Comics can be a good tool for teachers

Shelby Niehaus, Columnist

Lately, I have been reading more comics than usual. I told myself that I would read for pleasure more this semester, and I think expanding my comic knowledge satisfies this self-imposed assignment.

Tentatively I list comics, graphic novels and graphic narrative as areas of personal expertise on my resumes. Thanks to the English department, I have some experience in comic analysis and pedagogy, as do many other future English teachers; visual narratives are well within our wheelhouse as language arts instructors.

But how much can one get from learning about comics in a classroom without a personal knowledge of the medium? Can you teach something that you were never passionate about yourself?

I believe that you can, but I also believe that a strong content background is an important part of any teacher’s toolkit. If you want to teach comics well and thoroughly, your best bet is to have an academic and a personal background in the medium.

Many of my friends in the education program do not read comics, or do not read a broad range of works. In the past, cost and access kept people away from lengthy, non-serialized comics, but modern comic fans are not restricted in the same fashion.

For instance, most libraries now offer extensive graphic novel and comic sections. The GraFX section on Booth Library’s ground floor has an impressive mix of works, ranging from children’s comics to indie hits to superhero collections to reprinted classics. Some of my favorites in Booth’s collection are Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library #20, deeply inspired by graphic design and infographics; Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent (as always) storytelling in Prince of Baghdad; and Jeff Smith’s comic epic Bone, one of my childhood favorites.

But comics are a broad medium, and no one collection can have something for everyone. What if Booth’s shelves do not display anything you like? Online comics have never been more popular than they are now, and after the strange growing-pains period of the mid-2000’s (characterized by bad comics on worse sites, poor layout choices and hiatus hell), webcomics are a reliable and enjoyable source of entertainment.

Paranormal comics are big on the internet: if you like childhood comedy and ghosts, take a look at Paranatural. If you long for the punchy graphics of the early 2010’s, try the discontinued Hanna Is Not a Boy’s Name, and for a gripping, dark story, take a look at Gunnerkrigg Court.

Not into ghosts and ghouls? Try a slice-of-life comic like Sakana or 2 Slices. Into sports? Take a look at Check, Please! (the only comic about hockey, at least that I can think of). Need a completed story? Give Lady of the Shard (a wonderful example of digital storytelling) or Honeydew Syndrome (a wonderful example of how time can ruin a comic I used to like) a try. Not up to sit through a long story? Hark! A Vagrant and Johnny Wander have you covered.

The only downside to American webcomics is that they often have incredibly long timelines with one or two pages of content released per week. Most American webcomic authors are print comic artists as well. If your comic urge has not been satisfied by any of the above, it might be time to try out manga.

Watch where you step in the manga world. Japanese comics are a multitudinous bunch, and they run the gamut from brilliant to awful, extremely juvenile to heavily adult and heartwarming to terrifying. Additionally, the translation and American licensing process can make it hard to obtain some comics, so do some research about your selections beforehand.

There are far too many subgenres of manga to recommend many here, but my current favorites include Golden Kamuy, a series about a gold hunt in historical Hokkaido, Japan; Oyasumi Punpun, a completed comic about one young boy’s incredibly dark childhood; and Uzumaki, a deeply distressing horror comic about a town obsessed with spirals.

This Thanksgiving break, do yourself a favor and relax with a comic. If you read anything good, tell a friend or look for something else by the same author—you might just have stumbled upon a new obsession.

Shelby Niehaus is a senior English language arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].