Graphic Novels in the Classroom

This is a guest post by Metaphrog (John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs), creators of the award-nominated Louis graphic novels and The Red Shoes and Other Tales. Metaphrog, alongside Dave Hook from Stanley Odd, were the lead artists on Graphic Lyrics, our Booked! project with Shawlands Academy, Glasgow. 

Children love comics but comics aren’t only for children. Recognised in France as the 9th art, comics are increasing gaining respect, in the Anglophonic world, as an art form in their own right and as a powerful teaching aid, across the curriculum.

Not only do comic studies support understanding of other visual media such as film, games and animation; they can provide an access to deeper involvement in literature and aesthetic structures. Already well regarded as an aid for encouraging reluctant readers the comic medium is understandably growing more and more relevant in an ultra-visual culture. All around us images compete for attention and comics and sequential art can help us make sense of it all.

Combining words and pictures to create stories is certainly not something new but it is something that transcends culture and language. As with literary texts, readers bring their own mirror and lamp to the reading and interpretation of a graphic narrative.

Working regularly with groups of young people we have seen the benefits of comics in the classroom. Younger children are uninhibited about drawing and can have fun while learning: designing strong characters; inventing a story and fictive world; using their imagination to design a finished mini-comic and enjoy planning and participating in a project whether individually or in groups.

Older children, teenagers and adults, can be somewhat more self-conscious but quickly realise that drawing skills are not essential for producing interesting work. Most children recognise the innate anarchic nature of comics. Their use as satire in newspaper cartoons and in newsstand comics is familiar and questions authority, and those children who do not normally perform well academically often find themselves excelling.

In our capacity as Patrons of Reading at Northfield Academy, in Aberdeen, we are building strong relationships, over a period of three years, with the head teacher, teachers and librarians and have worked on several exciting projects, with the pupils, including Great Scottish Scientists: incorporating science and music as well as writing and drawing. You can see an example of the work produced in this video .

The school also recently hosted a book launch for our new graphic novel The Red Shoes and Other Tales, inviting other neighbouring schools and involving the local Waterstones book shop.

In the Graphic Lyrics project, with Edinburgh International Book Festival, we have been collaborating with hip-hop artist David Hook to produce comics based on raps based on folk tales and fairy tales from around the world, culminating in a celebratory Burns Night evening and a published collection of music and comic strips. You can read more about the project here.

One of the most interesting tasks we set a school group when we deliver an author visit is to create a pitch for a graphic novel or comic. Below we’ll show you how you could do this yourself.

To write a graphic novel pitch, produce the following:

  • Write a short synopsis: this is a summary of the story in a maximum of a page.
  • Write a hook: a summary of the entire story in a few words, or 1 or 2 sentence. A good example of this is “Jaws in space” for summarising the film Alien.
  • Create a character design of the main character (or characters if you have more than one main central protagonist)
  • Create a page or two of sample artwork: this can be the first page of the comic, or stand-along drawings that give a flavour of the story
  • Create a cover





About Booked!

Booked! is the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the road around Scotland, throughout the year. A celebration of words and ideas, Booked! blends the very best from groups and organisations across the country with the energy and excitement of the August Book Festival. Produced in collaboration with a variety of partners, this wide-ranging programme of events and activities brings authors, artists and audiences together to inspire each other and to be inspired, to share stories and experiences, and bring books to life for people of all ages in their own communities.

2 thoughts on “Graphic Novels in the Classroom”

  1. I am keen to use graphic novels with secondary school pupils in RME ( Religious and Moral Education). Any advice for the best way – do you use the graphic novel as a source? do you always have to get pupils to draw (some hate it)? Do you know of any good novels I could use?

    1. Hi Vicky, Thanks for your comment. I understand that Metaphrog have already been in touch with some advice for you so I hope it’s helpful!

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