THE GRAPHIC NOVEL AS A TEACHING TOOL
Many high school and undergraduate literature syllabi will generally have something from Ernest Hemingway, something from Alice Walker, something from William Shakespeare, and, increasingly, something from Alan Moore. Say, THE WATCHMEN.
Graphic novels are now widespread pedagogical tools at the high school and undergraduate levels, with Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, focusing on the Holocaust, being the breakthrough text that legitimized the graphic novel as a respected teaching tool.. The medium’s popular appeal and subject matter, and increasingly sophisticated themes and storytelling techniques, have resulted in DC Comics and Vertigo creating all new immersive academic guides to several important titles being released this summer.
NOT SIMPLY PROMOTIONAL “NOISE”
Summer 2016 has brought the Man of Steel himself into the classroom with DC presenting a guide to accompany National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang’s critically acclaimed SUPERMAN VOL. 1: BEFORE TRUTH. In addition, Grant Morrison’s WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE VOL. 1, and Vertigo’s critical triumph THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON, VOL. 1: BANG BANG BANG, by Tom King, have received the reading guide treatment. These comprehensive supplements, available for download, feature several discussion questions such as this, found in the WONDER WOMAN guide:
How do you interpret Morrison’s decision to frame the narrative around Diana’s trial, testimony and self-defense? As a structural/formal strategy, how might it shape a reader’s interpretation of the story’s content?”
And in SHERIFF OF BABYLON:
What do we learn—either through direct dialogue, contextual clues or visual deduction—about the American-controlled Green Zone? Does the text itself remain neutral about this setting, or does it build a particular commentary?
SUPERMAN VOL. 1 BEFORE TRUTH gives readers this to chew on:
One of the core concerns in SUPERMAN VOL 1: BEFORE TRUTH is the power of information, and its potential to be used as both shield and weapon. Find examples in the text of individuals sharing or disseminating information. Does the text present all of these instances through an equally critical lens, or does it acknowledge both “good” and “evil” intentions? How do you know, and why do you think this is?
Such complex questions, designed to challenge the reader and incite complex critical thought, reveal that these guides are not simply promotional noise, but well-thought-out, worthwhile supplements that bid both adults and young adults to closely read the graphic novel at hand and form a response that is not purely visceral.
The reading guides also identify intriguing themes that could lead to meditative and stimulating discussion among teachers and students: SUPERMAN’s themes are presented as “secrecy, publicity and privacy, technology, identity, betrayal, alienation, physicality, control, agency, strength and weakness.”
There are also guided close readings assisting readers to interpret the complex visual layout of the texts, and thought-provoking essay prompts.
The plan is to release additional guides for new titles throughout the year, followed by a separate collection organized by subject. Subject-specific guides will be curated to suggest the most relevant DC titles for courses focused on areas such as American cultural studies, science fiction, gender studies, exile/diaspora/immigration, dystopian fiction, ecocriticism and more. If the initial three releases are any indication, these will prove enormously useful tools in engaging with students maturely (without speaking down to them), while building the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in school and in life.
Editor’s Note: The links to these graphic novel reading guides are not readily available on the DC website, but we’ve included them here for your convenience; WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE VOL. 1, THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON, VOL. 1: BANG BANG BANG, SUPERMAN VOL. 1: BEFORE TRUTH, as well as in the body of the article. We’ll continue to update and share links as new guides become available.