Table of contents
2 The History and Definition of Comics and Graphic Novels
3 Changing Times and Multiliteracies for the EFL-Classroom
4 Advantages of Using Graphic Novels in the EFL-Classroom
4.1) Motivating learners to read with Graphic Novels
4.2) Developing Critical Literacy with Graphic Novels
4.3) Developing Multimodal Literacy with Graphic Novels
4.4) Developing Functional Literacy with Graphic Novels
Graphic novels, which are closely related to comics and manga/anime, are today a fast growing medium in the U.S. and a new focus in literacy and language education. There is already a broad variety of Graphic Novels and they enjoy great popularity. As Callahan (2009) puts it, this medium is „exciting, with variety, controversy, diversity and literary merit“. Moreover, the topics range from history and wars via politics to civil rights and also personal issues are picked out as central themes, which could serve as a great advantage in the EFL-Classroom.
Additionally, reading is one of the most important skills students need to acquire when they learn a language. Reading comprehension as information processing is a steady act of meaning construction. We are constantly confronted with various reading situations, for example, in every-day life, school, work, leisure or in self-education. Thinking of the question about what can be read, a multitude of reading situations might be enlisted. Here are just a few examples: one can read any kind of book, magazines, newspapers, manuals, subject specific and scientific literature, online-articles, medical instruction leaflets as well as letters and even any signs. Looking at those situations, there are three different functions of reading. First, one might read to get information, for instance, to find out about a specific person by using wikipedia. Second, reading because of psychological-emotional driven intentions, for example, reading a novel that one is interested in. And third, one might read to acquire a foreign language. Anyway, wouldn't it be great to combine at least two of those functions reading a novel in the EFL-Classroom?
Students always try to identify themselves with topics and they are self-motivated if they can deal with things they are interested in and that concern them, but at the same time they need to acquire various competencies in the EFL-Classroom. As Graphic Novels fulfil both criteria from my point of view, this paper wants to enlighten this medium more closely. Therefore, I would like to describe the history of Graphic Novels and the term itself first (chapter 2). The third chapter deals with changing times and changing literacies, followed by my fourth part that takes a closer look onto several advantages of using Graphic Novels in the EFL-Classroom. Finally, I would like to sum up the most important aspects in my conclusion.
2 The History and Definition of Comics and Graphic Novels
As this paper is about the use of graphic novels in the EFL classroom, it is necessary to first define the term Graphic Novel, but to do that a definition of its hypernym Comics is mandatory.
As Fredric Wertham (1954) states in his book Seduction of the Innocent, comics lead to criminal activity, sex, destruction, homosexuality and overall juvenile delinquency. Also Scott McCloud (1993: 2) says that comic books are often seen as “bright, colourful magazines filled with bad art, stupid stories and guys in tights”. This is not only a too narrow definition, it also defines the content instead of the medium. Comics are not just magazines and not just stories about superheroes. They are a medium that can be used to transmit any content. Additionally, the definition of the term comic gives no information about the way it is created and what materials are used. A comic can be written on stone, on paper or it can be digital. No kind of drawing or writing tool is ruled out (McCloud 1993: 22).
McCloud defines the medium comic with the help of Will Eisner's definition of comics as “Sequential Art”. He develops it further to the more complicated definition “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequences intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (McCloud 1993: 9). He wants to prove the point that comics are much older than most people would think. Bayeux Tapestry and even Egyptian paintings are, technically spoken, comics as they show a sequence of moments in pictures to convey information. What the western society calls comics came to be with the European invention of printing around 1400. McCloud names Rodolphe Töpffer as the father of the modern comic, who was a French speaking Swiss artist who lived from 1799 until 1846. British caricature magazines kept Töpffer’s art form alive and developed it to what we know as comics today (McCloud 1993: 12f.).
Due to the negative connotations of the term comic – originating from its first steps as funny but undemanding comic strips in newspapers – according to Dietrich Grünewald comics are generally not considered art or literature by art and literature critics, because they started as a mass medium (Grünewald 2000: 79). If a work that is technically a comic is considered art it stops being considered a comic as McCloud claims. He gives a number of examples on that phenomenon. One of those examples is Lynn Ward’s Woodcut Novels, which is widely considered art but not a comic (McCloud 1993: 18). The same can be said about a number of other works like Albrecht Dürer's Kleine Holzschnittpassion from 1509/11 or Bonaventura Genelli's Aus dem Leben einer Hexe from 1847/50 (Grünewald 2000: 79). All those examples are – by McCloud's definition – comics. The negative connotation is so strong that a lot of comic artists do not call themselves that but “'illustrators', 'commercial artists' or, at best 'cartoonists'” (McCloud 1993: 18). The bad reputation of comics is also the reason for the coining of the term Graphic Novel by Eisner. In 1978 he published a comic with 178 pages. The comic is called A Contract With God and – according to McCloud – it has permanently changed the way comics are being perceived. Although it was a collection of four comic short stories, Eisner labelled it Graphic Novel. Until then comics had been called books – Comic Books – even though they were only magazines or booklets. With Eisner's work something really new of the term book came into existence and the author decided to call it a novel. To understand this, one has to consider the (aforementioned) bad reputation comic books had during that time. Eisner was afraid that the term Comic Book would devalue his work. After A Contract with God the term Graphic Novel has been remembered by the readers as well as by the publishers and with it the idea behind it: A serious work, longer than the average comic book and geared more towards adults than at kids and teenagers. This had to do with the more complex, demanding and serious stories that were featured in A Contract with God.
Also Yang (2008) and Callahan (2009) describe Graphic Novels as „thick comic books“ and longer, book-like comics, but it has to be mentioned that there is not one official definition of the term Graphic Novel.
While reading different literature about comics one will come across two categorisations: Some authors see comics as literature (e.g. Grünewald 2000) and others as art (McCloud 1993 ). In my opinion they are a hybrid of both. They combine the written form with the aesthetics of art to communicate a certain message. Ideally, word and art complement each other in such a way that they create something that neither art nor literature could have created on their own. Therefore, Graphic Novels are very popular nowadays and they can also serve as a special and effective medium in literacy as well as in language education, but I will come back to this aspect later on (chapter 4).