Educational Comic Books to Use in Class
Will Eisner, the innovative cartoonist for which the top comic book award is named, got his start doing a legendary 16 page weekly newspaper comic titled “The Spirit.” He also is often credited with making the first graphic novel.
However, few people know that in between “The Spirit” and making book length comics, he worked for nearly two decades making educational comics for the army. His monthly comic, called “PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly” used a character named Private Joe Dope to teach soldiers how to maintain tanks, trucks and airplanes.
Eisner recognized that the mix of visual imagery and text created a powerful learning tool that could facilitate the understanding of complex problems. And while we don’t suggest teaching your students how to maintain tanks, there numerous comics that can enlighten your students by making difficult subjects easy to understand.
“Maus” by Art Spiegelman
“Maus” was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer prize and it is easy to see why it won. “Maus” breaks all of the genres, it is part memoir, part history, party fiction. The book details Spiegelman’s father’s experience in Nazi concentration camps and Art Spiegelman’s struggle to understand those experiences and his father. Humans are drawn as different animals, for example Jews drawn as mice and Nazis drawn as cats. The story humanizes the Holocaust by using vivid characters and a narrative, while the drawings help make the horrific nature of mass murder less graphic and more appropriate for the classroom. Your students will be moved by this book.
The Cartoon Guide Series by Larry Gonick
Whether you need a book to help your students study history, physics, statistics, computers or chemistry, Larry Gonick has a guide for you! His cartoon guide series are the gold standard of educational comic books. His easy to understand comics break down complex problems in surprisingly easy to understand illustrations. If you have a student who has trouble paying attention, Gonick’s humorous books might help them grasp a concept he or she has been struggling with.
“Action Philosophers” by Written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey
Need a fun way to explain Socrates to a high schooler? Look no further! This award winning, critically acclaimed series takes heady concepts that influence the way our civilization views the world and put them into easy to understand comic books! Don’t believe that Descartes can be distilled into comics? Check out this preview.
“Pyongyang” by Guy Delisle
North Korea is probably the most fascinating and most dangerous place on earth. A brutal dictatorship supported by the Chinese government, North Koreans live in constant fear of starvation and repression while just a few miles away South Koreans enjoy one of the most successful and prosperous democracies in the world. “Pyongyang” is a travel comic by animator Guy Delisle, who lived in North Korea for two months, overseeing an animation studio there. His slice of life stories perfectly captures the creepiness of living under an oppressive regime while managing to include a gentle, observational humor. If you give this book to your student, chances are he or she will not put it down until he finishes reading it.
“Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud
Scott McCloud’s masterpiece is nominally about just understanding comics, in reality it is a master class in media literacy that is as consumable as a sitcom. Although it takes only a few hours to read, students who have studied “Understanding Comics” will never look at film, Internet articles, ads or comics with the same uncritical eye ever again. It delivers a powerful punch in just a few pages.
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