
    In many places, tech tools are embraced with no serious plan. We buy iPads because they are flashy and kids like em. We buy IWBs because they are flashy and parents like them. We embrace gadgets and online tools—think freaking Wordle—-with little real consideration as to exactly what skills and objectives they are advancing.
    And honestly, in those circumstances, the potential in the tool, gadget or service is irrelevant because the teacher/school has no systematic plan for using that tool to improve the work theyre doing with students.
    I think thats whats going on in a lot of places with graphic novels.
    Because kids are motivated by them, were dropping boatloads of cash adding them to our media center shelves—and as long as our kids look happy and our circulation numbers look high, we figure were doing remarkable things.
    But we never bother to give teachers any kind of meaningful professional development on how to systematically integrate graphic novels into their curriculum, do we?
    We love to throw around terms like, graphic novels teach visual literacy, an essential 21st century skill — but I wonder how many teachers could explain (1). what visual literacy entails, (2). how it is different from traditional literacy skills, (3). how to teach visual literacy and (4). why it is important for success tomorrow.
    So we end up with a bunch of folks who believe that just by giving kids access to graphic novels, were improving their visual literacy skills.
    Thats a stretch.
    Im starting to really enjoy this thread because it is yet another example of poor decision making by schools. Until we start to help teachers see how any tool in their bag of tricks — whether they are iPads or graphic novels — matters, were wasting our money and our students time.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  60. JANE

    I think we need to avoid either/or thinking on this. It isn’t graphic or traditional novels, but instead each has its place. Operation Ajax, the first GN to try to take advantage of iPad technology, has embedded dossiers on the historical characters it portrays. And, it’s on little-known history re US involvement in Iran. Watchman took me forever to read, taking far more concentration than many traditional novels. Free choice in reading is simply too important to take away any genre.

  61. Bill Ferriter

    Kathleen wrote:
    What we have experienced lately is a sophisticated evolution of the
    marriage of two mediums—written and visual—and the expression of both in
    a not-so new form, but resulting in some really great work.
    And despite this sophisticated evolution, Kathleen, my colleagues students still read them because they dont have to think.
    Do you see why this is disconcerting to me?
    As teachers and librarians, we wax poetic about the beauty and sophistication of graphic novels as a genre—-and who knows, maybe they really are beautiful and sophisticated.
    But is that REALLY why are students are choosing to read them?
    And if not—if theyre really drawn to graphic novels because they dont have to think—what consequences does that have for teachers?
    You know what Id really be interested in?
    Seeing a survey of responses from students who are heavy readers of the genre. Id love to ask them what their motivations are for selecting graphic novels. Id also love to ask them how sophisticated they really see the medium.
    Ill have to work one up. It would be an interesting look into a genre that few educators seem to be ready to question.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  62. Kim

    I think many (to me, the BEST) Graphic Novels do things that traditional text only fiction CAN’T do. I am thinking here of works by Jeff Lemire (the Essex County stories), Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan), and the latest GN I have read, Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines (it’s an animal rights manifesto/conversation that is as devastatingly sad as Jimmy Corrigan). I consider myself a fairly proficient reader of many genres, and those books SLOW ME DOWN and MAKE ME THINK.
    Some readers will say “I don’t have to think” when they read GN–they can also say that about many, many genres of other texts. And that’s ok sometimes. We learn lots from those kinds of reads as well–we build speed and fluency, we learn facts, we corroborate our understandings of genre, and we gain confidence.
    Bill, have you read a GN as a class read? American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a great one to consider. It’s as “literary” as the Great Gatsby in its way–we paired those two books in my YA Literature class for future teachers, and they were amazing together.
    I encourage you to read more yourself–no capes, no tights, but some of the heavy hitting ones–not all of them will be right for middle school–but for you to see the potential. I think that will have a big impact on how you approach the ones your kids are reading

  63. Kevin Hodgson

    I think there are bad graphic novels and great graphic novels, and one of our roles as teachers is to figure which books (graphic novels, classics, genre studies, etc.) belong in our classroom. You raise some good points, Bill, but in the end, what I have seen is more engagement from my students when I mix graphic novels in. Now, does that translate into higher test scores? I don’t know. But I know that the age I team (sixth grade) is the age we often lose readers, and the more engaged I can keep them, the better.
    Still, it’s always good practice to question the hoopla.
    Kevin

