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Comics in the Classroom and Beyond

can haz moar pictures?

Do you ever use comics in the classroom? I often see people using comics as part of their slides—depending on your topic, there might be the perfect XKCD or PhDComics for your situation—but making comics to share ideas is less common and can be daunting. But comic-esque creativity is more common, and more accessible, than ever, as memes such as LOLCats encourage single-panel creativity for anyone, including the less artistically inclined. This type of creativity can potentially be pulled into the classroom, or even become a form of scholarship, as the comics course syllabus intro as comic highlighted in Jason’s Creative Approaches to the Syllabus suggests.

Last week many of us here at ProfHacker traveled out to George Mason University for THATCamp CHNM. I proposed a session on comics, and lots of great resources came out of the conversation as well as ideas about the possibilities of using the comic form to deliver accessible scholarship or to challenge students to engage differently with material in assignments. Comic-form scholarship is not a new idea–in the ProfHacker Summer Reading Guide, I recommended two books of this kind I’ve been re-reading: Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes and Alice in Sunderland. Nick Sousanis’s dissertation as comic takes the visual form to an inspiring extreme, reminiscent of Scott McCloud’s seminal comic texts. The same ideas can be applied to the digital, as conversions such as the CD version (with animations, billed as “interactive literature”) of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe and the many layers of Art Spiegelman’s Meta Maus demonstrate.

These examples point towards what working in the comic form can accomplish as an exercise for students as well as for us: it demands the conscious structure of visual and textual data with intention. It can be a great form for experimenting with multimedia and in particular remembering that a picture can be more than illustration—it can illuminate something that complements, contradicts or otherwise engages with the text.

We’ve talked about creating comics with the help of technology at ProfHacker before, as Billie Hara discussed the Comic Life creation tool and its corresponding iPad app. Tools like Comic Life rely more on photographs than drawn visuals, but the same principles of communication apply. While Comic Life encourages fairly traditional production, other tools promise more experimentation. The Infinite Canvas iPad app applies Scott McCloud’s concept of the screen as a portal onto endless space, abandoning notions of the page altogether. The iPad version of Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile is a great example of this concept in action.

If you’re interested in playing with comics yourself or using the form in a class assignment, there are a number of options for sharing the work. A new WordPress plug-in, Comic Easel, offers a powerful and flexible way to deliver your own page-based comics, graphic novels, or other experiments to blogs using any theme. The plug-in builds on the power of ComicPress, a free theme for building webcomic sites. Networks such as The Webcomic List show the range of what is already out there powered by these types of platforms.

Have you tried making or using comics in your classroom or scholarship? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments! 

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