Teaching Visual Literacy: Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons, and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills

By Rodríguez, José Gabriel Ferreras; Pérez, Manuel Hernández | International Journal of English Studies, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Teaching Visual Literacy: Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons, and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills


Rodríguez, José Gabriel Ferreras, Pérez, Manuel Hernández, International Journal of English Studies


Nancy Frey & Douglas Fisher (eds.) (2008). Teaching visual literacy: Using comic books, graphic novels, anime, cartoons, and more to develop comprehension and thinking skills. Thousand Oaks, California Corwin Press. 195 pages. ISBN 978-1-4129-5311-5, 978-1-4129-5312-2

There is broad consensus among scholars that our culture is more visual than ever before. High school or college students, among other groups, inevitably need to access images for their daily lives. However, teaching the language used by these images continues to be largely ignored as an issue in academia. Despite finding ourselves immersed in a veritable audiovisual abyss, the learning of this grammar is conspicuously absent and undervalued as an area of knowledge, like writing, that may be taught and learned.

Teaching Visual Literacy is the title of a work, edited recently in the United States by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, which seeks to approach this specific need. Professors at San Diego State University, with years of teaching experience, international prizes and books related to education, Frey and Fisher assemble a compilation of various articles written by and for specialists in the so called realm of "visual literacy". Throughout the book, they seek to provide a series of strategies to help increase students' involvement in the classroom through rarely used tools, such as illustrated books, manga comics, graphic novels, anime films and other visual sources of information.

The book's main objective, in effect, is based upon the recommendation for different contributors to utilize this type of materials, previously considered "inappropriate" because of their content or underappreciated artistic merit. These materials, primarily comics and cartoons, have proven their detractors wrong by gaining ground in the classroom, probably due to their undeniable popularity, thematic diversity and cultural status attained over more than a century as "minor" genres. Although they cannot avoid using their critical judgment as educators, all of the authors express their preference towards the use of such tools, explaining throughout their contributions the processes that have led them as educational professionals to discover and overcome their biases.

Going more deeply into the book's specific content, the first part delves into a certain theoretical load that justifies the significant permeability between visual and theoretical content. Models are addressed that are based primarily on human physiology in relation to color and perception of forms and our particular cognition (with frequent mention of Paivo's dual model (1978), which remains an undeniable reference in the field of cognitive psychology). In the first chapter, for example, Lynell Burmark introduces the expression visual literacy and explains how images influence our comprehension. Lawrence Baines provides suggestions on how to use students' interest in movies to motivate and involve them in education, capture their attention and foster their critical thinking skills. And Paula Kluth analyzes how approaches through visual literacy may succeed by helping students with disabilities demonstrate their knowledge. Many of those students exhibit clear visual orientation, so they are better equipped to understand and remember content when they are able to see it represented visually.

Kelly Chandler-Olcott, in the fourth chapter, is the only author in the book who focuses on a genre (animation) and a specific style (Japanese anime), breaking from the tendency among many contributors to this work, and other books, to group together the same virtues and defects with products as disparate as American film, comics, graphic novels or animated film. Accordingly, this author takes a special interest in tracing the peculiarities of the Japanese market, if not in showing its stylistic or language differences (McLeod, 2006) relative to its Western counterparts. Her perspective is most closely aligned to authors (Jones, 2004; Poitras, 1999) who primarily sympathize with Japanese products and laud their excellent production, maturity and great diversity of subject matter as well as the country's long history in other "major" arts, film, painting or literature. …

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