  64. Virtual_teach

    I was like you when it came to graphica. I had a very limited number of “graphic novels” in my classroom, and could not uncderstnad the appeal. And then a few things happened.
    1) While conferring with one of my students reading Captain Underpants I laughed (out loud). We had a great conversation about character motivation and predicting. I then read a Captain Underpants for fun and laughed hard, completely understanding why it appealed to the nine year olds I teach.
    2) I read as many books as I could get my hands on to learn about the genre. One of them being Graphica by Terry Thompson. It helped me understand the genre better. I never realized the amount of inferring that occurred in graphica!
    3) I read Scott Pilgrim for an adolescent lit class. I didn’t care for it much, but looking at it through the lens of quality adolescent lit, it DID fit ALL the criteria.
    4) I read a few books on writing graphica. Oh boy! It sure is a lot of work! It’s probably closest to writing a script and storyboard for a movie. And that’s really what graphica is…a slow motion movie.
    Sure, graphica has pictures that may limit the need to visualize, but so do picture books. And there is a tremendous amount of thinking that occurs while reading them as well.
    My thoughts on what the student said about not thinking while reading graphica are: s/he is not metacognitive and does not realize that s/he IS thinking (which means someone needs to teach him/her that!), has probably learned that perception from adults in his/her life, wanted to engage in a power struggle with his/her teacher.
    Graphica whether in the form of comic, manga, novel, or blended genre has literary and artistic value. It follows all of the same plot structures of what ever genre it is written in. Mystery graphic novels follow a mystery plot structure, fantasy & sci-fi GN follow that plot structure, biography GN follow that structure, etc. Not to mention it follows the guidelines for the intended audience whether it be young adult, juvenile, early reader, etc.
    I hope you give them a second chance and use them as a tool to engage your students in rich reading (and thinking).

  65. Clix

    I’m not sure why you see my question about which graphic novels you’ve read as a cheap shot. If you hadn’t read any, I could at least understand where you were coming from.
    What sort of time frame are you describing? Have you talked to students who devoured graphic novels, say, four years ago and are now sophomores and STILL not reading anything else?
    “I also knew that “reading” meant tackling traditional texts.”
    Seriously?! Reading for pleasure isn’t REAL reading? How long does an author have to be dead for his or her work to count?
    I am really, really hurt. I had thought of you as someone who celebrated all types of reading, and this post and your comments come across as pretty canon-snobby.

  66. Kathleen Marsh

    Are you wrong? Yes.
    Here’s why: your (and your colleagues’) understanding of graphic novel reading is limited to the frame of reading–reading words, which are made of letter symbols, which stand for another, abstract idea. Pictures, as you point out pejoratively, do not require translation. (This is what makes the visual language so powerful and universal—but I digress) Graphic novels are all bilingual by nature, and have to be understood within both a reading and a looking framework. Many here have mentioned the generational understanding of the role of graphic novels—and comics have played over the past decades. What we have experienced lately is a sophisticated evolution of the marriage of two mediums—written and visual—and the expression of both in a not-so new form, but resulting in some really great work.
    Your post assumes that graphic novels and books are interchangeable, and in fact, they are different media. Often, as you have experienced yourself, students will often defer to a graphic novel when given a choice and as educators we have to continue encouraging (bribing, pushing, shoving) them to read literature. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to check out: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, for an excellent analysis of the medium and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Maus by Art Spiegelman for some really solid examples of how written and visual language can be combined to tell compelling stories…these are not your comic equivalent of Jersey Shore.

