Dr Peter Venkman: 'Scuse Me Egon? You Said Crossing the Streams Was Bad!.': Dr Ray Stanz: 'Cross the Streams.': Comics, Manga, Graphic Novels and the Challenge and Excitement of Cross-Curricular Work (with Apologies to Ghostbusters )
Gibson, Mel, NATE Classroom
Sequential art of all kinds lends itself to cross-curricular work within schools, colleges and beyond. Most typically, this draws in art and literature in a number of different ways, depending on the chosen emphasis and who the lead department or member of staff is. I have come across a range of approaches to using the medium and will flag up a few examples from around Britain in this article, but will concentrate in the latter part of the article on a very intensive 'Theme Day' that took place at Driffield School, East Yorkshire (www.driffleldschool.net).
In terms of approaching organizing cross-curricular work with comics, the first stages should be locating expertise and enthusiasm amongst the staff and students and locating appropriate primary texts to stimulate the work developed. Students may already be engaged with creating their own comics on a range of themes, so there may be skills and interests that staff can draw on there. I would also always suggest working with the school librarian, or schools library service, as this will resource curriculum work will as well as offering scope for developing leisure reading collections.
As one very small example of ways of working with and thinking about comics, a nine-year-old boy I met in a bookshop last weekend, pulled the adults with him over to a stand, so that he could show them Bryan Talbot's (2007) Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment. He announced that they had the book in the library at school and he had read it (this is a very challenging text aimed largely at an older audience). He explained that it was all about history and Sunderland and then outlined to the initially slightly bemused adults how the first few pages worked, doing a rather good job of it. When asked, he added that his class was, 'doing a comic about the history of our village', so pulling together library and classroom, reading, visual literacy, historical research, and art in one fell swoop. In offering Talbot's text as an example of what could be done, the pupils were not daunted, but excited, and inspired to try and make their own vision of their home.
Such an approach is entirely possible with older students. My first experience of this was in working with a school during a themed week centered on Japan some years ago. This involved taking the entire school off curriculum. With Japanese culture and history as the overarching theme, the librarian had developed a good collection of manga and anime, in the latter case, particularly of Studio Ghibli classics. These were used predominantly in media classes, exploring cultural difference in animation (with the approach being close textual analysis of scenes from the films, comparing them to Disney and other key examples). However, there were also library screenings, with permission, and the creation of still artwork inspired by the films, so working across art and media both formally and informally. In addition, students taking 'A' level Japanese gave taster sessions to younger pupils and all of the history classes focused on Japan, as did geography. There were also sessions in the library focusing on manga, via school reading groups. In some senses this was multi-disciplinary rather than inter-disciplinary work, but the collaboration on creating a manga about the week, outlining key elements of what students had learnt, drew all of the strands together. The latter was begun during the week, with students acting as both reporters and note-takers, but finished afterwards, with some working on text, others on illustration and production.
Another, smaller scale activity drawing together art, media, ICT and, as primary material, drama, involved the use of mobile technologies, Comic Life software (from http://plasq.com/) and attendance at a theatrical performance. The students used mobiles or cameras during the performance to gather the material that would be incorporated into their photo-stories, selecting and editing the material to give their version of the narrative and adding speech balloons that drew on their understanding of the dialogue. …