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Not Just For Kicks: Expressing Difficult Content Using Comics

1953 words - 8 pages

A common description of comic books comes from their appearance in cartoons and comic strips, where a teacher catches a child reading a comic book tucked between the pages of their schoolwork. Prevailing attitudes formed off of this kind of perception render the idea of the comic form as a diversion, lacking serious content, and perhaps immature. However, the comic form uses many techniques to explore subject matter that is difficult to deal with in traditional educational ways. This paper will look to examine how immersion and symbolism within the comic form can be an effective tool to reproduce otherwise difficult situations, concepts, and ideas by using examples of texts from our class that make excellent use of these techniques, in particular Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, The Photographer, and Bound by Law.
The graphic novel is grounded in stereotypes that belie their true expressive power, and the deconstruction of those stereotypes is the first step in accessing concepts that are misconstrued and difficult. As Scott McCloud states in Understanding Comics, "Sure, I realized that comic books were usually crude, poorly drawn...but they don't have to be" (McCloud 3), something we have witnessed through the sophistication of our texts this semester. By investigating how the comic form interacts with the reader, we can find many benefits that often position comics as an optimal vehicle for delivering informative and educational content where other mediums only barely suffice.
However, separating the medium of comics from the content widely associated with them is a difficult task, and one that can only be changed by effective content delivered with effective comic technique. The main benefits of the graphic novel and comic form lie within the ability to engage the reader in the interpretive experience in an immersive manner. By using the many dimensions of representation available in the comic form, the reader must use multiple cognitive functions to interpret the content. The ability to provide multiple levels of symbolism within comics presents subjective and objective relationships in manners that cannot be done as easily using traditional text-only forms. By immersing readers in difficult content by using symbolic representation provides an avenue to overcome prior bias, misconceptions, misinformation, or perhaps a lack of exposure or education in a much easier manner than other mediums.
The first example of how comics can be used to educate misrepresented content effectively through immersion is within Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki, Manga that deals with a female heroine in a fantasy realm threatened by ecological disaster. One of the most interesting techniques of this novel is the ability to have multiple levels of abstraction, something Scott McCloud touches on within Understanding Comics. This artistic expression of reality is not merely a stylistic concern, but can also be used to affect meaning and the...

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