  67. Bill Ferriter

    Sandra wrote:
    I started reading comics in 1974 when I was 11, and to me, you’re making the same arguments that generations of people have made against comics (which is what I consider graphic novels to be — just thicker).
    I’m with you, Sandra.
    I was a HUGE comic book fan as a kid. In fact, it was the present that my parents bought me whenever they wanted to give me a quick, special treat.
    Here’s the difference: There weren’t entire sections of the school library dedicated to comic books.
    And there weren’t huge numbers of teachers and librarians pushing comic books as positive choices for silent reading.
    I always knew that my comic books were sources of great pleasure and quick laughs, but I also knew that “reading” meant tackling traditional texts.
    There was a “proper place” for comic books in my reading life.
    I’m not sure that my struggling readers have the same perspective about graphic novels today.
    Instead of having a “proper place” for the genre in their reading lives, graphic novels are the only thing they’re willing to pick up.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  68. Bill Ferriter

    Jennifer wrote:
    For generations, adults have bemoaned the garbage being consumed by kids today – this is no exception.
    I love your take on this, Jennifer.
    I totally agree that pleasure should play a central role in student reading choices—-as a guy who reads for pleasure CONSTANTLY (and whos guilty pleasure is books about mafia hitmen), thats a goal Im always interested in promoting.
    What I worry about, though, is that I havent had the same experiences as you have had when it comes to seeing many kids make the leap from graphic novels to more traditional texts. In fact, when it comes to struggling readers, Im not sure Ive seen any make that leap.
    Worse yet, Ive seen a resistance on the part of those same kids when I try to push them towards more traditional text.
    That makes me think theyre going to be stuck in the graphic novel genre for life—-which I just cant believe is a good thing.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  69. Bill Ferriter

    John Spencer wrote:
    The point is that students need to think critically both about the work
    and about the medium.
    I love this comment, John. It also makes sense to me. I can see having GREAT conversations with kids about how the author uses the medium of graphic novels to communicate/influence/persuade an audience. Understanding how visual media is being used as a tool for influence is an essential skill that I think the majority of schools do a really poor job of tackling even though it is a high interest/high importance topic.
    John also wrote:
    The goal should be a blended approach that helps all students master the
    standards.
    I think this is at the center of my concerns. For many struggling readers, there isnt much blending going on—especially when it comes to free reading. I can think of a dozen kids that Ive wrestled with over the years who would sign out six or seven graphic novels every time we went to the media center, but wouldnt even attempt to read the short stories we were studying in class—even when they were connected to the same topics and themes.
    Those are the kids Im worried about.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  70. Bill Ferriter

    Among about a dozen other brilliant comments, Mike wrote:
    Finally I have always heard (I dont where it is to back it up) that
    research supports that more reading = better readers and that it does
    matter what(as long as it is close to a readers level): books, online,
    magazines, comics, etc. This makes sense to me as practice makes
    perfect.
    First, Mike, thanks for taking the time to stop by and share your thinking. Youve challenged my thinking in a bunch of ways, and thats cool.
    This particular bit from your comment resonates with me. Ive heard that research too—and believe that it is entirely possible. After all, isnt that the conclusion that Gladwell comes to in Outliers?
    And Im COMPLETELY down with the idea that graphic novels hook some kids who would otherwise never pick up a book. For those kids, graphic novels are brilliant because they re-enforce emergent reading behaviors.
    But what I worry about is that I rarely see those same readers working to move beyond graphic novels—-which makes me think that theyre not moving on to higher levels of practice. To use a baseball analogy, its like the guy at the amusement park who sits in the slowest speed batting cage jacking homers on kid-pitch, but never getting to the faster pitches because it feels too good to be good at the easy stuff.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  71. Sandra

    I started reading comics in 1974 when I was 11, and to me, you’re making the same arguments that generations of people have made against comics (which is what I consider graphic novels to be — just thicker).
    For some people, this is as close as they will get to reading something they enjoy. Some people get pulled in by the characters and go on to write fanfic of varying degrees of competency. And some people will end up using comics as a starting point/companion to more complex literature.
    Comics are not books, and books are not comics. Each form has advantages and disadvantages. In a perfect world, the comic is a fusion of art and language; the best of these tell stories that could not be told by either film or book alone. Others have mentioned “Watchmen” in this category; I would add Frank Miller’s first run of Daredevil and Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise series (definitely not recommended for middle-schoolers).
    I enjoyed reading the “Twilight” series, but I think there are a lot of age-appropriate graphic novels that are at least as complex as those books were. The other virtue of the graphic novels is that they are not just restricted to subjects tween-age girls would be interested in.

