Comics in education are often discussed in relation to encouraging reading for pleasure and improving the literacy skills of reluctant readers, but comics are also finding a place in other parts of the curriculum. Hannah Sackett explores ways of making learning fun by putting comics to work in the classroom.
A must-have purchase for any primary school is Corpse Talk by Adam Murphy (Season 2 is published this September). Originally published in the Phoenix Comic, Corpse Talk takes the form of a chat show, in which host Adam Murphy interviews famous (dead) people from history. These cadaverous interviewees reveal their fascinating histories to Murphy, and each strip is packed with verbal and visual jokes.
Other history comics for younger readers include Marcia Williams’s range of comic strip biographies, myths and folklore.
Meanwhile, catering for both primary and secondary age ranges, the Anne Frank Museum has produced a number of graphic novels about the Holocaust, including A Family Secret, The Search and a graphic biography of Anne Frank.
Heritage organisations in the UK have also got in on the act, with CADW commissioning comics on Welsh archaeology and history.
Universities have employed comics as a way of communicating research and sharing archive material with schools. Lydia Wysocki, of Applied Comics etc, told me about a recent project using WWI material from Special Collections at Newcastle University’s Robinson Library.
‘We worked with the Education Outreach Team and a number of historians and other advisors (Newcastle University, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Tynemouth WWI Commemoration Project, Durham Light Infantry Museum) to make a comic written and drawn by Terry Wiley.
‘True War Stories No.1: Thomas Baker Brown tells the story of Thomas Baker Brown, a man from North Shields who served as a signaller in World War I. His son donated his archive to the University, and starting from the letters, documents, and artefacts in the archive we’ve published a comic that tells his wartime story. This printed comic then forms the heart of our workshops for Year 9 and Year 7 students to fit with the National Curriculum. The aim was to use comics as a method to help students understand how archives help us write history, and to understand the story of one ‘typical Tommy’ from their local area.’
The team ran comics workshops in the Robinson Library, looking at archive materials and reading the Thomas Baker Brown comic. After being supplied with resources and advice on making comics, the students were enlisted in the ‘Comics Platoon’ in order to create their own one-page comics. Students’ comics have since been scanned and published, and both True War Stories No.1: Thomas Baker Brown and the students’ comics anthology are available online and there are resources for teachers who want to establish their own Comics Platoon.
Universities have also used comics as a way of communicating research in the sciences. Dreams of a Low Carbon Future was a project run by the Doctoral Training Centre in Low Carbon Technologies at the University of Leeds. One of the editors, James McKay, told me about the process of creating the comic:
‘We used the comic format for our project Dreams of a Low Carbon Future to visualise different scenarios for the future, depending on how we react to the threat of climate change – a subject that is incredibly broad, complex and controversial. School children produced comics and illustrations, which were augmented with interpretations of their ideas by professional artists, and also by some of the scientists from our centre. It was a learning experience for both the children and the scientists – the children were able to understand more about complex science through creating a story about themselves or a character living in the future – importantly, drawing a picture, however sketchy, expressed concepts that cannot easily be put across in words. Scientists learned how to communicate their research to young people through pictures and text – even when their artistic skills were non-existent, a bit of help from an artist using Photoshop turned their sketches into something useful, which they were thrilled about.’
Students and researchers benefited from the creation of the comic – the final version of which can be read online.
Other science comics are also available on line. Check out:
Graphic novel adaptations can provide a great way to access a difficult text. The Manga Shakespeare series has helped me to get my head around many a tangled plot and there are free teaching resources on their website. Publishers SelfMadeHero also offer adaptations of classic novels, including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Last, but not least, there are many comics and graphic novels that could be used to stimulate discussion in PSHE sessions. My favourites include El Deafo by Cece Bell (winner of the Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids, and a Newbery Honor Book for 2015), The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz and Shaun Tan’s classic The Arrival.
Hannah Sackett works part-time as school librarian at Widcombe Junior School, Bath, where she runs an after-school comic club. She also works as a freelance educator.
Comics Across the Curriculum Acknowledgements
Many thanks for Lydia Wysocki and James McKay for sharing the details of their projects, and to artists Adam Murphy, John Swogger, Terry Wiley and Mark Wilkinson for the use of their artwork.
Corpse Talk Season 1 by Adam Murphy, David Fickling Books, 978-1-9102-0001-8, £7.99
Corpse Talk Season 2 by Adam Murphy, David Fickling Books, 978-1-9102-0049-0, £7.99
Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs by Marcia Williams, Walker, 978-1-4063-3832-4, £6.99
A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-0-3305-1982-3, £7.50
Manga Shakespeare: The Tempest by William Shakespeare, illustrated and adapted by Paul Duffield, SelfMadeHero, 978-0-9552-8562-2, £8.99
El Deafo by Cece Bell, Amulet Books, 978-1-4197-1217-3, £6.99
The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz, Walker, 978-1-4063-2359-7, £8.99
The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-0-7344-1586-8, £10.99