To many parents, comic books are synonymous with violent superheroes, half-baked storylines, and massive panels with BOOM! BANG! POW! plastered across the page. They’re the literary equivalent to Saturday morning cartoons; they do nothing to help teens’ critical thinking or reading comprehension skills, and they should be avoided at all costs. However, this view of comic books and graphic novels is actually far from the truth.
The main reason comic books maintain this stigma is due to a series of trials in the 1950s that claimed—falsely—comic books were responsible for juvenile delinquency. Although the trials weren’t able to prove anything, the negative publicity they garnered for comics sent the medium underground. But since then, comics have continued to grow, currently comprising a massive canon of work. And just like text-based literature like novels and short stories, there are tons of comic books and graphic novels which actually have a lot to offer teen readers. In fact, some of the best teen books are actually comic books! Here are a few reasons why parents shouldn’t be worried about their kids reading comics, and what comics can do to help teens.
1.Comics Are Great in the Classroom
Gene Luen Yang is a math teacher and cartoonist from Oakland, California, where he teaches at Bishop O’Dowd high school. When he couldn’t grab his students’ attention with lectures and videos, he turned to comics. He illustrated different mathematical concepts via cartoons, and the response was phenomenal! Yang claimed since comics allow readers to absorb information at their own pace and combines visual learning with reading, it’s the perfect way to help students understand difficult classroom material.
Yang isn’t the only teacher who thinks this. Across the country, more and more teachers are incorporating comic books into their curriculum, and scholars like Scott McCloud have dedicated entire books into dissecting how comic books engage the brain unlike other creative mediums. Comic books are an incredibly dynamic learning tool that help teens explore concepts in new ways!
2.Comics Help Kids with Learning Disabilities
To kids with learning disabilities like ADD or ADHD, almost nothing is as discouraging as staring down a full page of text. Having a short attention span makes it hard for these kids to stay focused and absorb information from novels and textbooks, and comic books provide a great middle ground. The text in comic books is often short since it needs to fit in speech bubbles and text boxes, and the accompanying images fill in the rest. A person reading a comic book is constantly occupied, taking a short amount of time to digest each panel and move on to the next one. This is a great way to help improve reading comprehension and self-esteem in kids with learning disabilities.
Comics aren’t only great for encouraging reading comprehension in kids with ADD and ADHD, but they’re wonderful for teaching ESL, too! Teens and kids who’re learning English as a Second Language benefit immensely from pairing words with images, and comic books allow this kind of learning to happen in the context of a larger story.
3.Comics Encourage More Reading
The artwork and action in comic books mean kids and teens often enjoy reading them more than typical novels and other all-text literary works. This is far from a bad thing. When kids start reading comics, chances are they’ll be more interested in other kinds of stories, too! The first step to getting teenagers to start reading is to get them excited about it. Starting them off with dense novels is sure to turn them off but giving them a good comic book—like Habibi by Craig Thompson—might show them how interesting fiction can be! When kids read comics, they often don’t feel like reading is a chore like it would be if they were reading a book for school, so graphic novels are a fantastic way to introduce teenagers to the concept of reading for fun.
4.Comics are Just as Good as Novels
The first and foremost reason many parents don’t feel comfortable with their kids reading comic books is because they feel comic books don’t have as much to offer as “real literature.” While there’s obviously a plethora of wonderful young adult fiction and classic literature teens should read, the same is true of comics! In fact, many classic books are even being rewritten and illustrated to fit the comic book format, and comic books have proven to be able to handle the same complicated concepts as any novel. A Contract with God by Will Eisner, for instance, battles topics like religion, loneliness, fear, love, and poverty. It’s a look at human experience just as valid and serious as any novel, and there are plenty of other graphic novels tackling subject matter just as serious.
When it comes down to it, comic books and graphic novels are just as good for teens to be reading as anything else! If you see your teen picking up an interest in comic books, it’s a great idea to support them and see where it leads. Comics might just be the thing to finally get your reluctant teen to love reading!