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4 Questions for Richard Beach about Literacy and Digital Comics Creation

I first met Professor Beach, co-author of the recent Using iPad and iPhone Apps for Learning with Literacy Across the Curriculum, when we served on the NCTE Commission on Media several years ago, and it soon became clear that he already knew more about teaching, media, and curriculum than I ever would. Eventually I was fortunate enough to present with him at the annual convention, where I talked about traditional scriptwriting and he talked about composition of a different sort: creating comics with the tools, most of them online, that had newly become available. (And which also form the topic of this series of posts, of which this is the conclusion. Here are parts one, two, and three.) So I’m grateful that, upon hearing that SLJ was covering this topic, he made the time to answer a quartet of questions that I emailed him…

1. Why do you think in recent years there seems to be a huge interest in comics creation in schools? Has something changed in pedagogy or curriculum?

I think that there’s a shift towards a more multimodal way of communicating through digital videos, VoiceThread, and graphic novels/comics that is more appealing and engaging to adolescents who now expect such multimodal ways of learning. I also think that the quality of graphic novels/comics has improved so that they are now taken much more seriously by teachers and librarians, now that graphic novels are winning literary awards and have become part of the canon. And, because students can readily create their own graphic novels/comics using tools such as Comic Life, they can appreciate what constitutes the aesthetics of effective production. And, with the future development of web novels/video novels, the convergence of different modes will continue so that the graphic novel will combine with games and online experiences (see this NY Times article on the Virtual and literature).

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages—for students and/or educators—in using comics creation services/software versus the more traditional pen-and-paper approach? Or does it make sense to use both with any given class or student?

These software programs provide a major advantage in terms of providing the templates, tools, font, and importing services that make production so much easier, resulting in a more appealing product than students might achieve using pen-and-paper. The fact that they can import photos of themselves to embed into the comics widens the genre out to include autobiographical narratives or travel memoirs. On the other hand, making it too easy could be seen as a limitation in terms of students’ ability to use their own artistic abilities with pen and paper.

3. What would you tell educators who are newly considering adding comics creation to the curriculum? Any benefits that might not be so obvious?

There are certain students who have a particular strong interest in this genre who are continually seeking further examples of works by the same artists or texts within the same genre/series; it’s essential to build on those students’ established reading interests. At the same time, as my doctoral student Heidi Hammond found in her dissertation study, it’s important to provide students with instruction in the conventions of the graphic novel as well as re-reading the novels to enhance their interest and engagement. It’s also useful to select graphic novels/comics that address issues and concerns students care about, meshing them in units with more traditional print texts, as well as showing them how the draw on familiar archetypes in print literature, enhancing students literary knowledge.

4. Finally, what resources or further reading of would you suggest on this topic? [a clear, comprehensive set of links to comics generators as well as resources for reading and studying comics, and even creating print comics.] [curated list of key articles on teaching with manga and graphic novels] [a broader survey of resources on the comics medium generally; includes items from the above lists supplemented by comics history and other related topics]


Great, thank you so much…


About Peter Gutierrez


  1. I think his point about explicit teaching of how to read graphic novels is important. I remember making the assumption with a class that they could read and understand a graphic version of The Odyssey, only to find out later that most were confused about sequencing — what panel to read next — and about the gaps in the narrative, and how the art can fill in those gaps. It was an eye-opening experience for me, who figured “kids can read comics, so they can read graphic novels.” Wrong.
    Another great post in your series.


  1. […] here at SLJ, Peter Gutierrez talks to Richard Beach about literacy and making comics in the classroom, using comics creation […]