Teenagers Reading

research for my PhD thesis

The literature of comics

with 5 comments

She said it took different skills to interpret the interplay of words and pictures in graphic novels – skills that were important in today’s highly visual world.

“You’re actually reading the pictures at the same time that you’re reading the words, so if you’re not used to it that can be very difficult. It’s something you have to learn.”

The above is a quote from Perth’s daily newspaper The West Australian and it was supplied to reporter Bethany Hiatt during an interview with me :) Last week I was interviewed about graphic novels and my research by Education Editor Ms Hiatt. My brain is mush due to thesis, but I actually made some lucid comments that gave the impression my brain is not mush :P On Saturday the article was published [1]. Some of The West Australian’s articles are reprinted online, but comics just don’t cut it. You can only read it if you’re in Perth and you’re one of those people who read the paper. What newspapers already know (and are desperately grasping for ideas on how they can make money from the younger generation who don’t read papers) I have now worked out.

I felt almost famous being in the newspaper. Unfortunately my fame is only among those older people who read the paper. I’m not denigrating the older generation of newspaper readers and I’m not sure what the cut-off age is, but when I txtd my friends to tell them to look for me in the paper, their answers were along these lines:

  • Ignore me (it happens a lot due to most of what I txt being something totally random that I think is enormously funny but no one else does)
  • Tell me to save the article for when we next met up
  • Tell me he’d look at it at work on Monday

They’re obviously below the magical age, as am I. While I knew there was going to be a story with my input, I only found out it was published when my dad rang me to tell me. Other people I know such as my parent’s neighbour and a past colleague who retired and now does volunteer work with my mum, saw me in the paper. Dorothy the neighbour even cut out a copy to send to my bro in Darwin. This was nice of her, but I’m not sure he even cares knows what I do with my time. (He certainly doesn’t know when my b.day is and it’s two days after his!) Perhaps when he receives the letter my mum is so excited about sending, he’ll be enlightened (she could tell him my b.day at the same time). We can discuss my niblings’ introduction to comics when they all visit at Christmas. Altho I’ve never come across comics in boardbooks – that’s what they’re up to.

Due to non-onlineness I’ll explain some of the other points in the article. Mainly that graphic novels need to be included among classroom literature because they are literature and can add so much to the lives of students and perhaps turn some kids who hate books onto reading something else. Something that is just as much a book, and in my opinion, often much more. Some of the students I talked to for my research don’t agree with me and need to be exposed to more graphic novels to discover the diversity available and the profound stories which can be told when word and image collide.

I also had to tell Ms Hiatt I’m not a teacher and not exactly qualified to say they should be used in class. So she talked to teachers and Wendy Cody, president of the English Teachers Association of WA, agreed that visual literacy is as important as traditional literacy [2]. Ms Hiatt visited Hale School because they have a great collection of graphic novels in their library (which may have featured in my research). Hale’s curriculum director David Bean said they use graphic novels in class, such as adaptations of Shakespeare,

as a way into Shakespeare’s language.

I hope they use more than just these, because the quality of many graphic novels is phenomenal. Skim by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki [3] and The Great Gatsby by Nicki Greenberg [4] come to mind, but there are many more that I’ve read and are yet to read. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan [5] being my latest recommendation from Mr Shaddow.

And Mariko Tamaki is writer in residence all this month at Inside a Dog, so get there quick before she leaves Inky and goes back to boring life outside of a dog.

For those who’d like some reading on the proven complexity of the interaction between word and image in graphic novels, see 6-13 below. Or wait for my lit review, which will be online next year, early if those examiners are kind to me :)


  1. Hiatt, Bethany (2009, 21 Nov) “Graphic novels win over guardians of school literature” The West Australian, p.16
  2. Kress, Gunther (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age London: Routledge
  3. Tamaki, Mariko & Tamaki, Jillian (2008) Skim Toronto: Groundwood
  4. Greenberg Nicki (2007) The Great Gatsby Melbourne: Allen & Unwin
  5. Vaughan, Brian K. (2003) Y: The Last Man New York: DC Comics
  6. Arnold, Andrew (2007) “Comix poetics” World Literature Today, vol.81, no.2, pp.12-15
  7. Baetens, Jan (2001) The Graphic Novel Louvain, Belgium: Leuven University Press
  8. Carter, James Bucky (Ed.) (2007) Building literacy connections with graphic novels: Page by page, panel by panel Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English
  9. Gravett, Paul (2005) Graphic novels: Stories to change your life London: Aurum Press
  10. Hatfield, Charles (2005) Alternative comics: An emerging literature Jackson: University Press of Mississippi
  11. McLaughlin, Jeff (Ed.) (2005) Comics as Philosophy Jackson: University Press of Mississippi
  12. Miller, Steve (2005) Developing and Promoting Graphic Novel Collections New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers
  13. Saraceni, Mario (2003) The Language of Comics London: Routledge

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Written by ClareSnow

25 November 2009 at 1:29 am

5 Responses

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  1. A book I’d highly recommend regarding the language of comics and graphic novels is “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud. One of the points of genius about this book is that it is itself a comic.

    Great to see comics being taken seriously (by some) as a completely legitimate form of literature.

    And “Y: The Last Man” is great. I’m not too impressed by the artwork, but the writing is top-notch.


    25 November 2009 at 8:40 am

  2. But of course you’re already aware of “Understanding Comics”. As though you wouldn’t be! Silly me. Good luck with the thesis.


    25 November 2009 at 8:52 am

  3. You’re right of course I’ve read it :P and it comes up in my lit review.

    Someone once suggested to me that I should write my thesis as a comic, but I can’t draw so it wouldn’t work out too well :) I thought it was a great idea and maybe one day someone will do this.


    25 November 2009 at 1:40 pm

  4. […] 2009 by ClareSnow I was planning to blog about the field of lettuce growing in my garden, but that thesis took over and since then it’s become a field of lettuce and tomato, with lettuce getting pretty […]

  5. […] graphic novels. Both have graphic novel collections in their school libraries and encourage the format’s use in class by their teachers. I cited their previous writing on graphic novels in my thesis. If only I […]

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