These are comics. They will make you smarter.
Evidence and research are pointing to a couple of key factors in why comics have shown results in areas where traditional education tends to fall short. They engage readers and make them want to absorb the material while using complex language in scenarios that defy the norm, challenging the brain to think outside its normal parameters. They have even been shown to take struggling readers and improve their performance.
Society as a whole has long marginalized comics as a lessor form of literary entertainment. For many years, they were something kids read. During the tail end of the golden age of comics in the 1950s, they were slandered as something that would turn readers into criminals and degenerates or even worse… a dirty commie.
There has been some movement in the way of accepting comics as a higher art form. The graphic novel is reluctantly acknowledged as something ‘better’ than a traditional comic book (although the difference between the two is essentially the binding and paper) and the movies they inspire keep turning into box office monsters.
Scholastic, a widely distributed in-class and home educational magazine, investigated the subject and found the traditional thought among parents and educators was that they may feel that “…graphic novels are not the ‘type of reading material’ that will help young people grow as readers. They may cling to the belief that graphic novels are somehow a bad influence that undermines ‘real reading’ – or they may dismiss graphic novels as inferior literature, or as ‘not real books.’”
However, real books don’t have the completion rate to compete. So the traditional theory of the challenge merits the quality of the lesson fails in the light of the reality that kids don’t want to read something they don’t enjoy. So they won’t. Or if forced to read, won’t gain the full advantage of the exercise.
Scholastic reports, “School librarians and educators have reported outstanding success getting kids to read with graphic novels, citing particularly their popularity with reluctant readers.”
Just increasing the frequency of reading was found to have positive effects, such as enlarging vocabulary.
Professors at California State University, Northridge have conducted studies that have linked the reading of comics to advancing literary skills.
“The analysis concluded that the language used by comics is far more advanced than that the oral communication of college graduates, and used almost twice as many rare or difficult words.”
The research solidly dispelled the notion that the language of comics writing is base, low, or gutterspeak. To learn language and improve vocabulary, readers must be exposed to complicated language. To measure the utility of different media for this end, the study analyzed the language used in different mediums such as television, children’s books, adult books, and, comic books. They also analyzed the oral language used by college graduates. The analysis concluded that the language used by comics is far more advanced than that the oral communication of college graduates, and used almost twice as many rare or difficult words. Even more remarkably, comic books often used more challenging language than children’s literature.
The closing statement of the study was, “We should provide all children, regardless of their achievement levels, with as many reading experiences as possible. Indeed, this becomes doubly imperative for precisely those children whose verbal abilities are most in need of bolstering, for it is the very act of reading that can build those capacities… Those who read a lot will enhance their verbal intelligence; that is, reading will make them smarter.”
And since I am a fully grown adult who still has comic books laying around my house… anytime someone questions my maturity in choice of reading material, I will know who is the smartest person in the room… as I ask them to hand me that Arkham Asylum graphic novel.
And some words from the godfather of comics himself, Stan Lee.