Comics for Literacy

February 18, 2021

By Lucy Blagg

Reading and writing comics are fantastic ways for students of all ages to develop their literacy skills and nurture their creativity. In my Cartooning for Creatives class with IEA, we read comics and analyze them for their literary techniques, such as character, setting, tone, perspective, plot, and more. Then, we put this knowledge to use through creating our own comic characters and narratives. Several resources have been invaluable in teaching comics for children, and I would recommend them heartily to anyone interested in encouraging their child’s burgeoning literary and artistic skills through this medium.

If you are looking for age-appropriate and engaging comics for your child, TOON Books are an award-winning series of comics and graphic novels published for young readers. They are specifically aimed at encouraging and developing young and reluctant readers’ skills, and helping children develop a lifelong love of reading. Their books are grouped by different reading levels, so you can find the right book that is appropriate for your child’s abilities.

If your child is feeling inspired by reading comics and wants to make their own, there are two guides to making comics that I love. The first is Comics: As Easy as ABC by the artist Ivan Brunetti. This book is aimed towards younger students — it works particularly well for elementary school students. Brunetti’s approach is accessible, fun, and encouraging for writers and drawers of all skill levels. It gives prompts that are easy to follow for young artists and writers, as well as prompts for those who are ready to explore more advanced techniques and concepts. For late middle- and high-school aged students, I recommend Making Comics by Lynda Barry. Like Brunetti, Lynda Barry teaches comic-making at the college level, and this book is geared towards more mature students (although many of the exercises are entirely adaptable for young students). It offers a ton of prompts that ambitious artists and storytellers can pursue, in addition to Barry’s own meditations on the creative process and the power and necessity of art-making.

One of my favorite prompts from Barry’s book is the Scribble Monster Exercise. For this exercise, fold a paper in half twice so that you have four quadrants. Then, in each quadrant, make a very quick scribble. Once you have all four scribbles, choose one of the scribbles. Put on a timer for four minutes, and spend those four minutes turning the scribble into a monster. Don’t stop drawing for the whole four minutes — keep adding details! Once the timer goes off, re-set it and do the same exercise again with a different scribble. By the end of it you’ll have four entirely unique and strange creatures that you could’ve never imagined before!

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