Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

Part II: I love comics — but is this one safe for class?

Just because something is created in the comics (aka sequential art) medium, does that change the gravitas of the content? Would a serious topic be diminished presented in comics format? 

Sometimes, comics versions of stories are seen as lesser or substandard. For example, many ‘classic’ novels have been presented as graphic novels, such as: Macbeth, Hamlet, The Odyssey, Frankenstein and Beowulf.

  

And many fine original stories have appeared as graphic novels, such as: I, Witness, A Bag of Marbles and The Outside Circle, to name a few I have recently read. But again, they are considered less than traditional novels. 

But the following comic got me wondering about what degree the comics medium might diminish or inappropriately intensify a topic.

Consider the following comic from fusion.net: a victim of rape and her story as told to Jen Sorensen by Anonymous entitled “The phone rang. It was my college rapist”.

(Note: some may find this content disturbing.)

   
      
          

  

  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Should I have included the disclaimer “some may find this content disturbing”? Isn’t that the point? I asked a number of women colleagues to read this comic along with the question of “Is this comic ‘too much’ for high school students?

My colleague, Angie, who works in the field of guidance counseling, suggested that this comic is a reality for some high school girls already. And that the topic of sexual assault needs to come out of the shadows and into the forefront of conversation. But, as my colleague Annette and I spoke, I had the feeling of ‘but they are still young adults’. 

Where is the line?

Macbeth, as a contrast, explores murder (of a leader, of a male best friend, of women and children, of innocent civilians) as well as mental illness and suicide, and this text is part of the fabric of high school English courses. 

I wonder if a concern might be whether the offending or disturbing act is overtly depicted versus merely suggested. Lady Macbeth, for example, dies offstage as does Lady Macduff and her entire household; the rape and subsequent phone call of this comic are depicted more directly by the artist.

But violence is shown quite clearly and in brutal fashion in such war films as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. 

Is war violence somehow safer than sexual violence for classroom discussion? 

And yet in Canada, it goes without saying that a woman must face the possibility of sexual assault throughout their lives (1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in North America — www.sexualassault.ca

So, as a dad to three young girls, do I want them addressing difficult  topics such as those found in this comic in high school even if it makes them uncomfortable.

If it will forewarn them of very real dangers, I say “Absolutely.”

I love comics – but is this one safe for class?

I love graphic novels and comics. 

While I admit to being a lifelong fan of comic book heroes and their adventures, I am always on the lookout for comics and GNs that tell non-superhero stories –particularly ones aimed at young adults. I do this because I want to find new reading material for my high school students — but am also looking to change the minds of teacher colleagues who may think that comics and GNs are only about Batman, Superman or The Hulk – not that those are bad! 

I digress.

Two excellent examples of recent non-superhero graphic novels that I have read (and tweeted about as @mistercooke on Twitter) include: 

  • The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings: after being sent to jail for murder, a young First Nations man strives for redemption through an exploration of his own culture.
  • A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo, Kris, and Vincent Bailly:  a Jewish family living in Paris must make the heart-breaking decision to send their children away as the Nazis rise to power.

   

I would love to get both of these books into the hands of students and teachers to show that powerful, disturbing, beautiful, humane, transcendent stories can also be told through the medium of comics. Or as comics guru Scott McCloud says “sequential art”.

I have discovered, in my own practice, GNs can be light reading, entry point reading, a gateway to other reading or a challenging reach book, depending on the reader, as there is a literacy unique to comics that some are more familiar with than others. 

Indeed, I love comics and graphic novels because the visual nature of comics adds both an immediacy and a new layer of complexity that both invites me in and challenges me as a reader.

But could this immediacy be dangerous?

I discovered a longer comic today that presented a difficult conundrum for me as a teacher: can this visual nature of comics and GNs be too immediate? Should some subject matter be left to the reader’s imagination? 

What is that comic, the content of which vexed me so? It shall appear in my next post, posted post-haste.