Critical inquiry often benefits from the inclusion of visual elements, like comics, to complicate and challenge the idea of how we interact with text. Pixton is one of the most flexible and useful online comics-generating tools.

Read more: Teaching Tip -Pixton by Brooke Sheridan

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Why talk about Drawing and Comics?

Scott McCloud, comics artist and writer of the benchmark Understanding Comics, defines comics as:

“Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader.”

You can download Understanding Comics in PDF form: McCloud – Understanding Comics

How can I use them in my Class?

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Many educators recognize the benefits of incorporating opportunities for narrative and visual elements to their teaching and to their students’ opportunities for scholarship. Nick Sousanis, for example, is composing his doctoral thesis entirely in comic form, working with the idea that the written word is not the definitive method of inquiry or communication – not even in academia. So how does this translate to the classroom?

    • Jarod Rosello is also creating a dissertation in comics form. He teaches college composition at Penn State University, and uses comics and drawing in observation exercises, asking students to focus on an object and draw it. He finds that students tend to notice more and/or different elements of the subject than they do when attempting only a verbal description.
    • Lynda Barry teaches courses through the University of Wisconsin. Here is the poster and course description for The Unthinkable Mind, her English/Creative Writing course.
    • You can use comics-generating tools or create your own syllabus in comics format, as well as assignments, lectures, etc.

How can Students use them?

After a certain number of years in the education system, students have learned to write essays in their sleep – or at least have learned how to compose a passing, traditional, 5-paragraph essay. Asking students to draw or create a research narrative based on sequential art will shake them out of the complacency they may have reached with purely alphabetic essays, and may take them out of their comfort zones – one of the most productive places for learning, if they’re guided well.

A reasonable concern may be students’ concerns about drawing ability, or lack thereof. Your equally reasonable response may be to assert that just as if you can talk you can write, then if you can see you can draw. Most people don’t write well in the beginning, but they practice, and they get better. Drawing is a similar discipline, with the benefit of putting students in the position to complement and complicate the thinking they do while working solely with words.

Resources

There are a number of comics-generating resources available, many of them free. There are also several educator-geared sites about using comics in the classroom.

  • Pixton is a service with a free option, as well as paid options tailored specifically for educators and their students.
  • Comic Life allows you to “comic-ify” your own photos, placing them in panels and adding speech balloons, text boxes, and other visual effects.
  • Drawing Words & Writing Pictures is a site devoted to making comics, and includes detailed tutorials for every step of the process.
  • Bitstrips is a useful starting point for users unfamiliar with comics and sequential art. The art varies little, so users really need to pay attention to the choices they make when creating a visual narrative.
  • Comics in Education is a newer and well-maintained site that tells you why and how you can use comics in the classroom.