Tag Archives: comics

“Do we have to analyze this?”—Adding graphic novels to the mix

                My students often try to tell me that they hate analyzing. When we start reading a new work, they’ll ask, “Do we have to analyze this one?” I try to point out, as we have discussed in class, that they are constantly analyzing everything around them!  In everyday interactions, they analyze text messages, status updates, facial expressions, and tone of voice, just to name a few. They also analyze movies, music, and, yes, literature. And most of this analysis comes as second nature. (Of course, we work to get them to really tease out their thoughts and go even deeper with their analysis.) Why not add graphic novels to the mix? It’s the perfect combination of text and visuals for “literary analysis.”

                In the past, particularly when teaching plays, I have had students create comic strips depicting the most important scenes in the drama. Now by no means am I having them create graphic novels, but I am having them consider how they would depict the scenes. They make choices as to which scenes to show and which to leave out. They have to consider how the characters look and interact. All of these choices are worthy of discussion when considering a graphic novel.

                While I would really like to have a graphic novel on my reading list, I have been stumped as to how exactly I would go about “teaching” such a work. Then I had the thought that if we are arguing that graphic novels are literature, then we could really do many of the same activities we would do with “regular” literary texts. They would need to be modified a bit, but things such as creating a scene left out of the original text, or telling the story from another point of view could work nicely with a graphic novel. Not only do such activities require them students to analyze the existing text, but they require further analysis, creativity, and justification for the choices made.

                Like Susanna, I would like to use excerpts from McCloud’s Understanding Comics. McCloud says a lot about analysis in general, not just about comics (or, comix). I think his explanations, along with the format, would be helpful for students. (And they would have to analyze as they read about analysis!) Also, I’d like to use excerpts from a graphic novel or two in an activity that I use in the beginning of the year. Many of my IB students struggle with the concept of really examining the choices made in a literary work and the effect of those choices. During the first week or two of school I do an activity in which they look at the choices/techniques and their effects in art work, music, and film before we move on to our focus on literature. The point is that literary analysis is not completely unique and on its own island of thought somewhere. I think I’ll add graphic novel excerpts to the mix.