Graphic Novels – a passionate visual in the literacy world.

Why visual literacy needs to be taught MORE! Okay, so I wrote this when I was still at Uni doing my Dip ed. but I have been meaning to do something like this for a long… LONG time.

I love graphic novels and I am so passionate about them. They really need to be taught more in schools and I feel that students (and teachers) can get a lot from them in learning.  This is one of the reasons I have started this blog, to share these passions and hopefully, other people feel the same and get something from this.

So, here I am sharing this paper that I presented a while ago (but still very relevant) and I think it has a lot to say.  I have included a list of some recommendations not just for teaching, but for reading as well. These graphic novels/manga/comics in general are a great source of literature. I have read some of the most amazing stories in manga/graphic format!

I will also do reviews for the graphic novels/manga/comics I have recommended in good time.  So here we go… enjoy ~

Graphic Novels

For a generation that has been brought up with television, video games and the internet graphic novels provides for young readers an engaging form of medium that offer complex stories and challenging ideas as a visual rather than written literacy.  Graphic novels are popular among young readers because of such visual emphasis in their lives.  The appeal of the graphic novel is that it has the same flexibility as the comic book.  Graphic novels can be used to tell phenomenally complex stories in a simple way.  The reader reads the text and analyse images to interpret the story.

What are Graphic Novels?

Graphics novels are book-length, high-quality comic books that introduce children and adults to a wide range of literacy fiction and non-fiction subjects.  Graphic novels stand alone as complete works, as opposed to comic books, which are usually short serials.  While many people believe graphic novels to be dark “superhero stories” full of sex and violence, written for adults, graphic novels however are written for all age groups – from elementary aged children to adults.  Graphic novels can also include works of non-fiction.  Graphic novels are not a genre; however they are a format that covers many genres making them appeal to a wide range of readers.

The Japanese published graphic novels (or comics) are highly popular with young people around the world. This type of graphic novel is called manga.  Manga can also be associated with the art form, and does not necessarily have to be published in Japan.  Many western writers have published work in manga form.  Manga is known for its highly stylised and intricate artwork and, unlike American comics that concentrate on superhero fantasy adventures, manga spans a wide range of topics.

Visual Literacy

Essentially, the “comic book” format of a graphic novel is called sequential art.  This definition makes graphic novels a combination of text, panels, and images, which requires the reader to read text and analyse images to interpret the story.  The relationship between text and image means graphic novels are not as simple as they may seem, instead graphic novels can be quite challenging to read.  Because of the interplay of text and images, graphic novel readers have learned to interpret body language, expressions and symbolic meanings of certain images and postures, metaphors and similes.  This interaction of visual and text give greater meaning then either one would on its own and can challenge the reader to engage with a text in a slightly different way.

Graphic Novels as classroom text

Teachers and parents may feel discouraged by using graphic novels as text reading.  This is because graphic novels may seem to be a “dumbing-down” of literacy.  This couldn’t be more wrong.  Graphic novels have enormous potential use in the classroom.  Why is this?  Fundamentally, graphic novels can be used as a bridge for wider reading.  They enable the struggling reader, motivate the reluctant one, and challenge the high level learner.   Graphic novels benefit all students, regardless of their reading skill or level of engagement.  Graphic novels provide images to compliment the text and help with students’ understanding of what they read.  This does not mean that the graphic novel should replace classroom classics instead they could be used alongside these classics.

Recommended Graphic Novels

For classroom use

Macbeth; Illustrated by Hoshine, Ken; No Fear Shakespeare; Spark Publishing; 2008

Hamlet; Illustrated by Babra, Neil; No Fear Shakespeare; Spark Publishing; 2008

Maus; Spiegelman, Art; Penguin Books; Genre: History

A story about the holocaust where the Jewish people are mice and the Nazis cats.

Ethel and Earnest; Brigg, Raymond; Pantheon Books; Genre: Real-life

A graphic memoir of the author/artist’s parents from their marriage in 1930 to their deaths within a few months of each other in 1971.

V for Vendetta; Moore, Alan; Lloyd, David; Vertigo; Genre: superhero, action

A terrifying portrait of totalitarianism and resistance

The Tale of One Bad Rat; Talbot, Bryan; Titan Books; Genre: real-life

The beautiful and dramatic story of a talented teenage girl struggling to regain self-worth and freedom from an abusive childhood.

When the Wind Blows; Briggs, Raymond; Penguin Books; Genre: Science Fiction

A heartbreaking story about a nuclear attack on Britain from the viewpoint of a retired couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs.

Interactive Graphic Novels

Killer; the Interactive graphic novel based off Long Feu’s “The Killer”; Schiedon, Fons; Submarine Channel; retrieved 13/10/09

Nawlz; interactive story-telling; SUTU; Phosphor Studios; retrieved 13/10/09


Naruto; Kishimoto, Masashi; Shounen Jump; Genre: Action, comedy, drama, adventure

A story based around a ninja world, staring Naruto Uzumaki, a hyperactive young boy with a demon sealed in his belly.

Recommended for 13+

Fruits Basket; Natsuki, Takaya; Genre: Supernatural, comedy, drama

Tohru Honda, an orphaned girl stumbles into the lives of an odd family.

Recommended for 13+


Frey, Nancy; Fisher, Douglas; Teaching Visual Literacy; Corwin Press; London; 2008: pp27-47

McCloud, Scott; Understanding Comics; Harper Perennial; Kitchen Sink Press; 1993; pp24-25

Bylsma, Wolfgang; Graphic Novels in the Classroom: an Overview; Oz Comics; Retrieved 14/10/09

Snowball, Clare; Graphic Novels; Alia; Retrieved 12/10/09

V For Vendetta graphic image: johnny; Scott Story, 2009, Powered  WordPress with ComicPress. Website; 18th of September, 2011