Comics

I love comics, and am often amazed not only by how funny they can be, but also how much can be learned from them. Growing up I was a regular reader of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Mad Magazine. As I grew older I began to appreciate the intelligence and sophistication of Dilbert and XKCD. From this reading I developed my own sense of humour. More than this, however, I learned to question and reflect on the world around me, to understand that different situations could be understood in different ways and that I was not alone in my feelings and views on the world and its inhabitants.

Whilst many children love comics, too many teachers and parents dismiss them as childish distractions from serious reading and learning. If you are of this opinion, I ask you to read this short strip and see if it changes your perspective on this issue. Whilst reading comics can be beneficial in the ways described above, creating comics provides an even richer opportunity for learning. Consider some of the following ways in which comic creation can be used in the classroom:

  • Discovering the joy and power of remixing and mashing up the work of others.
  • Drafting stories before writing.
  • Encouraging creativity and self expression.
  • Character development to extend understanding of texts.
  • Learning about graphic design and layout.
  • Learning about persuasion.
  • Honing online research skills.
  • Learning computing skills.
  • Developing an understanding of issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright.
  • Digital storytelling.
  • Summarising complex ideas.
  • Putting events into chronological order.
  • Learning about visual literacy, social conventions and suggestion in the media.

Interestingly, these ideas apply to almost all subjects. If you are teacher, stop for a minute and consider the multitude of ways in which this could be applied to the subjects you teach. Certainly within both of my subjects (ICT and ESL) I can see plenty of scope for applying these approaches. In fact, in terms of promoting multiliteracies, I can think of few more powerful tools.

Computer technology provides us with some great tools for quickly and easily creating comics. These technologies afford one great advantage to users: they lower the barrier to creating great work because they do not require traditional artistic abilities, such as drawing. The following are four pieces of software that can be used to empower students:

  • Comic Life is the premier comic creation software in terms of ease-of-use and pure joy. It focuses on arranging existing images and applying effects to them. It is desktop software, and runs on Windows and Mac OS. Unfortunately, payment is required, although it is very reasonable, especially when purchasing in bulk. The 30-day trial is completely free and unrestricted, so this is a great place to start.
  • Comiqs is an online alternative to Comic Life, with comparable functionality: it seems extremely promising, but is in beta and currently seems to have some bugs. Hopefully these will be ironed out in the near future. The service is free, and there is no need to install any software onto your computer.
  • Pixton is an extremely flexible online comic creator. Unlike Comic Life and Comiqs, which are primarily concerned with working on existing images, Pixton allows users to create and edit their own comic characters. This is a great tool that is worth some serious exploration, and whilst it does seem a little tricky to use, it does provide a huge range of flexibility. Pixton is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.
  • BitStrips works along the same lines as Pixton, but is somewhat easier to use. That said, you do not get quite as much flexibility in terms of creating and manipulating your creations, although the results can be just as good. I would recommend this for use with younger students. As with Pixton, it is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.

Having sung the virtues of comic creation, I will end with a cautionary note: as with any tool, it is essential not to overuse this approach. Whilst kids will love the novelty and freedom that these activities can bring, if they do it every year in every subject they will very soon lose interest.

If you adopt any of these ideas in your classroom, please feel free to send over some student work, which I will gladly post on this page.

4 thoughts on “Comics”

  1. Hi Ross

    I can suggest one or two more powerful tools for promoting multiliteracies… Filming? Sound recording? Radio broadcasting? Podcasting? Any Comms tech which involves language use in different contexts and with no limits.

    The weakness of cartoons is that they are a special way of communicating that limits the use of language often simply in terms of the space that is available. Most students do not have the complex understanding of the way language works nor the skill in order to create the sort of intelligent and sophisticated work you mention. We risk turning students into SMS machines!!

    Therefore I would argue that using `cartoon-ing` regularly may in fact hinder the development of written language understanding, and so undermine the development of the multiliteracies you refer. Yes, cartoons are simple to create and yes they have a place in our curriculum – but as a different and interesting tool to the above.

    In reference to the situation we experienced a few years ago – the message begin given by the powers that be (who I see you are to be reunited with soon!!! Are you mad!!?) was lets spend on cartoons and forget about the basics. My hesitancy then was that the basics were not being covered (and they still aren’t!) my arguement now is that cartoons are not the be all and end all of modern tech savvy education! But yes, I have used Pixton with several of my classes once or twice this year 🙂

    Anyway, hope you and the family are well, and I look forward to carrying on this discussion with you maybe over a beer in Honkie?

    Cheers

    Stew

    1. Stew, thanks for the insightful input. I totally agree with you, that there are many other great tools and approaches to develop multiliteracies. However, I disagree that they are necessarily superior, just different. Each of the tools can teach different things: for example, a video might be good if you want to encourage students to demonstrate verbosity, but a comic can be great to develop brevity and succinctness (some of us, myself included, have trouble with this). There is also no reason why a comic should be the end goal: it can merely be used as a building block to something more complete.

      I do completely agree on your assessment that cartoons do not equal a modern tech education, and that the foundation stones must be in place. Some of these can be taught through comics, but again it is the use of a range of tools that are important. The reason I did a post on comics, is that I have recently been exposed to students performing very mindless Word Processing tasks ad nauseam, across a number of KLAs, and was looking to showcase something very different from this. To appease you, I will do a post on video some time in the near future!

      Interestingly, my plans for my students next year do not include the production of any comics. There will, however, be plenty of video production, graphic design, wikis, online mapping, tagging and all the rest. Just to prove I am not a one trick pony.

      See you soon, and yes, I am sure we can find a suitable venue to continue this discussion.

  2. Hi,

    Since you blogged about comic-creation tools, we’d like to invite you to try the online comic-strip creator at http://www.toondoo.com

    ToonDoo is easy-to-use and offers many creative features such as the ability to create your own characters, add drawing touches or upload images. Individual Toons can also be bound into ToonBooks.

    We also have an education-friendly version of ToonDoo at http://www.toondoospaces.com

    Do check out our features and tell us what you think. We would love to hear from you.

    Meera
    ToonDudette from http://www.toondoo.com

    1. Meera, Thanks for commenting to my blog. How did you find this post so quickly after it was published. Funnily enough I did see Toondoo yesterday on my search for comic making software, but did not try it because it required a username and password. I know it only takes a second to register, but I much prefer it if I can try a service without registering: that way if I do not like it, I do not need to create an account and give out my personal details. That said, I just created an account and had a play around with the software. It seems like there are tons of cool features, including plenty of backgrounds and props. I like the fact that you can add in your own characters and images as well. Thanks for encouraging me to have a go: I will keep Toondoo in mind for future use.

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