Before taking the plunge and using comic books in your instruction, you may be hesitant about the appropriateness of the content of the comic. Some misperceptions of the comic book medium are that it is rife with graphic depictions of violence, sex, nudity, or worse. And while there are certainly titles that meet that description, it is impossible to pigeonhole the diverse landscape of comics into a single slot.
As with any form of literature, comics and graphic novels run the gamut from kid-friendly to adult and represent every kind of genre imaginable. Also like other forms of literature and entertainment, not every comic book may be suitable in your classroom. Remember, the comic book is a format, not a genre. It is just another unique medium used to tell a story.
Yes: Some comics may contain objectionable language, graphic depictions of violence, or sexual content. However, this is also the case when talking about traditional novels, films, television programs, computer games, etc. Your students are most likely already exposed to such things on television, in the music they listen to, and in the videogames they play.
“But that doesn’t mean they should be exposed to such things in my classroom,” you may reply. And we agree with you wholeheartedly. Any comic found objectionable should be excluded from your classroom or school library. We ask only that you realize that not all comics — or even the majority of comics, for that matter — should be so excluded. Obviously, when choosing a particular title, some discretion will be involved. But for every objectionable or offensive title in the market, there are many, many more that are not only appropriate, but also critically acclaimed and respected works of art.
Even as conservative an organization as the Parents Television Council has endorsed comic books in schools, commenting that they “may be the best thing to happen for kids who resist the written word.”*
Your community standards and mores will prevail, as they should: Be sure to investigate a new comic book or graphic novel with the same vigor and critical eye you would apply to any addition to your classroom. Depending on the class and/or lesson you are teaching, a comic’s suitability can vary; preview the graphic novel’s content before assigning it to your students.
Taking a few simple steps to educate yourself will prepare you for the concerns of others and alleviate your own as well!
* Gustafson, Rod. “Help for Reluctant Readers” (06/29/04)