By Harrison Howe
Comics as Learning Opportunities
Comic books have come a long way since their inception more than 75 years ago. Particularly in the past decade or so, comics have become increasingly recognized for their potential literary value. Offering a combination of reading and visual stimulation that research shows many pre-teen and teen-aged boys prefer, comic books can, according to some studies, help improve literacy. And this learning potential has not gone unnoticed.
Take the non-profit Kids Love Comics, whose main mission is to raise awareness of comic books as educational vehicles. Consisting of comic book creators and publishers along with educators and even fans, the organization, through tours and participation at comic book conventions, seeks to make comics more accessible and available to children.
Children can develop writing and reading skills when they are given the chance to create their own comics through New York City's Comic Book Project. Established in 2001 and hosted by the Center for Educational Pathways, the program emphasizes learning by having children express themselves through drawing and writing comic books.
And Reading With Pictures, a nonprofit organization founded by graphic novelist Josh Elder in 2009, strives to provide comics for educational use by raising awareness in schools around the country. Its goal is to 'get comics into schools and schools into comics.' The organization conducts research, consults with schools, works with cartoonists on scholastic comics and assists universities in designing courses focusing on the study of comics.
Equating Enjoyment with Reading
Well-known comic book writer and editor Stan Lee, who created, among others, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men, founded the Stan Lee Foundation in 2010. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing literary resources and fighting illiteracy. To that end, in May 2011 it joined forces with Team Prime Time, a Los Angeles-based foundation offering programs for low-income and developmentally-disabled children.
When asked if he was surprised that comics and education could be combined, Lee answered that as far back as the 1960s he had begun receiving letters from teachers heralding the positive effects of comics on their students. These teachers indicated that they saw improvement in grammar and composition in children who read comic books. Studies show that comics can help young and beginning readers better understand narrative concepts, story structure and character development.
At an event at Dodger Stadium hosted by the Stan Lee Foundation and Team Prime Time, graphic novels were given out to any child in attendance. 'Comics really are a good aid to getting kids to read more literature, increasing their vocabulary and making them want to read,' Lee told IGN Entertainment. He added, 'If you're a kid...you begin to equate enjoyment with reading.'
Literacy gets a boost and kids get a great opportunity once a year when independent comic shops across the United States participate in Free Comic Book Day.