  72. Jenniferlagarde

    I’ve seen many (yes, many) kids make the leap from graphic novels to traditional and even classic literature. As you mentioned in your post, they can be useful as scaffolding for reluctant readers. Additionally, for ELL students, they provide a wonderful visual context for vocabulary building.
    On the other hand, I’ve also seen plenty of kids who don’t need extra help with reading devour one graphic novel series after another. For these students, they are pure pleasure. And so what?
    Frankly, I don’t think it’s an either or proposition.
    Without question, when it comes to teaching/learning there are certain activities for which a graphic novel just isn’t going to cut the mustard. However, as with all disciplines, student mastery of reading is dependent, at least in part, on being given opportunities to engage in authentic practice – which means being given the chance to a) choose what they read and b) read those selections for pleasure. And when it comes to that, I believe it’s entirely appropriate to meet kids where they are, allow them to see themselves as readers, (regardless of their choice of materials), and then nudge them along to bigger and better as their pallets mature.
    For generations, adults have bemoaned the “garbage” being consumed by “kids today” – this is no exception. My English teachers told me that romance novels would rot my brain — and look at me? All grown up and reading Bill Ferriter’s blog.
    #gofigure?

  73. Johntspencer

    I don’t like the term “graphic novel,” because it is a different medium altogether. Do I let students read graphic novels during silent reading time? Absolutely not. Do I allow them to use graphic novels when they must find the internal conflict of a character? You bet. Just as I let them read magazine articles with low and high visual material. The same is true of print versus online text.
    If the standard involves analyzing internal monologue of a character, a graphic novel is great. If the standard is about characterization, it can be decent as well.
    Many graphic novels require deep thought. True, they aren’t ideal for visualization, but they can lead to critical thinking, philosophical inquiry and a deeper conceptual understanding of a particular topic. Hence the Jerzey Shore analogy is a little off (though not entirely – the medium shaped the notion of “reality tv”)
    The point is that students need to think critically both about the work and about the medium. I don’t want graphic novels to replace novels. However, I do want students reading various types of texts through the use of several types of media.
    The goal should be a blended approach that helps all students master the standards.

  74. Bill Ferriter

    Clix wrote:
    And considering that I haven’t given up on text despite enjoying comic books and graphic novels, CLEARLY it is possible to enjoy them both.
    I don’t doubt that, Clix. And that’s not what I’m arguing.
    What I’m arguing is that for many middle level readers, “both” isn’t happening.
    Instead, they’re swallowed by the 745.1s. They might sign out 30 books a year, but none are from text-heavy genres at all.
    If graphic novels were a part of well-balanced reading collection for kids, I wouldn’t be concerned.
    Bill
    PS: You also wrote:
    :
    Have you read any graphic novels?
    and then:
    Seriously, Bill – which graphic novels have you read?
    I’m not sure how to reply to this comment because it comes across as a cheap shot—which honestly surprised me considering how long we’ve interacted with each other.
    If it is important to you, though, I’ve actually read quite a few graphic novels—and have quite a few on the shelves in my classroom.
    I started with the Bone series. I then dabbled in Manga—which really turned me off to the genre.
    I’ve also read a bunch of Max Axiom books—thinking maybe they’d be a good tool for hooking kids into nonfiction text.
    Then, I moved into the adaptations of the Redwall series and Coraline. Again, I figured I could use them to hook my kids into the more traditional versions.
    (No luck, if you’re wondering).
    My favorite graphic novels are the Doppelganger series. I love the artwork and the way that the author plays with interesting text, fonts, colors and page layouts.
    I guess that’s kind of my point, huh? The kids are drawn to the images, too.
    I’m just not sure that’s a good thing.

