Putting Pow into Art Instruction

Article excerpt

How would you like to put some "Pow!" into your art instruction? A lesson in comic books--history, design, story, and production--can make your classes come alive. We present a new approach to using comics to build artistic skills and involve students in art appreciation.

Why Comics?

Many art teachers have students who say, "I hate art!" or, "I can't draw!" Often, these same students arc reprimanded for drawing in other classes instead of paying attention. These students may have notebooks filled with drawings that were produced outside of art class.

Although comic books are a major presence in the lives of children and adults, little has been written about comics in art education literature. Comic book artist Scott McCloud (McCloud, 1993; McCloud, 2000) defines, comics as "images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." He suggests that students can learn about art history through comic books. Examples of entry points: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TM can be used to introduce the artists after whom they were named (Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo); Batman's costume was originally based on a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci; students can also research artists who use comics for inspiration, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Roger Shimomura.

In addition to art history, teachers can focus on line-drawing technique, history, aesthetics, and empowerment (i.e., student as superhero). Comic books present a low-cost, accessible, familiar, and highly engaging medium to guide, entertain, and inspire students.

Comic History

The use of images for storytelling has existed throughout human history. While the first comic book ever published is in question, their popularity evolved from the dawn of the twentieth century. Since 1954, when Frederic Wertham (Seduction of the Innocent) claimed that comic books caused delinquency and the Comics Code Authority, with guidelines on acceptable content, began as a self-imposed regulation of the comic book industry, comics have been a source of both joy and controversy. Since the late 1980s, many new independent companies have been publishing comic books without the comic code seal of approval, leading to an increase in violent comic books.

Art instructors should be aware of the controversy and social consequences related to comic book content--especially related to rules and expectations about appropriate materials in specific schools. Instructors can spark student discussion about censorship and artist responsibility.

Comic Art Analysis

Teachers can present many art analysis principles via comic books and cartoons. Reviewing a single comic book with a class, the students can learn perspective, figure drawing, criteria for judging quality, portraits/faces (accuracy/creativity), standards for originality and composition on page (layout).

Comic art also offers unique aspects for learning graphic literacies, visual analysis, and skill building. Comic books tell stories through several pages of visual art. Concepts such as sequencing, relation of story to characters (thematically and visually) and consistency of character "look and feel" are critically important. Making comic books can also benefit interdisciplinary learning (e.g., language arts, desktop publishing).


Because of the popularity, variety, and graphic content of comic books, the authors offer the following cautions for instructors as they choose comic art. Always review any comics before they are used in class. As you review, you may want to:

1. Avoid comic art with nudity, inappropriate language, swearing, graphic/gory violence and/or offensive portrayals of principal, teachers or other groups known to students. …