Heroes in the Classroom: Comic Books in Art Education

By Berkowitz, Jay; Packer, Todd | Art Education, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Heroes in the Classroom: Comic Books in Art Education


Berkowitz, Jay, Packer, Todd, Art Education


"I think the only real difference between fine art and commercial art is a deadline.ff (caputo, 1997, p. 62)

How would you like to put some "POW!" into your arts instruction? A lesson in comic books-history, design, story, and production --can make your classes come alive! In the following article, we present some background, guidelines, and a lesson plan to help you use comics and cartoons in developing these artistic skills of students. So, as they say, "Up, up and away!"

Comics and cartoons provide a wealth of pedagogical opportunities. By placing comics in historical, aesthetic, educational, and empowering contexts,we present a new approach to using these materials to build artistic skills and involve students in art appreciation. After a brief history and critical analysis of comic books and cartooning, we provide a lesson plan and guidelines for using these materials in teaching children and adults.

Why Comics?

Many art teachers have met students who state that they hate drawing or that they can't draw-yet often these students get reprimanded by other teachers for drawing in class instead of paying attention. These students may even have a notebook full of drawings that were produced every place except in an art class. Why?

As an art teacher, Berkowitz has noticed how many students interested in comic books and cartoons did not perform well in art class. Students who could not stay focused in a 40-minute art class would spend hours drawing comic book characters. They also were interested in comic book history.

Comic books and cartooning can be valuable for art teachers, but little has been written about these in the

literature of art education. Brent and Marjorie Wilson (1976,1977,1980) suggest that children should be permit ted to copy comics. Other educators have written of using comics to educate children (Smith, 1985; Marston, 1944). Scott McCloud's (1993, 2000) sophisticated analyses of comics, presented in comic book format, provide ample resources for links between comics and art history. His definition of "comics" as "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer" (p. 9) provides a frame to link traditional art history to the medium of comics. Will Eisner (1995), a renowned comics artist, places comics in the history of art, literature, and storytelling with analysis of graphic narrative; he defines "comics" as "The printed arrangement of art and balloons in sequence, particularly as in comic books" (p. 6).

Comic books are a big business and a major presence in the lives of children and adults. According to Caputo (1997), "In recent years, comic book sales have exceeded $4 billion worldwide." Many adults, including teachers, grew up reading comic books, and they form a background for many cultural and visual references.

Students can learn traditional art concepts through the history and design of comic books. For example, children who like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'' will also be interested in learning about the artists after whom they were named (Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and Leonardo). Batman fans would be interested to learn that his costume was originally based on a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci. The students could even be introduced to fine artists such as Roy Lichtenstein or Roger Shimomura, who use comics as a source of inspiration in their work.

As a motivational and educational tool, comic books can be used with adults and children in a variety of teaching and training settings. Teachers can focus on line drawing technique, history, aesthetics, empowerment

(i.e., student as super-hero) or creative writing. Comic books present a lowcost, accessible, familiar, and highly engaging medium to guide, entertain, and inspire students in many areas.

Berkowitz (1996) designed an informal study wherein student pictures were shown to three judges. …

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