  75. Mike Kaechele

    Hey Bill, I have a new job teaching 9th grade social studies starting this fall. I will not have textbooks and have been looking at biographies and historical fiction to use as texts in my classroom. The second semester my class will be combined with ELA and team taught.
    All of that background to get to my point that we are purchasing some graphic novels, particularly Maus as mentioned above, I have just read it and it is an excellent book. I currently have checked out 3 more GN from the library and am waiting for more to come in. I think GN can be excellent books, just like any genre or they can suck just like any genre.
    It’s just like action movies with lots of special effects. There are many B ones like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starship_Troopers_(film) but there are also great ones like The Matrix. What separates them? The story. Medium or genre is not important, good storytelling is crucial.
    Another subset of GN is anime and manga. I have noticed that students who are “into” this genre are voracious readers who read constantly and at a high level. Many GN actually have higher vocabulary levels than other YA books. And I do see these students reading other types of books also.
    I don’t always take students word for things they say like this. They might have the impression that they are not thinking, but that is probably not the case.
    Finally I have always heard (I don’t where it is to back it up) that research supports that more reading = better readers and that it does matter what(as long as it is close to a reader’s level): books, online, magazines, comics, etc. This makes sense to me as “practice makes perfect.” Curious if anyone has a source for this often stated research or counter research to de-bunk it.

  76. Bill Ferriter

    Alan and Jen Friesen wrote:
    You may find that graphic novels aren’t for you, and that’s fine, but certainly for some of my students they’re a gateway to real literature.
    See, here’s the thing, y’all: I’d LOVE it if graphic novels served as a gateway for students to “real literature” (your term–not mine), but I just don’t see that happening nearly enough.
    The vast majority of the students that I see hooked on graphic novels never move beyond the genre.
    Why does that happen?
    I’m not sure—but I know that it happens and I don’t think I like it.
    I would definitely be less concerned if I saw kids pairing their graphic novel collections with other types of text, but I don’t.
    For those kids, are graphic novels really a gateway—or are they instead a dead end?
    Just thinking here.
    Bill

  77. Alan and Jen Friesen

    >But I just can’t help thinking that graphic novels are nothing more than the literary equivalent of Jersey Shore for the majority of our kids—and when you are addicted to mental candy like Snooki, I can’t help worrying about your future.
    >Am I wrong here?
    Yes. Dismissing graphic novels as the equivalent of Jersey Shore is the same as dismissing detective short stories, or science fiction novels, or Canadian poetry, or Icelandic sagas, or any other genre/mode of literature as not literary enough.
    Bill, here’s your homework. Read:
    -Art Spiegelman’s two “Maus” books (and “In the Shadow of No Towers” for bonus marks),
    -Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series,
    -one of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” or “V for Vendetta” (ignoring the fact that film adaptations were made),
    -Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” series,
    -and Warren Ellis’ “Orbiter”
    Note that none of these are particularly kid-friendly, but we’re talking about the literary merit of a genre of literature here. I have two shelves in my house dedicated to graphic novels and some nineteen shelves of books (plus what’s on my Sony Reader), and as a senior high English teacher I move between “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and “Transmetropolitan” without breaking a stride.
    You may find that graphic novels aren’t for you, and that’s fine, but certainly for some of my students they’re a gateway to real literature. For me, that’s enough to warrant their use in school. But the genre itself is much, much, MUCH more than simply picture books that disallow imagination. Check it out.

  78. Clix

    Bill, I’m really surprised that you’re broad-brushing an entire medium.
    Have you read any graphic novels?
    Can YOU imagine trying to imagine—or wanting to imagine, or seeing a need to imagine—after discovering an entire genre where imagining just isn’t necessary?
    Um, yes. First of all, implying that graphic novels somehow prevent imagination is wrong. If anything, the panels provide a scaffold for a more clearly imagined plot and setting. I suppose imagination isn’t technically NECESSARY in order to understand what’s going on… but then it isn’t NECESSARY in text, either. However, in both cases, imagination deepens the experience.
    And considering that I haven’t given up on text despite enjoying comic books and graphic novels, CLEARLY it is possible to enjoy them both.
    Finally, I’d really like to know the context around the students’ response that they “didn’t have to think.”
    Seriously, Bill – which graphic novels have you read?

  79. Fran Lo

    Love your comparison of GNs to Jersey Shore – they’re fluff. On the other hand, an awful lot of YA “lit” is fluff – Twilight leaps to mind. But I compare your concerns. Most of the GN genre is utterly forgettable. But then I look at books like the Photographer (joint drawings & photography), true story of Drs. without borders in Afghanistan. Fabulous book – but you have to read the words, too, to understand it. If there were more GNs like this, I’ve find the genre more tolerable.