Graphic Novels Promote Adult Literacy: One Fanboy’s Lesson from Comic-Con

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A graphic novel is a book made up of comics content. Although the word "novel" normally refers to long fictional works, the term "graphic novel" is applied broadly and includes fiction, non-fiction, and anthologized work. It is distinguished from the term "comic book", which is used for comics periodicals. - Wikipedia

I was one of the 130,000 Comic-Con 2015 attendees in San Diego the other week. In between life-sized statues of Lego Hulks, plaster Batmans, and concrete Darth Vaders, comic books and graphic novels were flying off the vendors' shelves. Panels of fantasy and science fiction authors spoke to packed rooms. I attended one workshop that caught my attention called Content Literacy: Teaching History and Social Studies with Graphic Novels from the Revolutionary War to Current Events. Here are a few things I learned….

The need for instruction that contains multiple modes of information and requires active participation on the part of the reader, such as graphic novels, is greater today than in any time in our history. Because graphic novels rely on the synthesis of textual and visual information to create meaning, their potential value is difficult to ignore.


Graphic novels pull students into the subject matter. Graphic novels have been shown to improve reader engagement while enhancing both comprehension and retention. And with the new emphasis on reading nonfiction, academic vocabulary, and reading in the subject areas, graphic novels are more relevant than ever.

Reading Tutors

Graphic novels should be part of a tutor's teaching toolbox. They are an effective way to foster a learner's love of reading. Graphic novels can also help improve language and literacy development, including second language learners. The illustrations provide valuable contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative.


Schwarz (2007)* states, “the graphic novel invites media literacy education which includes information and visual literacy. The unique combination of print and pictures opens up possibilities for looking at new content and for examining how diverse kinds of texts make meaning to readers.”

So, to sum up, there are many ways for teachers and tutors to employ graphic novels in their efforts to improve teaching and learning. The characteristics of graphic novels invite students to develop key critical thinking and information literacy skills. They also challenge pre-existing notions of the value of non-traditional sources of information. Integrating graphic novels into classrooms and curricula can not only be a means to address key skills and concepts but also an opportunity to introduce students to a medium that is almost always refreshing and enjoyable.

* (Schwarz, G. 2007. Media literacy, graphic novels, and social issues. Simile, 7, 1-18. and Schwarz, G. (2006). Expanding literacies through graphic novels. English Journal, 95, 58-64.

There are still some people out there who believe comic books are nothing more than, well, comic books. But the true cognoscenti know graphic novels are - at their best - an amazing blend of art literature and the theater of the mind.
— John Ridley
Good grammar is essential, Robin.
— Batman, 1960s TV Show


Superman writes on the wall: Batman is a wuss. The next day, Batman writes on the wall: Superman is Clark Kent.


From the Comics:

In the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! adaptation of the episode "Scooby Doo And A Mummy, Too" (retitled "Somebody's Mummy," issue #7, August 1971), the professor the gang assists is named Art E. Facts.

The Joker has been known to use the name Joe Kerr as a pseudonym.