Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Power of Words in Graphic Novels

“By words the mind is winged” Aristophanes

A very great part of the mischiefs that vex this world arises from words Edmund Burke

We use words all the time, often overlooking their their power, their immediate and long term affects, and their significance. Ironically, while we don't always think of graphic novels as a resource for words and language, or a means of relaying the power of words, they actually are.

I can't begin to tell you how many  second language learners or how many weak language learners have turned to graphic novels as a means of learning and grasping the nuances of language. And in hindsight (at least mine) it makes a lot of sense.  Here's why:

Graphic novels tell their stories through the interaction of image, text, graphic and page design and use of fonts. With limited use of text, word choice must be succinct, and crystal clear.  Having students focus on word choices found in their favorite graphic novels and having them carefully write their own can be powerful language learning tools.  Furthermore, for the weak and second language learners, the pairing of text and image make it easier to understand and remember and incorporate stronger vocabulary, spelling and rules of grammar.

  • Onomatopoeia and simple text/visual pairings. Graphic novels offer powerful and effective word/graphic/image pairings.  These pairings make reading fun and the large (often colorful) fonts make it easy to sound out fun onomatopoeia words as students focus on the phonetic components of these words. Take this page from Monster on the Hill  by Rob Harrell (Top Shelf) as the monster smashes through the window:

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, Top Shelf
As a teaching tool:  Have students search for examples of onomatopoeia in comic strips and graphic novels and then have them create their own having fun with the words, with fonts and with the design.
  • Metaphor.  Metaphor is an abstract concept that is often difficult for students to fully grasp.  The pairing of image and text typically makes the metaphor more obvious, more concrete and easier to understand and remember.  Here are a few great graphic novel examples:
    • Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Nimura's I Kill Giants (Image Comics) is one giant metaphor (pun intended - sorry). In this book, we meet  Barbara, a 5th grader who tells us she kills giants. We as readers, are clearly sceptical of this and throughout the story we wonder if she actually kills giants, or if she's using this as a metaphor about her life and the challenges she faces. In the long run, we learn it's a little bit of both and much, much more.
I Kill Giants
I Kill Giants by Joe Kellyand JM Ken Nimura (Image Comics)

    • Another great example of metaphor and word play can be found in Gene Yang's American Born Chinese. At one point the herbalist's wife asks Jin Wang what he wants to be when he grows up and he says, "I want to be a transformer" which seems innocuous enough...  
      American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (First Second Books)
      ...But later on we see that while he initially plays with transformers and we think he's talking about the toy, we later see the meaning is much deeper (as he transforms his outer appearance to look like all the other kids (who are not Chinese)
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (First Second Books)
  • Text and image introduce multiple means of expression while reinforcing and highlighting literary devices including idioms, puns, and similes as well as metaphors. The pairing of text and image enable weak language learners to see, read and remember these techniques and word pairings.
    • Here's an example ("CLONK!") from Zita Space Girl (series) by Ben Hatke (First Second Books)
Zita Space Girl by Ben Hatke (First Second Books)
  • Succinct use of expressive text - because there is only a limited amount of space per panel and page, text must be succinct and well chosen. Teaching suggestion: Encourage students to write stories in prose and then transpose the same story into a graphic novel. Discuss their language choices and the issues they faced when reducing the amount of language and pairing it with images.

  • The power of words (a previous post illustrating the power of words with a video, editing advice, and word-related links)
-->Understand Spelling Errors to Raise Better Writers (a previous post illustrating how spelling errors can be used to better understand a student's challenges)
  • A SUPER handout from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Writing Center on Word Choice. It discusses misused words, jargon, 'loaded language', wordiness, cliches, writing for an academic audience, repetition vs. redundancy, building clear thesis statements, strategies for successful word choice, final editing questions to ask yourself, and it contains additional references.
  • Here is a with a nice editing checklist

  • Before closing I'd love to leave you an inspirational graphic quote created by Zen Pencil. For those unaware, Zen Pencil transposes famous (inspirational) poems and quotes into graphic wonders. Here is "Phenomenal Women: A Poem by Maya Angelou"

    From: zenpencils.com

    Thank you as always for visiting. 


    1. I COULD link to virtually all of your posts, but THIS one I MUST!
      ROG, ANCW

    2. This is PHENOMENAL! Makes me think of that song "I Am Woman - Hear Me Roar!"

      abcw team

    3. You're a phenomenal woman! It is true that pictures help slow readers like me to understand a complicated text.I believe I am a weak language learner, and I am not a philosopher either. When a text is long I divide it in smaller parts, which I read twice before really understanding what the point is. There fore I am really grateful for drawings and photos. I liked this post! Thank you.
      Wil, ABCW Team.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. I love the examples you chose to use in this post - especially the closing graphic quote by Zen Pencil of Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Woman. Bravo! Great post, I enjoyed it.

    6. I love Graphic Novels! These are winners! #WW

    7. Your post is so informative and interesting. I work in children's literature and frequently spend time explaining the power and beauty of graphic novels to reluctant parents. Your post will help in that endeavour. Thanks!

    8. Graphic Novels can be so much fun, they get the attention of the most distracted of them all.
      Have a wonderful rest of the week.