Friday, December 10, 2004

A Complex Inferiority

Warning: Rant Ahead.

Via Kevin at Thought Balloons comes yet another story in the news about comics & graphic novels in school libraries: "Comic books arrive in school as learning tool" by Denise-Marie Balona of the Orlando Sentinel. (registration required; try Bug Me Not.)

As with most articles of this ilk, the emphasis is placed on comics being for so-called 'reluctant readers,' particularly boys. Sayeth one of the librarians quoted in the article: "Even if it's just a few words and lot of pictures now, we will progress to more words and less pictures."

The inference being that comics are a form of 'lesser' literature; that it's okay for kids to be reading comics, because they will 'progress' to 'better' or 'real' reading material.

I see this over and over again, and quite frankly I'm getting sick of it. I'm sure that I don't have to make the arguments to readers of this blog, that you all know that there are graphic novels which are as complex and rich and challenging as any work of prose, and prose works that are just as banal as any issue of Youngblood. I just wish that the school librarians would make the same argument, instead of falling back on the comics as gateway to 'real' books meme.

I wonder if these are trully the attitudes of the school librarians, or if they're just covering their asses from parents/teachers/administrators/school board members who wold otherwise be outraged that the school library is spending money on and promoting an 'inferior' form of literature instead of 'real' books. As if a kid would be better served reading "Goosebumps" or "Baby Sitters Club" instead of Bone or Akiko.

I personally have been actively reading both comics and prose pretty much my whole life. I'm hardly what one would call a reluctant reader; I was reading on my own before age three, and by age five I was reading comics. From reading Superman I knew what workds like 'invulnerable' and 'solitude' meant; hardly the typical vocabulary of a kindergartener! I graduated salutatorian of my high school class, so I'd say that reading comics in no way harmed my intellectual or educational growth. In fact, it was my habit of reading comics that led to my persuing a career as a librarian (a story that I'll tell another time...)

(I'm glad that our library is developing a comic and GN collection because they are being seen as a valid form of artistic expression that we need to have in order to support the curriculum of the University.)

Oh well, at least comics are being viewed these days as a gateway to reading, instead of as a gateway to juvenile deliquency...


Anonymous said...


I guess using comics to learn a language is the theme today, or something.

Jon (who has fogotten his Blogger password)

Anonymous said...

As a middle school teacher, I spend too much time passing my students collections of comics under the table. They want to read. Comics are usually more intense than the books my low students are capable of reading. They are hungry for meaty plots.

Any below level reader can use the movement and tone of the colors and texture to find a reference point in the story.
Even my spanish speakers have no problem finding the conflict and making inferences. I have to teach inference!!! It's nearly impossible to explain, but every easy to show.

Print all the comic books in brown paper wrappers. Ship them to my post office box and I'll protect the underground.

Power to the technicolored!