Why don’t we take comics seriously?


Despite its indisputable importance in popular culture, the comic does not enjoy a similar status in the Spanish-speaking world as it does in other countries. Among other reasons, this may be due to the very origin of the modern comic in the daily press, much weaker than in the United States, and which linked the comic to children’s content . However, it is a medium that visually represents one of the fundamental roles of humans: that of storytellers.

Since 1992, when the prestigious Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Maus: A Survivor’s Story , Art Spiegelman ‘s work on the Holocaust, the medium has been gaining recognition around the world. Today it is used to narrate historical events, as the multi-award-winning Paco Roca does , and it makes its way into typically cultural spaces, such as museums .

In France, there have been comic book readings recommended in schools for years. And although we can find examples from Indonesia to Japan or Australia in which this growing interest is seen, in few places as in the Gallic country a similar status is granted to graphic comics.

In Spain it is an educational resource that has generated interest , but does not seem to have consolidated its position (yet).

Educational origin

The word comic of English origin derives from the Greek komikos , “relating to comedy.” If we had to define it in a few words, the comic consists of telling stories based on the image and the word. For the RAE it is a sequence of vignettes (some authors call it sequential art) with narrative development or also the name of the book that contains them.

Taking these definitions, a relationship with other works (hieroglyphics or the Banner of Ur ) could be established. However, the true parents of the modern comic are more recent, from the 19th century. We are talking about The Yellow Kid comic strip and the work of the Swiss educator Rodolphe Töpffer .

As can be seen, the comic was born together with education. The Yellow Kid had a strong component of social criticism and Töpffer was an educator. In addition, we are in an increasingly visual society and comics are an excellent way to educate ourselves in reading and creating visual content; It is not for nothing that in the cinema storyboards are very common sketches as part of the creative process.

An example storyboard . Rodrigo Ferrusca / Wikimedia Commons

A “young” thing

But if it has so many educational possibilities, why isn’t it used more?

Traditionally it has been seen as a second (or third) order cultural product, associated with a child audience ; in fact, one of the synonyms for comics in Spanish, tebeo, comes from the TBO children’s publication .

And without a doubt, the bad press from this medium has also influenced. In the United States in the mid-twentieth century, with the US Senate involved, there was a small witch hunt, in which it was feared that comics would pervert the minds of young people. This led to the imposition of self-censorship, the Comic Code , which continued until the beginning of the current century.

The curious thing is that these accusations of corruption of youthful minds (ranging from crime to homosexuality) were not supported by a scientific basis. In fact, they are reminiscent of what happened years later with video games or role-playing games . In both cases, there have been real media trials without scientific basis, accusing them of promoting violence or drug use.

Could it be that we mistrust what the new generations do? Perhaps a part of the idea of ​​”any past time was better” underlies the interest in criticizing the hobbies of young people. And it’s okay to be critical, but perhaps we are very demanding with this new content and less with others.

Recognized in France

The French Ministry of Education establishes reading lists organized by levels and genres, including one dedicated specifically to comics. For more than thirty years, teaching image reading has been a standardized task in classes.

In 2008 the compulsory subject History of the Arts arose, in secondary education, in which the comic is classified as “visual art”. In 2013, the number of comics included in the reading list doubled.

The comic clearly has explicit recognition in France at an educational level and has even been used in therapeutic experiences .

Educational benefits

Comics are an important resource for the development of reading and writing, both for young people and adults, contributing to the understanding of the social environment that surrounds us. The main pedagogical functions of the comic are to stimulate creativity, learning, verbo-iconic language (the one in which text and image complement each other) and knowledge of the environment.

We can consider that the educational benefits of the comic are the following:

  1. Reading comprehension and vocabulary.
  2. Oral and written expression.
  3. Concentration and memorization.
  4. It adapts to the student’s own reading pace.
  5. Spelling and synthesis.
  6. Language learning.
  7. It complements audiovisual media.
  8. critical attitude.
  9. Understanding of the social and cultural reality of their immediate environment.
  10. Education in values.
  11. It favors the creation and creativity of the students.

A growing interest

Currently in Spain there are several initiatives with activities for schoolchildren or for teacher training that are based on comics. For example, the Saló Internacional del Cómic de Barcelona has held several annual conferences , organized by the Department of Education of the Generalitat, with the collaboration of FICOMIC .

At the university level, we find the Master’s Degree in Comics and Education from the University of Valencia . It is the first university master’s degree of its kind in the Hispanic area.

In Latin America there is also a growing interest, although the comparison between scientific publications on the subject from different countries is conditioned by various factors (number of journals, for example). Brazil is one of the countries with the most publications in recent years: to give a few examples, applied to comics we find works on creativity , the human body , sexual diversity and homophobia , critical reading or the history of the nation itself .

Throughout the Spanish-speaking area we find works on the training of readers , on Physical Education and emotional education , as well as essays on the origin of comics . As can be seen, it is a very wide and rich range, full of possibilities.

Lose the complexes

Nor are they left behind, albeit anecdotally, by large companies such as Marvel in awareness campaigns led by superheroes, for example against bullying , without forgetting the role in the US of comics with respect to diversity racial or gender equality claims .

These are undoubtedly signs of the potential and interest that comics generate. In short, an artistic form with enormous potential in the educational environment that should be taken a little more seriously.

Let’s hope that in the “next issue” we will find new and exciting adventures… that will help us take advantage of all the resources available to promote learning. Without complex.

Author Bio:Mario Grande de Prado is Professor of Educational Technology at the University of León