There are many great comic books — some of my favourites were Lucky Luke, Les Tuniques Bleues (or The Bluecoats), Asterix, Lustiges Taschenbuch (Donald Duck) and The Adventures Of Tintin. I re-read certain editions countless times and I can still recall many of the storylines. Not only did comics provide me with many hours of entertainment, I also benefitted from them in other ways!
Although superhero comics were not as prevalent around where I grew up compared to, say, the USA, superheroes still appeared every once in a while in the stories I read. One example would be Phantomias (Superduck / Duck Avenger in English), one of the aliases of Donald Duck. For one, I would argue that Phantomias, Lucky Luke and Tintin fighting the bad guys and making their worlds safer as well as better places taught me some sense of morality. Unfortunately I could not find any studies that test this hypothesis, so I’ll just let that one be purely anecdotal.
What I did find, however, is an interesting journal article where an English teacher named Rocco Versaci talks about how comic books helped his students have a more positive approach towards literature. He describes how many of his students would call literature “boring” and “difficult” when he first asks them for their opinion. Here’s a fitting quote from his paper:
… Teachers in these schools are faced with the significant challenge of presenting literature in a way that at once interests students, presents some model of literary evaluation, convinces students that such evaluation is important, and leaves them room in which to develop their own model. Creating such a classroom is not easy. … But several years ago in one of my bolder and more rewarding moves as a graduate student, I lit upon a genre that is an ideal way for middle, secondary and post-secondary school English teachers to accomplish what we need to do more of: energize classes and engage students, teach much needed analytical and critical thinking skills, and — most importantly — invite students to develop meaningful opinions about what consitutes literary merit. I gave my studens some excerpts from comic books to read.
He then goes on to describe how, unlike more traditional literature, comic books are able to quite literally “put a human face” on a given subject, which engages students in a major way. It’s also not much of a surprise that these students are then more willing to engage in discourse, since most of them have already read comics in the past — out of free will and with joy! What’s your guess, how many classic literature books have the same students read out of free will and with joy? Exactly.
Even though most kids love comics, they at some point decide that those are more fit for the younger ones and no longer have anything of value to offer to them. This usually happens around middle school. But here’s why this way of thinking does not make much sense, according to Versaci:
Imagine, for example, meeting someone who disdained all film because he was no longer interested in Disney movies and associated all motion pictures with that one narrow genre. Or someone who no longer read fiction because she believed that all books were like the picture books she had outgrown years before. Clearly we would say that these individuals were readically misinformed about these genres. … Though industry professionals and fans have already grown tired of hearing that comics ‘aren’t just for kids anymore’, many teachers and students might still be unaware of the maturity and relevance of various comic books.
I would agree. This revelation also teaches to generally not judge too quickly, or at least not just based on the popular conception of certain genres or types of literature. It encourages kids to give things a second (or first) try and realize that they may have drawn the wrong conclusion due to prejudice.
I certainly would have preferred reading and discussing comic books over some 300 year old books that I did neither understand nor care about. I’m not sure what the situation in schools is like nowadays, and whether the kids’ initial response to literature would still be calling it “boring” and “difficult”. Given that it has been quite some time since my middle school days, I’m optimistic that at least some of the teachers have adapted their methods. After all, they’d get to read the comics, too, and get paid for it — isn’t that what you would call a win-win-situation?
One last closing remark: A study that explored the practices of adult readers of comic books found that the subjects “used comic books for gaining content area knowledge, curatorial consumption, personal engagement, and reflection.” So, if you’ve got any old comics lying around, it might be worthwhile to give those a read!